Leisure centre closures threaten the drive to boost the nation’s health

By Michael Burton | 10 June 2020
  • Michael Burton

One of the key lessons from the coronavirus pandemic is the importance of good health in mitigating its impact. Repeated studies have shown how obesity, lack of exercise and poor health have been factors in inhibiting recovery. The closure of gyms and leisure centres during the lockdown has therefore not exactly helped keep an overweight nation in tiptop condition. The worry now is that many of these already under-resourced centres may never reopen and a key public health role for local government, which is responsible for most of them, will be lost.

Back in January the Local Government Association and Sport England warned that two thirds of leisure centres were outdated and needed investment with 63% of sports halls and swimming pools over a decade old. Forlornly they asked for a £500m refurbishment pot in the March Budget. Six months on and the crisis has got much worse. The closure of these centres during the lockdown and consequent collapse in revenue has left providers nursing big losses while the likelihood that social distancing will make many centres permanently financially unviable potentially leaves a big hole in health prevention just at the time when its importance has never been greater.

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