Pyramids gets fitter and stronger

The Pyramids Centre in Southsea
The Pyramids Centre in Southsea
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It wasn’t all too long ago that the future of The Pyramids Centre looked bleak.

A venue more often than not embroiled in controversy over the burden it placed on taxpayers, many felt it was better off shut down for good and demolished.

We want to be the facility of choice in Southsea. We are working really hard with the council on long-term goals.

BH Live director Mike Lyons

A severe bout of flooding which ruined most of its pool equipment made matters worse and saw about £1m of council cash spent on repairs.

But now it appears things are finally looking up for the Southsea leisure complex after a rough few years.

BH Live, which operates the venue on behalf of Portsmouth City Council, has worked to pull in visitors and make it a vibrant attraction again since it reopened in September 2014 after a major refurbishment.

The leisure firm, which runs other pools and centres across the south, took over from the now defunct Southsea Community Leisure Limited in 2013 – which the council was paying around £800,000 a year to run the Pyramids. The council also wrote off a £2m loan to SCLL.

But BH Live director Mike Lyons hopes the Pyramids will go on to become ‘the facility of choice’ for families in Southsea after a surge in visitor numbers.

And he wants to work with the organisers of major attractions in Portsmouth like the America’s Cup World Series and Victorious Festival to see how it can play a major role in future.

Mike explains: ‘When we closed and reopened, we only had about 500 members.

‘Now we have just gone over 3,000 live members.

‘What’s really good to see is there are 2,000 people going to fitness classes and there are over 6,000 gym visitors recorded each month.

‘There are now 15,000 people swimming each month, and we have more than 400 children taking part in swimming lessons.

Mike adds: ‘But it’s not just about gaining membership, we want to improve people’s health and we have launched a GP referral service; so people with very specific conditions and at risk of particular health conditions can really make an improvement through our services.’

Bosses also want to build on its importance as a music venue.

Mike says: ‘We are trying to increase the number of gigs we hold; we have already seen artists play including Enter Shikari, The Vaccines, The Shires and James Bay – all current artists.’

‘At the same time, we have also had cultural events and we want to work with the council on a number of ideas for cultural events.

‘We want to be the facility of choice in Southsea. We are working really hard with the council on long-term goals.’

Specifically, BH Live wants to capitalise on the work that’s been done to promote the seafront as a major destination.

‘We are looking to try and work more with the large events,’ Mike says.

‘Now Portsmouth is quite experienced in terms of putting on major seafront events and attractions, we want to play a part in that.

‘It would be nice to have a role in terms of potential sponsorship.

‘It may be a case of offering our venue up as an addition to Victorious Festival or the America’s Cup.’

Yet Mike knows it’s not been an easy ride restoring people’s faith in the venue.

Mike says: ‘It’s definitely been a challenge, but we are very confident now and we believe that over the next 12 to 18 months, our services will continue to improve.

‘BH Live has invested around £250,000 into the facility in terms of improvements to the building, and we will continue to make sure it improves.

‘We want it to go from strength to strength in terms of customer perception.’

Tory culture boss Linda Symes said she’s delighted with BH Live’s performance.

Cllr Symes said: ‘I am very impressed with the way BH Live has been running the centre.

‘It has increased the centre’s membership to around 3,000, and I think BH Live has done a fantastic job.

‘That’s reflected in its other centres as well.

‘It offers leisure packages that are tailored to people’s needs.

‘BH Live is an organisation which can be trusted to deliver on what it promised.’

Doubts remain

LEISURE operators BH Live signed a five-year deal with Portsmouth City Council in 2013 to run The Pyramids.

It was decided the company would get £200,000 a year up until the end of its deal towards running costs.

The arrangement was approved by the then Lib Dem administration and the party’s culture and leisure boss, councillor Lee Hunt.

The council also decided to set aside £1.9m in case things went wrong with the building during the course of the deal.

A total of £997,000 of that maintenance cash was used in 2014 to fund an upgrade programme when flooding after a fierce storm damaged The Pyramids.

The work was done while the venue was closed for repairs – which cost the council £100,000 out of a separate fund – from February to September that year.

A new fitness studio, bar and terrace cafe was put in as well as new loos. BH Live spent £210,000 of its own money into the maintenance project.

Labour group leader Cllr John Ferrett, who has previously called for The Pyramids to be pulled down because of its cost to the taxpayer, says his position has not changed.

He said: ‘The council leader (Donna Jones) has said she would like to see a five-star hotel built on the seafront, and that site would be a prime site for redevelopment.

‘In a few years’ time, the contract will need renegotiating. The council still has big liabilities should anything go wrong with the building, and no-one is prepared to take it on and take on the repair and maintenance charges.’