THE operator of Bournemouth’s council-owned entertainment and leisure venues made a loss of £2.5million despite a major redundancy programme and millions in Covid loans and grants.

The charitable company BH Live suffered a net loss of more than 10,000 leisure memberships during the first Covid lockdown and saw 422 performances cancelled or postponed, its accounts reveal.

Bournemouth-based BH Live runs the Pavilion and BIC along with leisure centres such as Littledown, Pelhams and Stokewood. It also runs venues in Portsmouth and Croydon’s Fairfield Halls.

In a report with the accounts for the year ending March 31 this year, chairman Michael Wright said: “BH Live reported a deficit for the year of £2,436,461. This deficit is solely due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“All our venues closed from March 20 2020 as part of the national lockdowns and also local restrictions in Portsmouth and Bournemouth during December 2020. As a result, most leisure centres were closed for at least eight months of the year and when open subject to capacity restrictions whilst our cultural venues were effectively closed for the entire year.”

The business suffered a net loss of more than 10,000 leisure centre members during the first lockdown. Its income reduced from around £21m to £4m.

In the arts and culture side of the business, income fell from the anticipated £22.7m to £1.05m.

All employees apart from a skeleton staff were put on furlough.

BH Live said support was agreed with the three local authorities, including BCP Council, whose venues it operates. “Each partner council was supportive by committing finances and amending agreements in order to retain BH Live as their leisure and culture partner and ensure we would be able to deliver our business plan for them and their communities going forward,” the report said.

“A major restructuring and redundancy programme was carried out, enabling a learner future fixed staff cost.”

The loss came despite a £2.5m grant from the Culture Recovery Fund, grants from the National Leisure Recovery Fund totalling £470,000, other grants, £7.9m from the furlough scheme, a £5m coronavirus business interruption loan and business rates reductions.

BH Live ran down its reserve funds to £1.

“Prior to Covid-19 an internal risk assessment deemed that the probability of all areas of the business being impacted by a significant loss in income and/or any unforeseen adverse circumstances at the same time as minimal,” the report said.

The risk assessment had recommended keeping reserves of £1.5m, but the company now aims to build up reserves of £5m. “This will take many years to deliver and will affect business decisions ensuring that the rebuilding of reserves is a priority as we grow back the business,” the report said.

The report said that the board and management were “confident” the company would return to profitability.

It added: “The first quarter of 2021/22 has seen the business return to profitability.”