Indoor gyms and pools start to reopen in England
25 July 2020, 08:16 | Updated: 25 July 2020, 12:43
Indoor gyms, swimming pools and leisure centres in England are allowed to reopen today for the first time in four months.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also confirmed that indoor gyms, swimming pools and other sport and exercise facilities will not reopen in Luton or Blackburn with Darwen due to an increase in coronavirus cases in those areas.
But Community Leisure UK, the members' association that specialises in representing charitable leisure and culture trusts across England, Scotland and Wales, estimate that 48% of all public leisure facilities face closure, meaning as many as 1,300 could disappear by the end of the year, along with more than 58,000 jobs.
The organisation said many will not be able to reopen on Saturday due to the increased costs resulting from lost income during lockdown and due to operating at reduced capacity.
"We're expecting at least 35% not to open tomorrow," said Mark Tweedie, chief executive of Community Leisure UK.
"The main reason is financial viability, because as with all of the high streets and services - zero income since the end of March," he said.
Mr Tweedie also pointed out that swimming pools, which are a key attraction of many leisure centres, cost a lot of money to run.
He said: "So what some operators are doing is saying 'well we can't open at all because we've just got mainly pools only', or 'if we've got a pool and a gym, we'll just open the gym and not the pool because that will help us recover financially'.
"And some are being bold and saying 'look we'll open the whole lot'," he said, adding that in some areas it may be decided to just open one pool and direct as much capacity to that one as possible.
Mr Tweedie said some places are facing such a major financial crisis that they do not plan to open until the end of the furlough scheme.
The District Councils' Network (DCN) is also warning of the "uncertain future" faced by gyms and leisure centres, pointing out that the sector is expected to lose around £305 million this year.
The DCN, which represents 187 district councils in England that provide leisure services, is calling on the Treasury to provide a rescue package to save leisure centres from collapse.
Cllr Dan Humphreys, DCN lead member for enhancing quality of life, said: "It is great that gyms and leisure centres are able to reopen today - with safety for staff and users paramount.
"But they open on the brink, their income has plummeted over the lockdown and many face an uncertain future.
"This is why it is absolutely critical the Treasury comes up with a rescue package for leisure centres yet to receive financial support.
"The national recovery from coronavirus will need places like leisure centres, gyms and swimming pools to remain open and survive, so as to help improve the physical and mental health of people of all ages."
Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, chair of the LGA's Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, said: "Communities are excited by the return of cherished leisure facilities from this weekend.
"But many providers are in serious trouble and, without urgent Government support, there is a real risk that our leisure facilities will disappear."
Commenting on the pausing of lockdown easing in Luton and Blackburn with Darwen, Mr Hancock said: "The latest data shows the incidence of Covid-19 in these areas is higher than in other areas of the country, and we have today agreed to support both local authorities to pause the further easement of lockdown measures in these areas.
"This means indoor gyms, swimming pools and other sport and exercise facilities will not reopen in Luton or Blackburn with Darwen on 25 July.
"I appreciate this will be disappointing for many people and some businesses in the area but we are in complete agreement with local leaders that the priority must be to protect local residents by stopping the spread of this virus."
The latest figures show that in Blackburn with Darwen, 135 new cases were reported in the seven days to July 21 - the equivalent of 90.6 cases per 100,000 people, up from 52.4 in the seven days to July 14.
In Luton, there were 23.4 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to July 21, down from 37.4, with a total of 50 new cases reported.
Gyms in Northern Ireland opened earlier this month, but indoor gyms remain closed in Scotland and Wales.
First Minister Mark Drakeford has also given the green light for the viewing of occupied homes for rent or sale to restart from Monday, as well as the reopening of cinemas, indoor museums, galleries, arcades, beauty salons and tattoo parlours.
Mr Drakeford said: "Thanks to the efforts we have all made to reduce the spread of the virus, we are taking further steps to reopen more of Wales.
"More of our retail, leisure, hospitality and tourism sectors, which play such an important part in our economy, will start to welcome back customers and guests."
He added: "It's the responsibility of all of us to follow these new rules so we can keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.
"Coronavirus has not gone away. But if we all work together, we can keep Wales safe."