Worries for the future of sport as Mark Hall Sports Centre set to be closed for months

A LARGE number of sports organisations that use Mark Hall Sports Centre on London Road have expressed their concerns after being told they cannot use the sports facilities for several months.

The decision was made by BMAT, the educational organisation that oversees Mark Hall Academy as well as Burnt Mill Academy, Sir Frederick Gibberd College and several primary schools in Harlow.

They officially take over on January 1st, 2021.

The decision was made before the new Tier 4 was introduced on Saturday night.

Until recently, the sports centre, along with Mark Hall Academy, was run by the Academy Transformation Trust (ATT) but after a poor Ofsted inspection, the First Avenue school was invited to join the BMAT family of schools.

Until recently, all four running organisations (Harlow Athletics Club, Harlow Running Club, Harlow Wheelchair Racers and Parkrun and Beyond) had been able to use the track under strict Covid rules.

But earlier this week, BMAT informed the organisations that they cannot use the facilities until late March.

However, a number of organisations feel they have not had a 100% guarantee that they will be welcomed back into the sports centre.

There is also a concern that with many of the organisations having gone to Bishops Stortford, Ware, Lea Valley and Woodford Green, they may not return to Harlow again.

Chair of Harlow Athletics Club, Steve Lott told YH: “This could kill our club. We have athletes who have already asked to run for other clubs.

“Athletes have had access to a track and field facility since the town was built.”

Harlow Running Club as also expressed their concerns. A spokesperson said: “We at the Harlow Running / Triathlon Clubs are disappointed to have had no formal details regarding the reopening of the facilities at Mark Hall.

“With some of our members due to represent Great Britain in June of next year we are eager to use the facilities as soon after Christmas as is permissible within the Government guidance regarding Coronavirus.”

The two netball clubs that use Mark Hall Sports Centre, Tegate and Crosskeys have also had to make other arrangements.

Crosskeys Club Co-ordinator, Pat Longeville told YH that they had already started to train at Herts and Essex High School in Bishops Stortford.

Pat said: “I am very disappointed at not being able to use Mark Hall Sports Centre.

“We have just won a national award and wanted to keep our netball in Harlow.

“We were not offered any alternative accommodation by BMAT.”

A spokesperson for BMAT said: “We understand that users of the Sports Centre will have questions, and whilst it was closed by ATT we want to make clear that we are committed to re-opening the facilities, and ensuring that we are offering an improved service to all users.

“We have only had sight of all the details around the running of the Sports Centre for seven weeks and it is clear there are a significant number of issues that need to be resolved before we can open the doors again.

“We anticipate this being in the spring, and we will continue to keep users updated on developments.”

BMAT have sent a survey to all users of the sports centre and are clearly using the next three months to assess what work needs to be done.

In a further communication seen by YH, BMAT have indicated that there is a lot of work to be done “among other tasks, we need to attend to an rectify urgent health and safety matters, we need to establish valid legal SLA/user agreements with all groups wishing to use the Sports Centre, ensure we have appropriate staffing and a reliable booking system in place. 

“This is all within the context of the global pandemic and everchanging national and local restrictions”.

The Head Coach of Parkrun and Beyond, Adrian Fell said: “We had a meeting in November with ATT and BMAT and this was never discussed.

“BMAT had months to sort this out and do their due diligence.

“This is all somewhat academic as we are now in Tier 4 but I am still concerned for the future of athletics and indeed sport in the town”

Mr Fell, who recently won an award for keeping people active in Harlow (and beyond) has been in contact with Harlow MP Robert Halfon.

Mr Halfon had a meeting with ATT in late November where they p[ledged a phased return to sport at the centre.

The reality may be, in these uncertain times, that a temporary closure of a sports centre, may be not BMATs highest priority. On Friday, the director of operations had to begin the task of getting there thousands of students through mass testing. When it comes to sporting metaphors, that could be a marathon task on its own.

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