Gazette letters: Sobell leisure centre and disappointment in MP

A file image of nine-year-old Isaac Barnes playing Badminton at the Sobell Leisure Centre last year.

A file image of nine-year-old Isaac Barnes playing Badminton at the Sobell Leisure Centre last year. Picture: ELLIE HOSKINS - Credit: Archant

The doomsday scenario of GLL turning its main sports hall at the Sobell into an “extreme trampoline park” seems to draw ever closer, writes Richard Smith, Highbury Hill, Islington.

50 per cent of the space used by footballers and badminton players will be lost to “increase footfall” and create “fun” (GLL’s words) to attract young people.

What next? Marking out the remaining Olympic Legacy £250,000 sprung floor for hopscotch? Creating a state-of-the-art musical chairs arena? Tiddlywinks leagues?

I’m certain that’s exactly the kind of sporting development Michael Sobell had in mind when he gifted the centre to the local community.

As the granddaughter of Sir Michael Sobell, I add my voice to the campaign to save the Sobell Leisure Centre from being converted into a trampoline park, writes Gaie Scouller.

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My grandfather, having made his fortune through radio receivers and television sets, established a charitable foundation in 1977. Among other projects, he provided the funds for the Michael Sobell Sports Centre (later to be called the Sobell Leisure Centre) to provide first-class sporting facilities in Islington. His vision was that everyone should have access to affordable sporting facilities. This centre would become a beacon of sporting excellence and attract members and users, including Olympic athletes, far and wide.

My grandfather would be appalled that people’s access to these facilities would be hugely limited in favour of a recreational attraction with games areas including a “wipe-out trampoline”, a “foam pit” (for jumping into), a “dodgeball” area (throwing balls at each other), “slam dunk” basketball (bouncing up to a basketball net), a “battle beam” (jousting with padded lances on a beam to knock your opponent into a foam pit), balancing on a “slackline” (a webbing tightrope) and climbing a “fidget ladder” (a rope ladder).

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All indoor football facilities, including male and female, junior and adult sessions, will be ended completely, even though these have been core to the centre since its opening over 40 years ago. Indoor football at the centre has brought joy to many youngsters and helped so many develop a healthy exercise habit that benefited them throughout their lives. Generations of Islington youngsters have played at Sobell, a safe environment unaffected by adverse weather conditions. Many who began using the centre when it first opened are still regular customers – a testament to its enduring value to the community. Such facilities are so rare in London.

Sobell Centre, like all others in Islington, is now managed by GLL/Better, who have little previous sports provision experience in Islington. The project brief they put to the council was approved with no public consultation.

Campaigners are rightly calling for the project to be halted and for the council and GLL/Better to consult residents and customers of the Sobell. On behalf of the Sobell Foundation Trustees, I endorse their request and urge Islington Council to rethink.

I’m extremely alarmed that Emily Thornberry, as my MP, signed, among 106 other MPs, a dictatorial letter directing The Sun to retract an article and sack a journalist [Trevor Kavanagh’s column on what he called “the Muslim Problem”], writes Tony Pierce, Bunhill Row, Islington.

This is a flagrant abuse of her power as MP that voters placed in her and is a breach of the trust that she will defend all against the excesses of state power.

I didn’t realise that we now live in a country similar to that of Turkey and others, where elected politicians believe they have the right to attack the press and dictate what may be published.

The Corbyn-supporting MPs have crossed a clear line in demanding state action against a journalist, who should be absolutely free to express views contrary to theirs, including faiths and beliefs.

The demand that he be sacked is the coward’s way of avoiding tough argument and debate, through which, in striving towards what is correct and true, we may all gain some clarity.

That’s why it is in everyone’s interest to defend a free press and we should do so as a fundamental bulwark against state curbs on democracy and individual freedom.

Living in Bunhill Row, I’m very aware of the thousands who lie buried in nearby graveyards who were persecuted fighting for freedom of expression, but fought hard, many sacrificing their lives in the historic struggles against oppressive kings and aristocracies.

Emily Thornberry, therefore, more than any other MP, should be aware that each generation must reaffirm the struggle for freedom of thought.

Sadly, she has chosen Joe Stalin and President Erdogan as her example, rather than Blake, Wesley, Bunyan, Milton and countless others who lived in this small corner of Islington.

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