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Yorkshire Times
Voice of the North
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6:00 AM 10th June 2020

Leisure Centres On The Brink Without Rescue Funding – Councils Warn

Beverley Leisure Centre.
Beverley Leisure Centre.
Leisure centres closed due to coronavirus may never re-open unless government brings forward a financial rescue package to save the sector, a new survey reveals today.

The District Councils’ Network, which represent authorities responsible for providing leisure services, is forecasting a financial hit to leisure centres of around £305 million this year – which will send many out of business.

It found that leisure services in district council areas lost over £45 million in income in April 2020 alone, compared with the year before.

Councils are concerned that the rapid loss of income will cause many leisure providers to go bust, while those that might survive would offer reduced services and hours.

The unknown length of the continued lockdown and need for social distancing, and the implications of reduced customer confidence and footfall, are concerning councils in the months ahead.

Blackburn Leisure Centre
Blackburn Leisure Centre
The DCN, the voice of 187 district councils in England, is calling for emergency funding to ensure the leisure sector can survive the current period, and is able to reopen when it is safe to do so.

It says leisure centres have a fundamental role to play in the national recovery from the pandemic, by improving physical and mental health and tackling health inequalities.

Sport and leisure will be critical to improving the health of people of all ages and from all backgrounds, and keeping people out of overstretched and expensive NHS and social care services.

Investing in leisure centres will also deliver greater returns in the long term, with the King’s Fund finding that district council leisure services and green spaces create up to £23 in value for every £1 invested.

In the meantime, councils have moved quickly to help protect their leisure providers from the worst of the crisis, providing financial and other types of support. However this support cannot continue for much longer.

Cllr Dan Humphreys, DCN lead member for enhancing quality of life, said:

“After months of lockdown, and being unable to visit their local gym or swimming pool, it would be a devastating blow to communities to find they no longer have their local leisure centre, once we come out of this pandemic.

“But the sad reality is that our leisure centres are in a crisis right now. Their income has plummeted and some may never recover without a lifeline from government which helps stabilise leisure centres in the short term.

“As local leaders, district councils are committed to tackling this health and economic crisis now and in the future.

“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.”