Sefton's tie-up with health trust nets £450k for 40 outdoor gyms

Budget-strapped council secures funding to install exercise equipment across borough's parks.

A cuts-hit parks department has managed to coax health chiefs into pledging nearly half-a-million pounds to build 40 outdoor gyms across the borough.

Sefton Council, which has had to make more than £65m of cuts in two years and has laid off 20 of its 50 green spaces officer posts, approached its primary care trust with its health initiative. The trust had supported sports schemes before but never park-oriented projects.

Landscape architect and parks and green-space manager Mark Shaw said the trust had recently set aside £385,000 to build approximately 30 outdoor gyms, with £50,000 for maintenance and £10,000 to research the health benefits. More than half of the local population is overweight.

"We have a long-standing relationship with the trust but it had never invested in parks before," he told the Association for Public Service Excellence conference Can Money Grow on Trees. "There were no strings attached with the funds and the gyms are free to use."

The first stage of the project in 2009 included two gyms costing £22,000, followed by another two a year later costing £24,000. Two more were built last year for £24,000 and a survey found 100 per cent of people were very or fairly satisfied.

The kit includes metal equipment that is suitable for all ages such as rowing-type machines arranged in clusters rather than spaced out.

Concrete footings are easy to mow around and Shaw convinced the trust that users were more likely to take advantage of this kind of gym than pay to use indoor gyms.

"This has enabled us to take a strategic approach and cover the entire borough, which is one of contrasts - we have affluent wards and some of the country's most deprived areas. The difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest areas is 10 years."

He added: "This initiative will link into primary care trust initiatives such as GP exercise referrals. We hope to take on a dedicated ranger to promote the gyms and will set up a website and print leaflets to promote them."

Sefton Council Park cuts total 30 per cent of service budget

Sefton Council has confirmed that its parks and green-space budget for 2012-13 is facing cuts of £850,000 after the conclusion of the council's budget negotiations at the end of March.

The latest cuts follow reductions to the service of around £650,000 over the past few years, the council confirmed. They take reductions to date to around 30 per cent of the service budget (down to about £3.6m).

This includes losing approximately 20 officer posts of a team that previously consisted of around 50 posts, and around 25 per cent of the department's site staff.

The 2012-13 savings will be drawn from the following areas:

- £650,000 - a general reduction in parks standards, including a redesign of many sites to account for a reduction in grounds maintenance and repairs as well as fewer events and activities.

- £170,000 - increasing fees and charges for sports and allotment users.

- £30,000 - no longer providing non-sponsored hanging baskets.

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