The effects of Covid-19 on the leisure industry are catastrophic.
Community Leisure UK, the members’ association that specialises in representing charitable leisure and culture trusts across England, Scotland and Wales, estimate that 48% of all public leisure facilities are at risk of permanent closure by the end of 2020, with potentially 1300 sites at risk and over 58,000 job losses. 20% of the UK’s swimming pools could close for good over the next six months.
According to Data Hub research, the leisure sector contributes £3.8 billion to the economy every year, not including the savings to the NHS in improved mental and physical health.
Unless the government steps in with a bail out package to save the public leisure industry, the sector is at risk of severe decline.
The entire leisure industry is behind the #SaveLeisure social media campaign launched this week by Community Leisure UK, UK active and CIMSPA. This campaign is lobbying the government to provide £800 million of ring-fenced funding to provide emergency relief, in order to sustain the UK’s leisure infrastructure and services through the Covid-19 restrictions and the recovery period through to March 2021.
Across Europe, almost every village or town in Germany, Denmark, Spain and France has a public use municipal sports club, swimming pool or leisure club. This is funded by local taxation or central government funding. We should be doing the same here.
The government should, as part of their coronavirus bailout package, be investing £billions to ensure that all our communities have accessible, affordable and well equipped sports and leisure facilities.
Instead, the Conservatives have approved the sale of more than 200 school playing fields since 2010 and almost of all public leisure facilities in the UK could close by the end of the year without more government support.
Bernadette Spofforth, CEO of Splash About, the world’s largest manufacturer of baby swim products said: “Some of that government funding must be earmarked for swimming pools – both private pools and municipal public pools.
“Without them, communities will lose a valuable asset, children will lose a life skill they may never then learn and fantastic businesses will collapse.”
With an increase in obesity levels prompting the government to launch a national campaign to address obesity levels, much of the focus has been on diet rather than exercise. It must focus equally on both these elements and also give adequate leisure and sports provision towards affordable access to all communities and individuals.
Sport and leisure should should be accessible to everyone. It’s a vital part of our communities, enables life skills for children, provides community support lifelines for people living in disadvantaged communities, individuals with disabilities while providing social hubs for the elderly and supporting those suffering from social exclusion and anyone needing exercise.
Our public swimming pools, sports clubs and leisure centres have been in decline over the decade of austerity. They now face an enormous threat of survival due to months of closure or restricted access due to the coronavirus crisis.
But what cannot be overlooked is their crucial role in maintaining physical and mental health, fitness levels, wellbeing and active contributors to local economies and the social fabric of the country. The government must act now to save our leisure industry.