Doncaster Dome criticised after sports clubs forced to make way for computer games exhibition

Bosses of Doncaster's biggest leisure centre have been accused of prioritising profits "above all else" after sports clubs were forced to make way for a computer games exhibition.
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The Free Press has learnt of four groups forced to find alternative venues due to Christmas party bookings and a four-month-long gaming exhibition in the Dome's sports hall from January until April.

The Dome is one of various leisure facilities in Doncaster run by Doncaster Culture & Leisure Trust (DCLT), a registered charity, on behalf of Doncaster Council.

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Around a third of people in Doncaster are inactive, the local authority revealed last year, with activity levels among adults and children in the city below the national average.

The Doncaster Dome.The Doncaster Dome.
The Doncaster Dome.

The health of Doncaster residents is generally worse than the England average, according to a 2019 report from Public Health England.

But, as Natalie Buckley, who manages a junior netball team now seeking a new home, put it: “It just feels like a real headache to find anywhere to promote sport in the community.

"I really want to keep the relationship with DCLT really strong. You would have thought you would always want the same thing in terms of getting kids off the street and doing things they are good at.

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"I’m dealing with queries daily from people wanting to get into netball. We don’t want any barriers that are going to stop people coming.”

Dianne Butterfield helps run a walking cricket club at the Dome with around 18 regular attendees ranging from the age of 65 to 96 which has also been affected.

"I realise they have got to make money but they don’t put anything back in, those sports halls are in a terrible condition,” she said.

"We just want to go out in the afternoon and get a bit of exercise.”

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Dianne said she had spoken to a manager at the Dome who told her the computer games exhibition, billed as “the first major international touring exhibition to explore the history and culture of computer games”, was a 'commercial enterprise'.

Dianne said: “It’s about making money above all else.

"They never considered anyone else using the sports hall.”

A DCLT spokesperson said they would contact all affected bookings to try and help them find an alternative venue.

"They won’t find us another venue because there isn’t one,” said Dianne, 72.

"They have no chance because all the sports halls in Doncaster are used by schools during the day.

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"With us being pensioners we wouldn’t want to go out after 6pm.”

Laura Sydney, chairperson of the Doncaster and District Netball League, recently set up taster sessions at the Dome for women to get back into playing netball.

They proved so popular she added a second weekly session but now finds herself struggling to find a venue to host it.

"It’s great we get the entertainment but not at the expense of sport,” said Laura, who was given funding from the council’s Get Moving Fund to put the inclusive netball sessions on.

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The Get Moving Fund supports Doncaster's communities to be “physically active, healthy and vibrant” to help address the city’s health problems.

“We are trying to promote sport in Doncaster, where the inactivity rate is higher than the national average,” said Laura.

"Surely we should be promoting sport, yet we are stopping people from doing it because we are promoting computer games.”

Natalie is also involved in the organisation of women’s netball in the city and added: “We don’t even train as an adults team anymore because it’s too much of a logistical nightmare.

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"It’s making us compete for the same thing we are trying to do, which is to increase the outreach of netball in the city.

"There are not many sports women can stay in their whole life and netball is one of them. It’s massively come on in its appeal and there’s nowhere for us to do anything.”

Maria Gray runs a walking netball group previously based at the Dome which is also struggling to find a new home.

"It’s so upsetting seeing a facility like that not being used for what it was built for,” former PE teacher Maria said of the Dome.

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"It’s filthy. In using the space for other things they have wrecked the floor.”

Music gigs are among the non-sporting events hosted in the Dome’s sports hall.

Maria’s netball club is attended by about 20 members aged from 60 through to their 80s.

"We can’t be outside in this weather,” she said.

"If it wasn’t for walking netball during Covid there would have been a few of us ladies who would have been struggling.

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"If you are not moving around, using your legs and arms, working your heart, it goes downhill very, very quickly.

"That’s going to put more stress on the health service.”

Maria and Diane said many of their attendees would struggle to travel to alternative sites due to their age and not having access to a car.

"This is the only leisure centre this end of town where you can use the facility during the day,” said Maria.

"Everything else is attached to a school and they take priority. Walking cricket can’t go anywhere else because there’s nowhere big enough.”

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Lindsy James, director of Doncaster charity Active Fusion, which helps children and young people in Yorkshire to be physically active, said she could understand both arguments, including the Dome’s need to make ends meet post-Covid and amid the rise in energy costs.

She called for more school facilities to be opened to the community on evenings and weekends – something Active Fusion helps to do.

Two DCLT trustees, Peter Gleadhall and Richard Byrne, are listed as directors of Doncaster Conferences, Catering & Events, which would appear to be responsible for bookings such as the games exhibition.

DCLT trustees chair Andrew Burden is also a former director, according to Companies House.

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But Michael Hart, DCLT’s chief executive, who is also listed as a director of Doncaster Conferences, Catering & Events, insisted there was no conflict of interest.

In a statement responding to this story, provided by a PR agency, he said: “Doncaster Dome has always offered a multi-purpose sports hall. The recent exhibition booking follows this history since 1989.

“We recognise that some potential bookings for the sports hall will be affected, and as a result some people are unhappy that the venue is being used for an exhibition, as we have said we are happy to work with them to suggest alternative spaces at one of our other venues.

“The Doncaster Free Press have asked us if there is a conflict of interest regarding a number of trustees from the DCLT board being on the Doncaster Conferences, Catering and Events board. We have made it clear that there is no conflict of interest, the trustees on our boards are not benefitting from events being booked, they are there to provide guidance and scrutiny to the overseeing of the business.

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“This will be a fantastic exhibition and we are looking forward to welcoming schools, colleges, gamers, those with a love of technology and history and e-sports to the Dome in 2024. It is great that we can support both cultural and sporting activity in the borough and play our part in bringing more people from across the region to our fabulous city.”

Doncaster Council’s cabinet member for public health, communities, leisure and culture, councillor Nigel Ball, was unable to comment due to pre-election restrictions on publicity.

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