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One in three councils expect to be forced to close leisure centres forever – New survey

Published: 14 May 2021

One in three councils expect to be forced to close leisure centres forever – New survey

  • New survey reveals for the first time the devastating impact of the pandemic on leisure centres
  • Over 100 leisure centres could go bust due to coronavirus crisis, some within three months
  • Councils call on government for urgent rescue funding to combat the escalating mental health and obesity crisis

One in three district councils expect to be forced to close gyms and swimming pools due to the devastating financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic, a new survey reveals today, with 117 leisure centres in England estimated to be at risk of closure.

The District Councils’ Network, which represents 180 district councils providing leisure services in England, found 36 per cent of its members thought it likely they would need to close one or more leisure centres, while a quarter said it was “extremely likely”.

Its survey also reveals:-

  • Nearly a fifth of those councils expecting to have to cut services said they were considering shutting three or more leisure centres. Almost four in 10 said at least two would close in their area.
  • 19 per cent of councils say centres will go out of business within the next three months and over half (59 per cent) within the year.
  • Of those able to remain open, 80 per cent are warning they will have no choice but to strip back many services

Closures will deliver a body blow for health and wealth in towns and cities, affecting community services such as creches, holiday activities, activities for over 50s/60s and exercise referral schemes.

The findings come as the Government makes tackling obesity and improving people’s health and wellbeing a central pillar to its pandemic recovery strategy.

The closure of leisure centres would also undermine Sport England’s Uniting the Movement strategy, a 10-year vision endorsed by ministers to transform lives and communities through sport and physical activity.

The DCN is warning that withdrawing leisure services will mean a reduction in sport and wellbeing activities, which would have a damaging effect on people’s mental health. Nearly nine in 10 councils say leisure centres have been used in projects to improve mental health.

While government funding to support leisure centres during the pandemic has been helpful, the DCN warns it falls far short of plugging the £325 million funding gap faced by district council-run leisure services.

Leisure centres have also played an important role in the rollout of the vaccination programme. One in five councils say centres in their area have been used to deliver coronavirus jabs.

They are also vital in helping to support local businesses and driving the recovery of local economies, by bringing higher footfall to our towns and city centres, and encouraging secondary spend.

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

“As these alarming findings show, the gyms, swimming pools and local leisure centres that communities rely on every day face a desperately bleak future, with many on the brink of closing in the coming months due to the financial losses they have incurred during the pandemic.

“The survival of our leisure centres will be fundamental to our health and economic recovery. Council leisure services are not like privately ran gyms, they are hubs of community and services helping everyone get active – from school swimming lessons, to over 60s activity schemes.

“A wave of closures will deliver a real body blow to our efforts to boost physical and mental health and address the health inequalities across our communities.

“District councils have done all they can to keep leisure services afloat, but the devastating economic impact of the pandemic means over 100 centres across are now at risk of closing their doors forever.

“The Government must step in to provide leisure centres the financial lifeline needed to spearhead the local health recovery across our villages, towns and cities.”

Notes to editors

The District Councils’ Network (DCN) is a cross-party member led network providing a single voice to 180 district councils. District councils in England deliver 86 out of 137 essential local government services to over 22 million people – 40 per cent of the population – and cover 68 per cent of the country by area. They play a key role in local communities, providing services such as building homes, collecting waste, regenerating town centres, preventing homelessness, keeping streets clean and maintaining parks.

Contact: District Councils’ Network press office 020 7664 3333

Date published: 14.05.2021

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