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DCN: Third of councils expect to be forced to close leisure centres

One in three district councils expect to be forced to close gyms and swimming pools due to the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic a new survey has revealed, with 117 leisure centres in England estimated to be at risk of closure.

The District Councils’ Network (DCN), which represents 180 district councils providing leisure services in England, found 36% of its members thought it is likely they would need to close one or more leisure centres, while a quarter said it was ‘extremely likely’.

Nearly a fifth of those councils expecting to cut services said they were considering shutting three or more leisure centres, while almost four in 10 said at least two would close in their area.

19% of councils said centres will go out of business within the next three months and over half (59%) within the year.

Of those able to remain open, 80% are warning they will have no choice but to strip back many services.

The findings come as the government makes tackling obesity and improving people’s health and wellbeing a central pillar to its Covid-19 pandemic recovery strategy.

According to the DNC, the closure of leisure centres would also undermine Sport England’s Uniting the Movement strategy, a 10-year vision endorsed by Ministers to transform lives and communities through sport and physical activity.

The DCN is warning that withdrawing leisure services will mean a reduction in sport and wellbeing activities, which would have a damaging effect on people’s mental health.

Nearly nine in 10 councils say leisure centres have been used in projects to improve mental health.

The DNC said that government funding to support leisure centres during the pandemic has been helpful, however, warned that it falls far short of plugging the £325m funding gap faced by district council-run leisure services.

Leisure centres have played an important role in the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination programme, with one in five councils saying that centres in their area have been used to deliver jabs.

Commenting, DCN’s Lead Member for Enhancing Quality of Life, Councillor Dan Humphreys said:

“As these alarming findings show, the gyms, swimming pools and local leisure centres that communities rely on every day face a desperately bleak future, with many on the brink of closing in the coming months due to the financial losses they have incurred during the pandemic.

“The survival of our leisure centres will be fundamental to our health and economic recovery.

“Council leisure services are not like privately ran gyms, they are hubs of community and services helping everyone get active, from school swimming lessons to over 60s activity schemes.

“A wave of closures will deliver a real body blow to our efforts to boost physical and mental health and address the health inequalities across our communities.

“District councils have done all they can to keep leisure services afloat, but the devastating economic impact of the pandemic means over 100 centres are now at risk of closing their doors forever.

“The government must step in to provide leisure centres the financial lifeline needed to spearhead the local health recovery across our villages, towns and cities.”

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