Gyms face ‘uncertain future’ with many unlikely to open in England on Saturday

Gyms and leisure centres will be allowed to reopen in England on Saturday, but at least a third of public facilities are expected to remain shut due to financial hardship.

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.

Earlier this month, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden announced that gyms and leisure centres will be able to reopen from July 25, with strict hygiene and social-distancing measures.

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,” Mark Tweedie, chief executive of Community Leisure UK, told the PA news agency.

“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.

It is understood private gyms are more likely to open on Saturday due to a profit focused business model, meaning that they were making profit before the coronavirus crisis hit.

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.”

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.”

Gyms in Northern Ireland opened earlier this month, but indoor gyms remain closed in Scotland and Wales.

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