I thank my honourable Friend and neighbour. I could not agree with him more that this has huge implications. Having recently moved into Talke and therefore into the Newcastle borough, which has caused some controversy with my Stoke-on-Trent constituents, I can absolutely understand the wider implications of the sports centre. As he knows, there are many people who do not necessarily want to travel into the town of Newcastle but are able more easily to access the town of Kidsgrove, where they could use the sports centre.
Following the sudden announcement of the closure, a public meeting was called and attended by hundreds of members of the public. That laid the foundations for the establishment of the Kidsgrove Sports Centre Community Group. Before I proceed to outline the fantastic work and unrivalled dedication displayed by the group, I would like to take a moment to praise it. It is often the tenacity and unpaid labour of community volunteers that make the most powerful impact, and Kidsgrove is fortunate to have a dedicated team of community champions fighting tooth and nail to facilitate the return of sporting facilities in our local community.
Shortly after the contentious closure in 2017, which was authorised by the then Labour-run borough council after it refused to buy the sports centre for £1 from Staffordshire County Council, the Kidsgrove Sports Centre Community Group was formed. It is spearheaded by Mark Clews, alongside Dave Rigby and Ray Williams, and I am lucky to have such members in the community I serve. They deserve acknowledgement in this Chamber for their tireless efforts. The group has pressed continuously for the centre to be reopened, and it has worked so closely with the council that it is now the designated charitable incorporated organisation. That is to say that if the funding comes from central Government, local government and other stakeholders, the community group could very well assume management of the centre when it reopens. I say “when”, because if I have learned anything in my time working with the group, it is that its passion and tenacity cannot be rivalled. The sports centre was, and can again be, at the heart of the community. I am glad to say that significant efforts have been made to reinstate the facility, but I would like to focus for a moment on the difference it has made to the community.