SportsAble president wants to focus on 'fun and friendships' after closure

SportsAble’s president John Jenkins says he wants to focus on ‘the fun and friendships’ made after the charity announced it would be closing down.

The Braywick Park group made the announcement on Monday, adding that it had been ‘struggling’ over the past 12 months.

The pandemic, a lack of fundraising opportunities and income, and increasing costs, were all cited as reasons for the charity to make the call to shut, due to no other ‘viable’ options.

A fundraising drive, launched in February, ‘did not achieve’ what was needed, Mr Jenkins said.

“You all played your part – but very sadly SportsAble has run its course,” he told supporters earlier this week.

Speaking to the Advertiser on Tuesday, the president added it was important for the charity to support its members through the process and end ‘with dignity’.

Mr Jenkins added that he wanted to focus on ‘the fun, opportunities and friendships’ created, and do the best for members through the closure process – something which is ‘so important’ to the trustees.

It was also announced on Monday that in the event that monies are left over, a donation will be made to another charity with similar aims to SportsAble.

“Our primary concern is to try and do our best for members because their opportunities in sport are now clearly hampered,” Mr Jenkins said.

“We want to open up as many doors as we can.”

Launched in 1975 and known back then as WAMDSAD, SportsAble offered disabled people the opportunity to participate in various sports, and provided social opportunities for members.

Its work has enabled them to advance to Paralympic levels and compete at international championships, where several medals have been won.

“We have entered every Paralympics since we were formed,” Mr Jenkins, who competed in swimming and table tennis for Great Britain through SportsAble, said.

“We have medalled in every single one, except for one event. We have got a very colourful sporting history; a very proud history.”

He added: “Thousands of disabled people have been through our doors, and the club has directly benefited their lives, their physical health, enabling them to take part in sport, make new friends, and represent their country.

“That would never have been possible without SportsAble being there.”

Mr Jenkins claimed the fundraising environment for charities has changed dramatically, leading to trusts being less prepared to take on ‘considerable’ overhead costs of keeping its clubhouse going, which he said has gone from the charity’s ‘biggest asset’ to its ‘biggest burden’.

“If we were to staff up again, our costs just rocket up. We need significant sums month on month,” Mr Jenkins said.

“The cost of keeping that [the clubhouse] going, even in its closed form, is quite considerable.

“Trusts do not like actually funding the overheads; they love funding the initiatives, projects, but to keep pouring money into paying the bills, etcetera, it is just not favoured.”

In the closure announcement, the charity acknowledged it has been ‘struggling with numerous problems over the last 12 months’, including an investigation by the Charity Commission into its management.

But it added: “The impact of COVID-19 cannot be ignored: on the one hand, Government grants helped to keep the charity alive through 2020, but did not prevent staff redundancies, and on the other, the almost total inability to fulfil our charitable objectives by running sports sessions or room hirings severely curtailed fundraising efforts and income generation activities.”

The president thanked the Royal Borough, which he said has supported the charity financially through various funding streams, but he said it was important for a charity to be able to ‘wash its face’ and ‘stand on its own two feet’.

Mr Jenkins said that the charity benefited from three years of funding from the Royal Borough, which terminated at the end of last year.

“We all knew that was going to finish at the end of 2020,” Mr Jenkins said.

“It would be very easy to say: ‘it would be great for the council to fund all our needs’, but why should they do that, and deprive another charity?

“The Royal Borough have been very supportive of us, and they will continue to be so at this point in our story.

“I want to focus on what we have done, the fun, opportunities, friendships, over the years. We have all done the best we can, and explored every opportunity we could, to keep us going.”

Asked whether things may have looked different had the COVID-19 pandemic not have happened, Mr Jenkins added: “I think they would have looked a bit different – how different, I am not sure.

“COVID gave us the opportunity for Government grants but we had to lose a lot of our staff, and part of the problem now is a lack of people.”

The closure of a disability sports charity has led to concerns for the future sporting aspirations of the people who use the services.

Mr Jenkins said he hoped its swimmers will be able to carry on using the new Braywick Leisure Centre nearby.

He added that ‘there is always more to be done’ when it comes to furthering disabled sport.

“These changes do not happen overnight, it all takes some time. It is important that starts are made, and money is found,” Mr Jenkins said.

In a statement, the council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for leisure services, Councillor Samantha Rayner (Con, Eton and Castle), paid tribute to the charity and promised to support its members through this time.

“SportsAble has provided a fantastic resource to our community for the last 46 years and I would like to thank everyone for what they contributed. They have provided a legacy to the borough and we are grateful for all their work,” she said.

“I would like to thank John Jenkins as well as all the trustees who have worked hard to find a solution.

“Charities have faced a daunting future with the impact of COVID-19 and the ability to fundraise as well as use their facilities, and this has been a difficult decision for the SportsAble trustees.”

Cllr Rayner added: “The borough has supported SportsAble over recent years and it is very sad that despite their best efforts, without a reliable income stream to cover their costs, the trustees have concluded they have no choice but to close the charity.

“The borough will work with relevant partners to seek support for the former SportsAble members towards a sustainable alternative offer, as well as continue to work with parents, carers and individuals through our leisure centres which are all accessible and support more active lives for everyone.”

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