Making Falkirk an attractive place to live is not only concentrated on the essentials of providing jobs, a range of housing and good schools.
Although all are important, it’s also about giving people a range of opportunities and venues where they can spend their free time. Whether it be sporting activities, creative ventures or outdoor space, communities need them all to flourish.
Five years after it was set up to look after all these areas on behalf of Falkirk Council, those running Falkirk Community Trust have been taking stock on what has been achieved and planning for the future.
In its annual report, the trust highlights how investment has brought about returns with increased attendances at a raft of venues, both sporting and creative, as well as promoting the district’s identity both nationally and internationally.
Ian Scott, trust chairman, highlighted how by attracting more people, it generated additional income which could then be reinvested in the service.
He said: “Recent investment at the Mariner Centre and Grangemouth Stadium has helped provide modern, attractive and fit for purpose facilities with very positive results.
“Our success in generating additional income will allow future reinvestment which is fundamental to improving services, sustaining the business and preparing the trust for the financial challenges that lie ahead.
“New ventures are also vital if we are to continue to satisfy customer needs and this year we were delighted to see the opening of the Helix Visitor Centre and Stenhousemuir Gym. Both are attractive, vibrant facilities and are already enhancing our service to local communities and visitors.”
Notable highlights during the year included over 36,000 attendances at the new Stenhousemuir Gym in its first six months; Mariner Centre admissions up 33 per cent following reinstatement of the wave machine; Grangemouth Stadium admissions up 22 per cent after replacement of the running track; Hippodrome admissions up ten per cent; Callendar House visits up by 13 per cent; Bo’ness Recreation Centre gym usage up by 26 per cent; and the new Helix Visitor Centre attracting 57,000 visitors in its first five months.
Despite all the positives, attendances across all trust venues was down slightly by 27,000 to 3.76 million in 2015-16, due in the main in a fall in people using libraries – although this is not a trait peculiar to Falkirk.
Lesley O’Hare, culture and libraries manager, said: “Library usage is universally falling except where libraries have been able to add new services to their core service, such as rent/council tax payments, advice services, etc.
“The Falkirk area is no different in this respect, the way people use libraries is changing and it is a challenge for us and one that we are seeking to address through our Library Development Plan.
“However, it is worth noting that we still attract over half a million visits to our libraries each year making them one of the best used trust services.”
Positives taken from the figures include the increased number of young people using the service – 777,000 in 2015-16; the growing income from health and fitness activities – £1.09 million in the last 12 months; rising numbers (708,341) visiting the trust website; and a growth in volunteers engaging with the trust from 1064 to 1642 in 2015-16.
However, it has not all been plain sailing for the trust. Around 11 months ago officials revealed cost-savings plans which included the closure of facilities, including Grangemouth Town Hall and Hallglen Sports Centre, with 60 jobs at risk.
But one month later, and following a public outcry, the trust was instructed by Falkirk Council to put the proposals on hold and find other ways of coming up with the £1.18 million of savings required.
By moving to a “leaner” operating model, the trust has made savings required with reduced staffing in culture and libraries and the relocation of the box office from the Steeple to Falkirk Stadium.
However, on a more positive note, customer income has now risen to £5.88 million, up £630,000 on the previous year.
In the annual report, Maureen Campbell, trust chief executive, admits that “asset management and development continues to be a challenge”.
She said: “Some progress was made rationalising and merging our ticketing system and databases and to scope work for a new website.
“We will also explore future development opportunities in Grangemouth Sports Complex and Bo’ness Recreation Centre.
“Our collective priority continues to be developing facilities and services that exceed customer expectations.”