Leisure centre rescue package needed to tackle post-pandemic obesity boom

  • Councils warn future of leisure centres needs to be secured more than ever to get “inactive Britain” going again and tackle the growing obesity crisis and boost people’s mental health
  • Blackhole of nearly £300 million leaving many gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools in “dire financial straits”
  • Government urged to throw financial lifeline and protect leisure services to protect the NHS

Leisure centres are in danger of not surviving the third lockdown without urgent rescue funding from the Government, which risks seeing obesity levels soar after the pandemic, councils warn today.

The latest lockdown means gym doors are shut during what is usually their busiest time, as many would normally flock to gyms, classes and swimming pools to shift the post-Christmas bulge.

However without proper rescue funding, the District Councils’ Network, which represents 187 district councils responsible for providing leisure services, fears many will go bust and never re-open.

It says that the Government has been right to prioritise exercise during lockdowns, but it must not let leisure centres go bust in the meantime as physical activity will be just as critical for health and happiness beyond the pandemic.

With inactivity likely to only have increased as a result of the restrictions, the DCN is warning that leisure centres will be needed more than ever as we come out of the lockdown and the pandemic, to get inactive Britain going again.

It warns this would be detrimental to the nation’s health, in particular efforts to tackle obesity, which would only heap more pressure on the NHS and social care.

For all the focus on protecting the NHS during the pandemic, the DCN says this needs to continue by investing in keeping leisure centres open to improve people’s physical and mental health.

This comes as new analysis by the DCN forecasts a £411 million total loss during 2020/21 for centres run by district councils alone, with Government estimated to have pledge around £116 million in support so far.

Over two thirds of this is expected to be lost during the five months of national lockdowns in England so far.

It is anticipated the figure will be much higher when taking into account gym closers within different tiers and reduced provision when open, because of social distancing.

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.

The latest figures show that the majority of adults in England are overweight or obese; 67 per cent of men and 60 per cent of women.

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

“This is normally the time when gyms and leisure centres are at their busiest. But instead many face closing their doors for good.

“We have been warning for some time of the dire financial straits leisure centres find themselves in as a result of the repeated closures, due to the continued restrictions and need to keep communities safe from coronavirus.

“Government has shown it recognises this with some funding announced previously. However this will not go anywhere near to plugging the huge losses leisure centres are facing as a result of the pandemic.

“Businesses will go bust and the nation’s health will suffer if they have no gym or leisure centre to go to when we come out the pandemic.

“We are running out of time, the Government should act now to ensure so many of our gyms, classes and swimming pools are not lost forever.”

Notes to editors

Date: Saturday 23 January 2021
CONTACT: District Councils’ Network press office 020 7664 3333