The Story Of The Racquet At The Bridge

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.

Mayor & cabinet meeting, Lewisham Council discusses The Bridge at 29 mins

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.

A petition has been started by local residents to “Save The Bridge”
Credit Coventry Telegraph and BNA
Heather McKay MBE

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.”

Lewisham Nurseries Go To Downing Street Over Cuts

On March 2nd 2020 ahead of the Government’s Spring Budget, parents, children, teachers, campaigners, Councillors & MPs joined the National Education Union (NEU) in handing a 25,000 signature petition to No10 Downing Street. The Petition says:

“Nursery schools give 40,000 children the best start to school. The majority of these schools are located in the poorest parts of the country and for many children this is their only opportunity for early education. After years of chronic underfunding, the very survival of nursery schools is under threat. Only 389 nursery schools remain open across England today. Unless the Government changes course, even more nursery schools may be forced to close their doors.

In October 2019, the Government accepted that nursery school funding is insufficient and allocated stopgap funding to plug the holes. While the supplementary funding is welcome, this money runs out in 2021. This means severe cuts to the education and services that nursery schools provide. In many cases, these will put nursery schools at risk of closure.

The Government must make a funding commitment in the Spring Budget on 11 March that secures the long-term future of maintained nursery schools. Prime Minister Boris Johnson must guarantee proper funding until the end of Parliament and ensure no more nursery schools are forced to close because of insufficient budgets.” 

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “The Government’s attitude to nursery schools, characterised by indifference and piecemeal measures, is having a detrimental effect on children at a critical stage in their development. We cannot afford for this to continue.”

“Maintained nursery schools not only educate our youngest children but also provide the kind of support for parents and carers which is no longer available from local authorities. It is vital Government listens as a matter of urgency to the thousands of people who have signed our petition for additional funding.”

Cllr Alan Hall with the 25,000 signature Petition

Lewisham Nurseries joined the protest. They want the uncertainty in funding to end and for proper long term funding to be put in place.

Cllr Alan Hall said: “Cutting and closing nurseries is a false economy. 

“Our pleas for secure and proper funding could be heard in No 10 but are they listening?”  

In the news: Newsshopper article here & South London Press here