The “colossal” cost of leisure facilities in Shetland means that families could be paying four times more to keep fit than those in other areas of Scotland, a local resident has complained.
Nurse and Lerwick resident Emma Williamson has calculated the figures, which show that her family’s yearly spending on fitness is over £1,000 more than she could expect to pay under leisure schemes operated in Orkney, the Western Isles or the Highlands.
Bryan Leask, chairman of the Shetland Recreational Trust (SRT) was quick, however, to point out that where other leisure schemes have been subsidised by local councils the SRT does not receive any support from the SIC.
Under SRT’s pricing structure an individual “Gold” membership, which grants access to the gym, swimming and health suite facilities at the Clickimin, will set you back £59.50 per month or £606 a year.
A family in the Western Isles, on the other hand, would pay half of that for access to similar facilities. Under the ‘Slàinte Mhath’ or ‘Good Health’ scheme any parent or couple with children under 18 living at the same address can purchase a family subscription for just £25 a month, according to figures available online.
Over the course of the year this equates to £300, half of the price for just one individual in Shetland. Considering the further costs incurred by a family, with two partners and their children all using facilities regularly, the figure forked out locally could soar to over £1000 more each year.
In Orkney, a scheme similar to the Western Isles is to be launched next week, entitled ‘ActiveLife’. The two-year pilot is the result of a partnership between the Orkney Islands Council (OIC) and the Pickaquoy Centre Trust.
Cardholders are to be given access to 12 facilities across Orkney and will be able to swim, climb, use gym and health suite facilities and play racket sports, among other things. An ActiveLife family membership is cheaper than an individual subscription in Shetland, coming in at just £29.50 per month.
Mrs Williamson first became aware of the discrepancy when Jerry Gibson, a friend from Orkney now living in Shetland, shared a post on Facebook detailing the costings soon to be introduced in Orkney.
After researching other council areas Mrs Williamson realised she was paying “a colossal amount more” to keep fit than a family in Orkney, the Western Isles or the Highlands.
The difference an active Shetlander pays is equivalent, she says, to two family trips on the ferry each year.
But Mr Leask defended the SRT’s pricing in a written statement provided to this paper.
He said: “As I understand it, the other schemes highlighted are actively subsidised by their respective councils. SRT does not receive any subsidy funding from Shetland Islands Council…
“SRT essentially has two sources of income: the majority of which is by way of a grant from the Shetland Charitable Trust, who are reducing the level of subsidy by 25 per cent by 2020, with the remaining income from charges to our customers.”
After compiling her findings Mrs Williamson sent a letter to the recreational trust and councillors.
It was not only the cost which concerned her but a feeling that the pricing would discourage people from taking up sport in Shetland.
“We’re not going to do well internationally, or even nationally, for yun prices” she said.
When asked if she thought Shetlanders were being asked to foot the bill for upkeep on the extensive provision of leisure centres around the isles Mrs Williamson said “I think that does factor into it.”
This concern is alluded to in the statement provided by Mr Leask, who writes: “As well as owning and operating Clickimin Leisure Centre Complex, we own and operate seven rural leisure centres.
“SRT have full management and maintenance responsibilities for these facilities and must generate sufficient income to remain viable.”
Mrs Gibson, originally of Rousay, Orkney but now living in Kalliness, went further by saying that the prices were “unfair, verging on discrimination.”
She believes that people who do not have expendable cash are being priced out of keeping fit.
It was Mrs Gibson’s view that the SRT should look at introducing a family subscription similar to those offered in Orkney and the Western Isles.
She said: “Shetland has excellent facilities. I’d like to see more people using them but not everyone has that luxury because of the cost.”
Both Mrs Williamson and Mrs Gibson were keen to point out that they have nothing against the facilities, service or staff in Shetland, referring to them as “lovely” and “fantastic” respectively.
Discussing the ‘ActiveLife’ scheme soon to be launched in Orkney a spokesperson for the OIC said: “Similar schemes introduced in the Highlands, Western Isles and Moray local council areas have seen increased uptakes in memberships at leisure facilities.
“In a nutshell, the scheme has been designed with a focus on flexibility and affordability, to attract, encourage and enable increased community use of the great range of fitness and leisure facilities available across Orkney.”