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An important week, but the job's not done

With the reopening of indoor leisure centres, gyms and indoor pools, our executive director of property, Charles Johnston, discusses their impact on communities and why we'll continue to advocate for the support they need.

14th April 2021

by Charles Johnston
Executive director of property, Sport England

Two weeks on from the return of many outdoor sports and physical activities, this week marks another significant time for our sector.

Leisure centres, gyms, pools and other indoor facilities can all begin welcoming people through their doors once again, but with certain restrictions still in place.

We know that getting to this point has only been possible thanks to the dedication of everyone in the sector, from leisure providers to volunteers, who’ve all worked hard to implement the guidelines set out in the government’s roadmap to reopening.

A man cleans the side of an indoor swimming pool

Our research is telling us that 58% of people miss the types of activity they were able to do before the outbreak, with 43% saying the closure of facilities has reduced their activity levels.

We also know that gyms and local leisure centres provide a vital role in enabling under-represented groups, such as women and people from Black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds, to get active – so this week is very much to be welcomed.

And we also know that many people are conscious about their impact on the coronavirus (Covid-19) transmission rate and that some currently feel safer exercising at home.

That’s why we’ve been working with providers, sharing our insight into how they can encourage people back to their facilities, by highlighting the safety measures they’ve put in place.

These facilities often act as vital community hubs and we know their social value is modelled to be around £2 billion a year – all of which is reason to welcome their reopening.

And while this is indeed a week to mark, we must also acknowledge that while facilities can reopen, for many it’s not financially viable.

Getting to this point has only been possible thanks to the dedication of everyone in the sector

As part of our role in administering the National Leisure Recovery Fund (NLRF) – a £100 million investment from the Exchequer into local authority leisure facilities – we’ve seen that it’ll help more than 1,100 local leisure facilities reopen.

A total of 266 local authorities received support from the fund and we hoped it would be a lifeline to society's least active members, many of whom rely on local leisure facilities as a preferred environment to be active.

It’s done that, but we know the sector is still struggling.

Analysis of the data gathered by the NLRF application process predicts a significant funding gap between March 2020 and an anticipated return to ‘business as usual’ in December 2021.

That’s why we’ll continue to work closely with the government to ensure the sector receives the support it needs to reopen safely and rebuild.

The NLRF is also forecast to support nearly 11m visits a month to local authority leisure facilities, so we know that if this funding gap results in the closure of facilities it will have an impact on our ability to make progress against the five big issues in our Uniting the Movement strategy that we believe will help the nation get active.

As part of making the case for continued support, we'll publish reports from our Moving Communities tool that allows local authorities, leisure providers and policymakers to understand the usage of local leisure facilities and their contribution to our nation's recovery.

This tool is the result of a £500,000 investment from us to support the NLRF and another example of our determination to help the sector recover and reinvent.

So, while we welcome this further reopening as another step on the way towards a better future, our work with, and support for, the sector will not end here.

Sport England has invested more than £270m of government and National Lottery money to support the sport and physical activity sector through the coronavirus crisis. You can read more about how the money has been spent, and how we've worked with the government to administer two Exchequer-funded packages, on our funding and flexibility page.

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