FOR over 40 years, the Lakeland Forum in Enniskillen has been a focal point for Fermanagh’s sporting community.

Officially opened by Ireland and Ulster rugby legend Willie John McBride on May 19, 1976, the Council-owned leisure centre welcomes around 350,000 users each year.

This includes local people of all ages, eager to make use of the swimming pool, gym, sports halls and other facilities, as well as a wide variety of Fermanagh sports clubs, such as swimmers, footballers and athletes.

But, with some of the facilities starting to show their age, big changes could be on the way at the Forum over the next decade.

The Impartial Reporter has learned that Fermanagh and Omagh District Council (FODC) is planning on redeveloping facilities at the Forum in the coming years to ensure that it is “fit for purpose”, although the exact scale of the project has yet to be decided.

The Council has revealed it is currently conducting a review and appraisal of its options with regard to leisure provision in the area, which will lead to the development of a new Leisure, Recreation and Sport Strategy this autumn.

It says this strategy will act as a “road map” for the delivery of leisure, recreation and sport in the district, to include investment in ageing sports facilities operated by the Council, for the next 15 to 20 years.

According to the local authority, one of the facilities already identified as needing “significant investment” is the Lakeland Forum.

Irvinestown-based architects, Keys and Monaghan, have been appointed by the Council to assist with initial feasibility and design work.

The Council says it is also planning to consult and engage in the “near future” with the Forum’s service users, members of the local community and other key stakeholders and groups on proposals for the future development of the leisure centre.

According to the Council, it is envisaged that this development project would take between three and five years to bring to fruition, “depending upon the scale and scope of works”.

FODC says it is also seeking to develop partnership approaches with other organisations to ensure that leisure, recreation and sport developments promote health and wellbeing and support tourism development where possible.

The review of leisure provision is just one part of a new long-term programme being rolled out by the Council to transform the way its services are delivered across the district.

The ‘Transformation Programme’ aims to change the way in which the Council delivers a number of key services so that the changing needs of the district and its residents, both now and well into the future, can be met.

This Transformation Programme is being overseen by the Council’s Transformation Working Group, made up of 10 elected members and the Council’s Senior Management Team.

Councillors are being updated on the progress of the Transformation Working Group through regular reports presented to the monthly meetings of the local authority’s Policy and Resources Committee.

A report to the February meeting of the Committee detailed a visit to the Lakeland Forum by members of the working group during the previous month.

The report stated: “There was concern around ageing pool facilities in Enniskillen and it was noted that the scale and scope of a project to address leisure facilities development in the district requires definition and development involving in-house teams and appropriate professional support.”

As well as leisure provision, a number of other key Council services and areas have been identified as part of the Transformation Programme, including Fleet Management; Estates and Asset Management; Community Support, and Waste Management.

Council chairman, Stephen McCann, said that the programme has been developed to ensure that the local authority’s services are “fit for purpose” and delivered in a way that supports the outcomes of the Fermanagh and Omagh Community Plan.

Mr. McCann said: “Now that the Council has completed a successful transition process to a new organisation, the focus is now on the transformation of Council services.

“The Transformation Programme will enable us to critically review how we currently deliver services and to consider innovative options for delivering these services against a back drop of the need to do more with less and projections of major changes in the demographics of the area.”

The chairman said that this would ensure that Council services were future-proofed, would provide value for money and were provided on a fair and equitable basis.

He added: “The initial key areas for change and transformation, which are interdependent on each other, have been identified due to their strategic importance in meeting the needs of the District.

“They are also critical in helping us to work towards the overall aim of the Community Plan to improve the quality of life of our residents by working in partnership with other key stakeholders, groups and organisations.”

The Council is currently undertaking a phased programme of strategic reviews, which will include exploring a range of options on how best to deliver the identified services and areas in the short, medium and long term.

A spokesperson for the local authority has confirmed that work has already started on strategic reviews into Leisure, Recreation and Sport and the Council’s fleet provision.

According to the Council, the work to review the fleet will inform future purchasing, utilisation and fleet management approaches.