Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Emergency funding package needed to save leisure industry

Five months in lockdown is unimaginable yet here we are, and the impact of COVID-19 continues to hit hard with the long term future of swimming pools and leisure facilities now hanging in the balance with almost half of all UK public leisure facilities (48 per cent) at risk of permanent closure by the end of the year without financial support from the government (figures from Community Leisure UK).

Robin Strang, Chair, Community Leisure Scotland said,

“Public leisure providers across the UK face a shortfall of around £800m this financial year (2020–21), in Scotland this figure is £120m.  Due to the combination of  lost income during lockdown and the need to operate at reduced capacity to comply with social distancing measures 38% of Scotland’s leisure Trusts will not be viable by the end of the year and many leisure facilities will not be able to reopen with jobs also at risk.

“This is why Community Leisure UK, ukactive and CIMSPA are calling for ring-fenced funding to overcome the enormous financial impact of the Covid-19 lockdown period and its legacy.

“Public leisure providers want to be able to reopen all pools to support clubs, learn to swim programmes and recreational swimming. To enable us to do so we urgently need financial support.”

Swimming pools are not only at the centre of what we do, they are found at the heart of communities and play a vital role in society. Pools not only provide a space to have fun with family and friends of all ages, they help towards a fit body and mind; they are a safe environment allowing children the opportunity to learn to swim; they provide employment and volunteering opportunities, a meeting place for individuals, clubs and groups, including schools, or a venue supporting the development of athletes from across our disciplines. Pools and facilities now need emergency funding to support their long term survival, which is why Scottish Swimming is backing the #saveleisure campaign instigated by Community Leisure UK.

While an indicative date of 14 September provided by the Scottish Government to open pools and gyms, Scottish Swimming is looking forward to the next formal review on 20 August, in anticipation that the opening of pools and indoor spaces may be brought forward.  With this review brings expectations and while our extensive guidance documents (professional sport, pool operators, club management, club training, open water, land training, people development and aquatic participation) provide the knowledge and the safety guidelines meaning a return for our whole sport is possible in a safe and controlled way, we will still need to play our part and support those pools who will be unable to open their doors immediately.

Sharon Macdonald, Director of Development at Scottish Swimming said,

“The impact of the pandemic is far reaching and could have some significant consequences to our sport in the future if pools continue to remain closed or worse case do not open in the longer term due to the financial constraints leisure trusts are facing.  Many children will not learn to swim and gain the vital life skill which could not only save their life but enables them to enjoy a lifetime of fun and many other physical, mental and social benefits.

“Our 160 clubs currently provide quality coaching for over 16,000 young people, keeping them fit and active and also are home to over 7,000 volunteers.  Without emergency funding we are concerned that we will see a reduction in the number of swimmers and volunteers.

“And the aquatics industry also plays its part in employing swimming teachers and life guards across the country.  If fewer pools are open there will be reduced programmes and a reduction in staffing required.  The current outlook doesn’t look positive and we therefore need the Scottish Government to help public leisure providers not only now in the short term but also in the longer term.“

Ally Whike, Performance Director at Scottish Swimming said,

“Aquatics has over the past 20 years gone from strength to strength, with long term and sustained success on the world stage during this time built on the strong foundations of vibrant club swimming across the country. Without appropriate access to facilities for athletes alongside the quality coaching that supports their development, success at the top level will become increasingly difficult to deliver in the years to come, never mind the danger of the benefits the sport brings to thousands of people who the love the sport being lost.”

Leisure centres, swimming pools and community services are essential to the health and wellbeing of the nation and are critical to protecting the public against Covid-19. It’s imperative that we support these vital community assets and call on Government support to act now to provide emergency funding to sustain the UK leisure infrastructure for the immediate future.