A GILLINGHAM leisure centre and “community hub” is to be granted up to £23,000 to help it recover financially from the coronavirus pandemic.

RiversMeet, which reopened in July after four months of lockdown closure, had originally requested £22,290 from the town council to help in covering future utility bills.

As previously reported however, the decision to grant the leisure centre a total of £9,000 was deferred during the July town council meeting, as members wanted to discuss the matter further.

Heard at the Gillingham Town Council meeting Monday night, following conversation with the RiversMeet team and hearing from residents, councillors unanimously approved the decision to allocate up to £23,000 to the centre “should the need arise”.

Proposing, Councillor Graham Poulter said that himself and Cllr Roger Weeks had previously met with Alan Waistell, general manager of RiversMeet, and Paul Barber, chairman of the Board of Trustees at RiversMeet, to discuss the funding.

He said: “It was apparent there was no immediate need for funding but [RiversMeet was] more than welcome a provision should the need arise.”

Before the vote and speaking “from the point of view of the Gillingham Neighbourhood Plan”, meeting attendee David Beaton described RiversMeet as a “community hub”.

He added: “Not only does [RiversMeet] cater for sport and other activities, people and organisations can meet there in the conference rooms and use those facilities for their meetings, and it is also frequently used for displays by developers and other organisations involving the community.

“It would be a huge loss to Gillingham if we lost RiversMeet.”

Following the vote Mr Waistell, who was present at the virtual meeting, sent a message to councillors: “Paul and I and all my staff and customers personally thank you all.”

At the council meeting it was resolved that “the request from RiversMeet for assistance to meet financial difficulties arising out of the Covid-19 pandemic is made available as a discretionary grant up to the sum of £23,000, and earmarked in the general reserves and released subject to satisfactory evidence of its need being produced”.

Councillor Mike Gould had previously described RiversMeet as an “incredibly valuable asset to the town”, adding it is “the only charity-run leisure centre in the country”.

The leisure centre in Hardings Lane is now appealing for customers old and new to return to the site.

Needing community support following the Covid-19 crisis, the team’s campaign concludes: “Without you we are nothing. With you we are something.”