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Back us or risk losing half UK’s public leisure centres, industry warns

Nearly half of Britain’s public leisure centres face going under by Christmas, putting more than 58,000 jobs at risk and hitting the most deprived areas of the UK hardest, because of the devastating financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

That is the stark warning from both UK Active and Community Leisure UK, which have told the Guardian that 1,300 of the 2,727 leisure centres funded by local authorities and 20% of the UK’s swimming pools could close for good over the next six months unless the government steps in.

The industry trade bodies have written to MPs to tell them that public leisure centres, swimming pools and community services, which are funded via local authorities, face a shortfall of more than £800m this financial year because of the lockdown. As a consequence, they are urging the government to provide urgent ring-fenced funding for local authorities to “protect these vital facilities for this generation and the next”.

“The UK is sleepwalking into the loss of thousands of community gyms and leisure centres which form part of the fabric of our society and serve as the frontline of the NHS,” said Huw Edwards, the chief executive of UK Active. “Without public leisure facilities, our communities will be deprived of the social, physical and mental health benefits that will be vital in our continued battle and recovery from Covid-19.”

UK Active has also warned that a significant proportion of Britain’s 3,380 swimming facilities, both public and private, are under threat. A spokesperson explained that while it was hard to calculate precise figures, based on consultations with their members, they estimate about 20% of all pools are at risk of closure.

“Two-thirds of all swimmers in England use public leisure pools rather than private provision, so the impact on swimming levels is disproportionate and they will be harder hit,” the spokesperson added.

Gyms across the UK had expected to get the nod from the government to reopen on 4 July, but those hopes were dashed last week. UK Active has repeatedly warned of the pressure the sector is under owing to significant costs resulting from an inability to access government support and loss of revenue since the lockdown.

However, research has shown that public gyms and leisure facilities have a positive impact on educational attainment, productivity, reducing crime and loneliness, and engaging inactive and disadvantaged communities.

Mark Tweedie, the chief executive of Community Leisure UK, said it was vital politicians and the public recognised that sports centres provided a range of services, from children’s swimming lessons and meeting areas for parents and babies groups, that put them at the heart of their communities.

“The public need to be made fully aware that their cherished public leisure services are at risk because, due to income losses, local authorities will not be capable of financially sustaining them through the Covid-19 crisis without government financial support,” he said.

“Public leisure centres are at the heart of communities – they are places where communities connect and they serve all age ranges and abilities, from parents with babies, through to sports clubs, walking groups and gentle exercise classes for the less fit,” he added.

“Communities without leisure centres are unimaginable, so it is time for politicians and the public alike to unite behind the drive to insist upon specific government support to save our leisure facilities, because they are essential community assets.”

Read the original article at The Guardian

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