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Coronavirus: Leisure centres could shut their doors forever without government help, councils warn

Coronavirus: Leisure centres could shut their doors forever without government help, councils warn

Swimming pools have already reopened in France with Covid-19 restrictions.

3 min read

Leisure centres across the country could be forced to close their doors forever unless the Government comes up with an emergency support package, ministers have been warned.

A fresh study by the District Councils’ Network (DCN), which represents 187 district councils across the country, forecast that council-run leisure centres could suffer a £305m hit as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown.

And it warned that many centres could be pushed out of business altogether by the dent to their finances.

Leisure services in district council areas covered by the group saw a £45m plunge in their income in April alone, according to the group.

And while the DCN said councils had “moved quickly” to protect leisure centres from the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the financial support they are able to offer “cannot continue for much longer”.

Gyms and leisure centres were formally closed on March 20, and the Government’s coronavirus roadmap does not give a firm date for their reopening.

Dan Humphreys, the DCN’s lead member for enhancing quality of life, said the loss of gyms and swimming pools would be “a devastating blow to communities” coming out of lockdown.

“Their income has plummeted and some may never recover without a lifeline from government which helps stabilise leisure centres in the short term,” Mr Humphreys said.

He added: “Leisure and sport will be critical to improving the health of people from all ages and backgrounds as we emerge from this crisis. As destinations in themselves, they also draw people in to town centres creating community spaces and support for local businesses.

“We should now come together to create a leisure and sport service that plays its full role in the national health and economic recovery.”

That view was backed by the Local Government Association, the umbrella organisation for local authorities.

Gerald Vernon-Jackson, chair of the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, said councils were “deeply concerned about the future of leisure facilities which provide thousands of people and families with access to affordable gyms, swimming pools and exercise opportunities they would otherwise not have“.

And he added: “Research prior to the pandemic showed that lack of funding means nearly two thirds of leisure facilities are more than 10 years old and require refurbishment.

“With the coronavirus crisis set to worsen the future outlook of  leisure facilities and many older properties at immediate risk of closure, this will have a negative impact on the population’s mental and physical health.

“As we look ahead to rebuilding the nation, local leisure facilities will play a vital role in ensuring our communities remain healthy. 

“We look forward to working with the Government and leisure providers to identify funding to avoid reaching a crisis point.”

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