A local cricket league which has featured England Test legends Sir Alastair Cook and Monty Panesar are furious at being kicked out of their traditional booking at the Bunyan Centre after almost half a century of playing there.
Fusion Lifestyle, the registered charity in charge of the John Bunyan Sports & Fitness centre, cancelled the Bedfordshire Indoor Cricket League’s (BICL) traditional Sunday-morning winter slot – causing anger and concern among recreational cricketers in the county.
Despite being the Bunyan Centre’s longest-running and most loyal customers, and receiving confirmation of dates for their 2019-20 season bookings more than three months ago.
The BICL were told by Fusion Lifestyles that they were to be dropped to make room for an all-day basketball club.
The cancellations are believed to have been made in line with Fusion’s terms and conditions – they have a 30-day warning – but there are concerns at a lack of loyalty to clubs who are a pillar of the town’s sporting community.
Fusion Lifestyle’s website states that among its key values, it puts the customer first, aiming to deliver a great customer experience.
A tweet by the BICL read: “BICL are very saddened to report that despite having confirmation of dates booked for the forthcoming winter, @bunyanfit and @Fusion_LS have reneged on our booking and we are now without a venue for Divisions 1 & 2… BICL committee will discuss options, expect an EGM date to follow shortly #tough times #help needed”.
BICL chairman Phil Gurney said that the league had always paid for their bookings on time and expressed concern about their continued existence in light of the decision.
He said he will call an emergency general meeting to decide their next move if their removal stands.
The BICL were offered Saturday mornings by Fusion at a lower price, but the committee felt that option would not be practical, with many players and volunteers involved in football, rugby and other commitments on that day.
An online petition was started by local cricketer Robert Nunn to demand the reversal of the decision by Fusion, and received 270 signatories on its first day of campaigning, and almost 500 inside a few days.
A raft of cricketers and clubs have registered their dismay.
Rani Thiarra of Southill Park CC tweeted: “Shocking news! I will certainly be terminating my squash membership if they don’t come to their senses on this.”
The Bunyan Centre, with its spacious sports hall, is an optimum size for six-a-side indoor cricket, and has helped turn the BICL into one of the best indoor cricket leagues in all of England and Wales.
Several of the leading cricketers from Bedfordshire, including England’s leading Test-run scorer Cook (who played for Clifton CC), Panesar (Luton Town CC) and Northamptonshire CCC players Alex Wakely (Ampthill Town CC), Rob Keogh (Dunstable Town CC) and James Kettleborough (Southill Park) have played in the BICL at the Bunyan in their formative years.
Martin Darlow, the former chief executive of Bedfordshire Cricket Ltd and Cricket East, now a board director of the England & Wales Cricket Board, has written to Dave Hodgson, the Mayor of Bedford, to ask him to intervene to help reverse the decision.
The ECB, cricket’s national governing body, has set great stall on trying to increase grassroots participation in cricket – so this is worrying news.
The Bedford Independent obtained a copy of the email sent by Darlow, in which he wrote: “Last week, Phil Gurney, BICL chairman, following limited and short discussions received a call from [general manager of John Bunyan Sports & Fitness] Nik Holson of Fusion Lifestyle to say they wanted to take a 48/50-week basketball booking for all-day Sundays.
“A switch to Saturday mornings at a discounted rate was offered. This is not a feasible option and would ultimately result in the BICL failing.
“Sunday-morning Beds Indoor League Cricket has become an institution built up over 45 years with large numbers participating and there were plans for further growth given the level of interest.
“The Bunyan Centre accommodates 20 teams each season involving at least 200 cricketers.
“I am aware Bedford Borough Council no longer manages the Bunyan Centre, however I am hoping as Mayor your intervention may make a difference.”
Cllr Doug McMurdo (Independent, Sharnbrook) who is on the mayor’s executive as portfolio holder for leisure and culture, with special responsibility “for the introduction of Fusion Lifestyle to manage the council’s leisure facilities”, is overseeing negotiations with Fusion over the issue.
A reply by Cllr McMurdo, obtained by the Bedford Independent, confirmed that council staff were preparing for discussions with Fusion. It is understood that crucial meetings between them are scheduled for the end of the week.
Cllr McMurdo added: “I regret we are in this position. Clearly from what you [Darlow] describe, this is an unacceptable situation! Thank you for bringing this to our attention.”
The winter league has been part of the recreational cricket scene in Bedfordshire for 43 years, since the BICL began playing at the Bunyan Centre, which used to be run by Bedford Borough Council, in the winter of 1975-76.
In 2014 the Bunyan was one of several leisure spaces in the town sold by the council to Fusion.
More than 200 cricketers in 20 teams from clubs across Bedfordshire compete at the Bunyan in the top two divisions of the BICL in hour-long matches from 9am to 2pm on Sundays between October and February.
The bottom two divisions are currently played at a narrower sports hall at Bedford College.
Rollback World have lost 15 weeks of Saturday-afternoon skating sessions, after being given a month’s notice by Fusion.
The organisation have hired space at the Bunyan for four years to run roller hockey matches, roller discos and fitness classes. They regularly book the upstairs balcony for social events and had also reserved the sports hall on Wednesday evenings from September.
Robert Beckford of Nu FOCUS CIC who run Rollback World, received an email from Holson on June 7 informing him that “a new large participation booking” was coming into the centre which meant they were no longer able to honour the bookings from the week beginning July 8.
A Bedford Borough Council spokesman said: “We have received concerns from members of the Bedfordshire Indoor Cricket League about their booking at the John Bunyan Sports and Fitness Club.
“We have contacted Fusion Lifestyle who manage the centre to raise these concerns and request more details on the matter.”
Fusion Lifestyle were contacted for comment earlier this week, but had not responded by our publication deadline.
Additional reporting by James Coyne, assistant editor of The Cricketer magazine.
He lives in Bedford and plays for Flitwick CC in the Bedfordshire Indoor Cricket League.