Blog entry by Niall Judge

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Community Leisure UK (CLUK) is a members’ association for charitable trusts that deliver public leisure and culture facilities. Here, CLUK’s CEO Kirsty Cumming reflects on some of the challenges that will be facing leisure centre operators as they work to reopen facilities for customers and users, including community sports organisations.

As we emerge from the third national lockdown across England, with the reopening of leisure venues, facilities and activities, there is reason to feel positive and optimistic. Our members have been working tirelessly to ensure that their facilities are safe, secure and ready to welcome people back and the feedback from customers has been overwhelmingly positive, demonstrating a renewed appreciation for local sport and leisure facilities and activities.

However, we fully appreciate the frustration for many clubs and groups in the challenges they may now face with accessing facilities or venues as they work to return to their sport or activity. We would encourage community sport organisations to work with the management teams within facilities, as we move through the reopening period together. Leisure trusts are seeking to provide the best offer and opportunities for everyone in their local communities, so please engage with them directly if you have queries or concerns.

We are still in a period of significant uncertainty with regard to the easing of restrictions. Below, we have briefly outlined some of the considerations and challenges facing leisure trusts as they progress with their reopening plans.

Leisure trusts are currently working at significantly reduced capacity due to social distancing restrictions. The health and safety of participants, staff and volunteers is paramount and facilities will only reopen if the safety of all individuals accessing them can be ensured, with adequate staffing to reopen.

There are significant challenges around financial viability, with running costs likely to be more expensive and reduced income from customers. The financial implications of re-opening venues and services will be considered properly before facilities reopen, and decisions will balance the needs and wishes of customers with protecting the viability and financial sustainability of the leisure trust(s).

One of the key challenges within the sector upon reopening is undoubtedly the availability, programming and accessibility of venues and facilities, with a likelihood that opening hours may be reduced/altered, due to reduced staffing levels and making sure facilities are cleaned thoroughly. Access to facilities will be provided in a fair and inclusive manner to make sure this is as equal as possible across communities and user groups, including sports clubs.

Finally, decisions on the reopening of individual facilities, and the different spaces within them, will be taken as long as there is enough demand from the community to support them as they reopen. Operators will also work to adapt activities to maximise people’s interest and meet customer needs based on their capacity (i.e. community based activities).

In conclusion, despite these challenges, there is real excitement about the future for sport and leisure and a vision of reshaping a stronger, more positive future. There has never been greater public awareness of the benefits of being physically active, and the lockdown restrictions have seen vast numbers of people walking, running or cycling to be active and look after their wellbeing.

Contact: Kirsty Cumming, CEO, Community Leisure UK 

[ Modified: Thursday, 22 July 2021, 11:19 AM ]