Nearly half UK’s public leisure facilities under threat as 40 social businesses warn of imminent closure
Affordable access to public gyms, swimming pools, libraries and other culture and leisure facilities may no longer be possible for millions of people in the aftermath of Covid-19.
A survey out this week warns that more than 2,500 facilities could close across the UK – as the social businesses running them struggle to overcome huge financial challenges.
As many as 1,500 such facilities could close within the next month to six months, reveals the survey by Community Leisure UK (CLUK), which represents 110 ‘leisure and culture trusts’, each of which operates as a social business that reinvests profits in community activities.
More than 40% of CLUK’s members have warned they risk permanent closure within six months, with the number rising to 57% over nine to 12 months and 67% from 12 months onwards.
Tens of thousands of jobs are also at risk – together, CLUK’s members currently have more than 100,000 staff and 17,000 volunteers, and have a combined turnover of more than £2bn.
A world where leisure trusts became unviable would surely lead to a crisis in public health – and who would pick that up?
Mark Tweedie, CEO of CLUK, said that despite the current challenges, many trusts had been continuing to make a positive impact by providing much-needed support to the NHS and vulnerable people during the crisis. Examples include:
- Wandsworth Librarians (run by Better leisure in London) answered 7,000 calls from vulnerable adults
- Hyndburn Leisure in the north west of England exceeded 2,500 hours of volunteer time and supplied over 6,000 meals
- Camden Leisure Centres (also run by Better) donated over 100,000 pieces of PPE to the NHS
- Newport Live in Wales donated stock from their cafe to the COVID wards at the Royal Gwent Hospital
Yet the criteria for government financial support during the crisis had meant that most trusts were not eligible for help, Tweedie said.
“Our members are custodians of over 45% of the nation’s public leisure assets and also a variety of cultural assets,” he said. “It is vital we work closely with the government to find solutions and ensure charitable leisure and cultural trusts can access the support necessary to keep their formidable and much needed work going.”
Helen Barnett, chief executive of CLUK member Active Luton, commented: “As a Community Wellbeing Trust we’re all about improving the health and wellbeing of everyone in Luton and that means having the flexibility to invest income back into community-based programmes and reach out to un-engaged and inactive groups to entice them into better habits for the benefit of both their physical and emotional wellbeing. A world where leisure trusts became unviable would surely lead to a crisis in public health – and who would pick that up?”
Let's hope that the much needed money and support from the government continues otherwise I believe it will have a damaging effect on so many people who rely on these centres up and down the country for friendship, fitness and mental health.
Claire Henwood, chief executive of Suffolk-based Sentinel leisure trust, said: “Whilst we absolutely recognise that we are living in unprecedented times, we are also finding the landscape incredibly hard to navigate, with little financial support or shared responsibility from our localaAuthority partners. The furlough scheme has been very helpful; without it our picture would look very different. However, the changes and tapering are a cause for some level of anxiety. As we move forward to possible reopening and significantly reduced customer numbers, we will need to be able to rely on financial packages to support our budget challenges. Without this, we will find the future very difficult.”
TV sports presenter Hayley McQueen commented: “Leisure centres have been closed since the beginning of lockdown denying so many from much needed social activity and exercise. Sport does a lot for the body as well as the mind so let's make sure we get back to our centres and support them where we can when they are safe to do so. Let's hope that the much needed money and support from the government continues otherwise I believe it will have a damaging effect on so many people who rely on these centres up and down the country for friendship, fitness and mental health.”
Pictured above: Staff from the Better leisure centre in Hammersmith and Fulham donate PPE equipment to St Thomas's Hospital.
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