Global Edition

Lullingstone Park forced to close after management company goes into liquidation

9.39am 20th March 2023 - Courses

Lullingstone Park Golf Course in Kent has been forced to close with immediate effect after the company that runs it went into liquidation.

Staff at the golf course received notice on March 16 that Sevenoaks Leisure Limited, the parent company of the firm that manages the facilities, Sencio, was expected to go into liquidation in the next few weeks, with workers promised they would receive further information on their situation within a fortnight.

Lullingstone Park Golf Course, which first opened in 1967, is home to two golf courses, the 18-hole Castle Course, which was designed by Fred Hawtree, and the 9-hole Park Course. It currently charges £820 for 7-day membership and £24 for weekday green fees.

As well as the golf course, Sevenoaks Leisure Centre andEdenbridge Leisure Centre, also managed by Sencio, have also been temporarily closed, although Sevenoaks District Council is confident that new operators will be found so that all three facilities can re-open in the near future.

The decision puts at risk the jobs of 180 full-time staff and 30 self-employed trainers and instructors, although there is a good chance that many of the staff will be taken on by a new operator if one can be found.

Like many leisure businesses, Sencio was adversely affected by the pandemic. It received an extra £300,000 bailout from Sevenoaks District Council at the time to tide it over and another £235,000 from Sport England, but the council took the decision in July 2021 to decline further requests for help. Instead, it said it would take the management of the centres back in-house when the firm’s current contract expired. Since then, the not-for-profit organisation has been hit again with soaring bills due to energy crisis which are high for all leisure centres.

It is expected that the golf courses at Lullingstone Park will re-open if and when a new operator can be found

Jane Parish, chief executive of Sencio Community Leisure, said: “Over the past few days, it has become clear to us that the financial challenges we face are now insurmountable. This is a combination of the fall-out from COVID, soaring energy prices, a winter that hasn’t been kind to golf revenues, and increased competition, all of which have conspired against us.

“The leisure industry has been campaigning for many months for central government to recognise it as a vulnerable sector and despite the announcement in this week’s budget of £63m being earmarked for leisure centres and swimming pools, the majority of the funding is for more energy efficiency equipment to be installed in leisure centres which will help long-term with energy bills. This, unfortunately, doesn’t solve the immediate issues we are facing. We’ve strived repeatedly to try and put the business back on a secure financial footing. This, we are sorry to say, has not been possible.

“We would like to thank our staff for all they’ve done over the past few extremely challenges years and we are committed to offering them every possible assistance in the coming days and weeks. We are just sorry and desperately sad we couldn’t weather yet another storm. The company has appointed Evelyn Partners to assist with the insolvency process.

Cllr Lesley Dyball, the cabinet member for people and places at Sevenoaks District Council, said: “This sad news came as a terrible shock. However, I want to stress, we are 100% committed to the future of Lullingstone Park Golf Course, and Edenbridge and Sevenoaks Leisure Centres. We appreciate this must be an anxious time for Sencio staff, customers and suppliers.

“It is disappointing that Sencio finds itself in this position, despite receiving close to £1.4 million of public money to help them through the lockdowns and to support business recovery. While we have done everything possible to support Sencio over nearly two decades, the recent economic challenges, including increased energy costs, were overwhelming for the trust. While their decision to cease trading is out of our control, our top priority will be to work with the insolvency practitioner so that once permitted, we are ready to re-open the leisure centres and golf course as soon as possible.”

Laura Trott, the MP for Sevenoaks, said: “I am hugely disappointed, but I want to reassure everyone that the centres will reopen as Sevenoaks District Council already has plans in place to bring in a new operator. While the timescale for re-opening will rest with Sencio’s insolvency partner, rather than the council, the council is doing all it can to make sure the centres re-open as quickly as possible.”


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