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The Guardian view on community leisure centres: not a luxury | Editorial

Access to local hubs plays a vital role in maintaining health and tackling inequalities. They must not be allowed to close

One of the many discoveries of the last 14 months has been how Covid-19 seeks out underlying vulnerabilities. These are as plural and complex as the people they afflict. But one vulnerability the government has, rightly, pinpointed as something to be addressed is obesity. In 2019, the year leading into the pandemic, figures for England showed over a million hospital admissions for causes directly related to obesity, with 67% of men and 60% of women overweight or obese. Months of lockdown are not likely to have improved this. Boris Johnson, recognising that his weight may have contributed to his hospitalisation with Covid-19, has been banging the drum on the need to achieve a healthy weight; and the government is promoting “weight management services”.

It is a pity, then, that the means so far made available to local communities do not support the laudable end. Earlier this month, the former Paralympian Lady Grey-Thompson told Mr Johnson that more than 50% of public leisure facilities are at risk of closing in the next six months. The next day, the District Councils’ Network (DCN), which represents 180 district councils providing leisure services in England, noted that one in three councils expected to close leisure centres for good in the next three months, and over half in the next year. Of those able to remain open, 80% expected to decrease services. The government will point to its recent grant of £100m for leisure centres and a £18,000 restart sum for individual gyms – but the DCN survey was conducted after the awarding of this grant. A funding gap of £325m remains.

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