A recent survey by the District Councils’ Network claims one in three councils are expected to close leisure centres for good if they don’t receive increased funding.
The DCN represents 180 district councils providing leisure services in England, and the survey is a bleak reminder of the financial burden Covid has caused the country’s vital public services.
According to DCN, the fallout from the pandemic last year is going to cost leisure centres an estimated £325m in lost income, making it impossible for some of them to survive. And any centres that manage to stay open will have to drastically decrease the number of services they offer.
But the government has put strong emphasis on promoting a healthier population post the pandemic and the closure of these centres would likely set back those efforts.
Sport England has just released its annual ‘Active Lives’ survey which found that the number of active adults fell by 1.9% and inactive adults increased by 2.6% compared to twelve months earlier. Everyone now knows the links poor physical health can have on Covid hospital admissions and the extended lockdown seems to have only increased the magnitude of the problem of poor health.
The government has recognised the problem and has announced a £100m grant for leisure centres, but it’s still a long way short of the mark needed to fill the funding gap.
Leisure centres offer so much more than the obvious physical benefits. The long temporary closures of sports facilities up and down the country during the pandemic have highlighted just how important they are to everyone’s mental wellbeing. Studies show that just 10 minutes of regular exercise can help keep depression at bay.
Although private gyms have their place, leisure centres provide a number of additional services gyms don’t cater for.
For instance, private gyms often don’t offer swimming facilities because of the added cost. If so many leisure centres close, huge swathes of people would be without access to swimming pools and lessons.
They’re so much more than just a gym too. From creches, to sports clubs, to affordable venues for birthday celebrations, leisure centres are a valuable source of support for parents everywhere.
They also play a key role in tackling health and wellbeing inequalities, providing vital subsidised initiatives for people that really need them. The DCN survey showed the majority of these centres create targeted programmes to tackle loneliness, mental health and much more.
Without increased funding councils and operators will likely have to prioritise primary income services at the expense of these subsidised initiatives.
And on top of all this, there’s also the added financial cost of maintaining hygiene standards and mitigating the risk of visitors contracting and spreading the virus.
Its clear leisure centres are an essential service to the community. If they’re allowed to close, and in such numbers, it could cause a major negative impact on people’s physical and mental wellbeing.
Research from The Kings Fund says access to leisure facilities can also have a much wider impact on society. It looked at Birmingham’s citywide Be Active programme and found up to £23 is recouped for every £1 spent, with regards to ‘quality of life, reduced NHS use, productivity gains, and other gains to local authorities.’
Health in all its forms has never been more important and will play a key role in the UK’s recovery process. Leisure centres are one way to aid that health recovery.
Published date: 17th June 2021
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