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COVID-19: Opening gyms and public leisure facilities, House of Commons, 22 March 2021

We welcome the Government’s roadmap and evidenced-based approach to reopening, and on behalf of councils we are keen to work with national government and public health experts to ensure public gyms and leisure facilities can reopen safely and as soon as possible.


Key messages

  • Local government plays a critical role in delivering sport and fitness activities and maintaining the UK’s leisure infrastructure.
  • Councils are responsible for a third of all swimming pools, 31 per cent of grass pitches; 13 per cent of sports halls and almost of fifth of all health and fitness facilities. This equates to 2,100 sport and leisure sites; by comparison, the UK’s largest gym chain, PureGym, operates 294 sites. Councils currently spend over £1 billion per year on sport, leisure and green spaces, parks and playgrounds, providing communities with access to vital facilities to improve their physical and mental wellbeing.
  • We welcome the Government’s roadmap and evidenced-based approach to reopening, and on behalf of councils we are keen to work with national government and public health experts to ensure public gyms and leisure facilities can reopen safely and as soon as possible.
  • Given their crucial contributions to public health and community wellbeing, it is concerning that many leisure centres continue to face a challenging financial position. The Government’s promise to match 75 per cent of lost income is not applicable to the almost 70 per cent of the leisure services contracted out to charitable trusts or “for profit” providers.
  • It is critical that the Government looks at extending the £100 million National Leisure Recovery Fund to meet the immediate financial needs of public leisure facilities. We estimate that the original fund only covered one eighth of what was needed before the latest lockdown, which will have made the financial needs of facilities significantly higher
  • These financial pressures mean not all public leisure facilities will be able to open their doors when the roadmap permits. The LGA is working with partners to review the impact of COVID on public leisure facilities. Early soundings indicate that potentially one in four councils have plans to close some leisure facilities and 42 per cent plan to make cuts to physical activity services. We expect these figures to worsen if additional support is not made available.
  • For those that can reopen, we estimate that it will take at least 18 months before membership levels return to 80 per cent of pre-COVID levels, meaning there is an ongoing need for support. The longer facilities are closed, the less likely they are to reopen.
  • However, the need for additional investment should not be viewed only as a cost.  Two-thirds of the country's cancer prehabilitation and rehabilitation support services take place in gyms and leisure centres (69 per cent of these in council and VCSE facilities), meaning they will play a key role in reducing pressures on the NHS as it seeks to catch up with postponed treatments. UK Active estimates that the UK loses £7.25 million in missed health savings for each week that gyms and leisure centres remain closed.
  • Losing public leisure services will widen existing health inequalities and have a devasting impact on the health of communities, leaving many people and families in more deprived areas, rural areas and black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) groups, without access to affordable leisure opportunities – particularly swimming, exercise opportunities and community sports clubs.