East London YMCA permanently closing due to financial challenges

The Bob Hayward YMCA community and recreational complex in East London, Ontario, has declared its permanent closure effective Nov. 24.

The Bob Hayward YMCA community and recreational complex in East London, Ontario, has declared its permanent closure effective Nov. 24.

“Financial challenges have worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic,” said YMCA Hamilton Rd. CEO Andrew Lockie. “We are all feeling saddened by having to make this necessary decision.”

Lockie said that the Bob Hayward branch has been around for 60 years and has served many people.

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“We took a long time and careful investigation to determine that the branch was no longer financially sustainable, but in the end, it was evident that we had to make this news,” Lockie said.

He said they have three other YMCA branches inside of London.

“They are beautiful places for people to access, regardless of the ability to attend and to come and do healthy things like exercise in a positive, inclusive environment,” Lockie said.

Lockie said they are extending memberships to all of their Bob Hayward members to continue with them at their other branches. The other nearest branch from Bob Hayward is about 10 minutes away by car and 20 minutes by bus.

“YMCA has responsibilities in terms of being fiscally responsible and membership levels, which is how we generate revenue for the branch for the most part,” Lockie said.

Lockie said membership was already drastically dropping before the pandemic. His team knew it could not continue if it hadn’t increased by three times its current level. There are now fewer than 800 members.

“That is not even close to being what it needs for the branch to be sustainable,” Lockie said.

According to Lockie, one of the things that makes it even more challenging for them is maintaining optimal conditions in the health, fitness and aquatics facilities.

“Every year the building ages, it becomes more expensive to maintain the ongoing cost,” Lockie said. “All of the capital maintenance required for a branch that’s 60 years old is pretty high.”

He added that this closure will allow them to focus on the other and newer branches.

“I did what I had to do. These financially sustainable decisions allow us to be around for future generations.” Lockie said.

He said they tried several options to keep the business running, but none worked as intended.

“We have tried things on price hold, increase,” Lockie said. “We have tried tiers of pricing, where you can access the basics, or you can get some enhancements to that, or you can get everything.”

He said that none of their multiple efforts helped generate the revenue the branch needed to stay open.

Existing memberships at the Bob Hayward branch will be moved to the Waterloo St. Centre Branch. For the remainder of 2023, their memberships at the Centre Branch will be free, and they will have complete access to all facilities, including the pool.