The future of The Bridge Leisure Centre in Lower Sydenham looks bleak. Lewisham Council’s Mayor and cabinet approved plans not to reopen the leisure centre. The report added that the site has been running at losses of over £400,000 for many years although an element of the financial losses relate to the deterioration in the quality of the building and service standards in recent years.
The meeting heard that The Bridge was originally a private sports and social club and that its layout was not designed to be a public leisure centre.
The history of The Bridge and the playing fields include a time when the site was a British Petroleum – BP – employees leisure club known as the Britannic House Sports Ground. In fact, in 1932, Lensbury Club (Shell) and Britannic House (the BP Club in Sydenham) came together as the ‘Lensbury and Britannic House Associated Clubs’. There was a separation of the Clubs by the two companies in 1962, however, Shell and BP employees retained the right to be members of both. These clubs had combined memberships over 5,000 people.
According to newspaper reports at the time, the 1970 British Open Women’s squash championship was held at The Bridge and won by Australia’s Heather McKay. Of course, at this time it could only be Heather on top. She ranks among the greatest players in the history of squash. She dominated the women’s game in the 1960s and 1970s, winning 16 consecutive British Open titles between 1962 and 1977. In 2000 she was given the title ‘Legend of Australian Sport’.
Many have commented on how could such an extraordinary player and perhaps the world’s most successful athlete been so starved of publicity? No one else remained unbeaten for 19 years – as she did between 1962 and her retirement in1981. No one else beat her challengers so comprehensively.
Also, Heather played hockey, representing Australia in 1967 and 1971. More recently, she has taken up tennis, winning the world veteran’s tennis championships. A true talent.
Meanwhile, The Bridge Leisure Centre was brought by Lewisham Council in 2019 after several years leasing the building. What is to become of the site and playing fields is unknown. Local residents have started to petition the local Council saying that it is a much needed local leisure centre supporting our community for fitness and mental wellbeing. No-one disagrees that it is well used.
Councillor Alan Hall has asked that Lewisham Council contact England Squash, the English national governing body for the sport. He asked a formal Question at the full Council meeting on 20th January 2021 about the ownership of the Bridge and managed to ask this as an oral supplementary question.
The Cabinet Member responsible said: “He believed that the Council had undertaken in depth research but I am more than happy to take that forward.”
A spokesperson for England Squash said: “Sorry to hear that the council are proposing to close the Bridge Leisure Centre.”
“The squash finder they mention [in the Mayor & Cabinet report asking for permission to close the Bridge] is just this page of our website. In these situations we can provide a facility report which details the level of provision relative to the population size and demonstrates the impact of any loss of courts if that would help with these discussions locally.”