Blog entry by Niall Judge
Public leisure facilities are a vital resource for sports clubs and groups. More and more facilities have now re-opened and are welcoming clubs and groups back. Operators continue to face significant challenges including increasing running costs and staffing shortages. At the same time, they remain focussed on providing balanced programmes of activity designed to improve people’s health and wellbeing. If your club or group wants to get back, now’s the time to start a discussion with your local leisure trust.
Jennifer Huygen, Head of Policy and Strategic Partnerships at Community Leisure UK tells us more...
Following the reopening of leisure facilities over the summer, Community Leisure UK took the chance to catch up and reflect with public leisure facility operators. Through in-depth conversations with our members[i], we found that whilst there are still significant challenges to overcome, there is more clarity on the trajectory of recovery than back in June 2021 when we last wrote for Club Matters.
When asked for their priorities over the next few months, our member trusts told us that they need to focus on their day-to-day business. including increasing participation numbers, expanding their programming, exploring alternative income streams, renegotiating contracts, and addressing their recruitment and retention challenges. Their priority relating to programming and business recovery is on bringing back and expanding their health and wellbeing offer and ensuring a wide-reaching physical activity programme that offers choice based on personal preferences, needs and ability to engage.
Leisure operators continue to be under pressure due to rising gas and electricity prices, a stagnated return of income, increases in National Insurance contributions, projected National Living Wage increases, and supply chain challenges. All of which create a difficult financial landscape. Income across the sector for the period April to August 2021 was reported to be at 66% of pre-Covid levels, whereas expenditure was at 75%. Therefore, despite the recovery to date, there is an average subsidy of 43p per visit, highlighting that services are still running at a deficit[ii].
Leisure trusts will need to consider how they are going to balance these additional cost pressures. There is a risk that these may lead to reduced opening hours, closure of facilities, or increases in activity costs that may be charged back to users including individuals, schools, clubs, and community groups. We know that our members will do all they can to prevent this as it will adversely impact those who need accessible and inclusive local leisure and cultural facilities the most, exacerbating existing inequalities.
Most sports halls and pitches have gone back to their regular function following the support for mass testing and vaccination. However, in many cases, this is still in restricted form as centres continue to operate with reduced level classes, due to staffing challenges or as a reflection of high local Covid-19 infection rates, ventilation considerations, and customer’ demands for continued safety measures.
However, these facilities are seeing a return of more regular programming and are offering opportunities for clubs and groups to go back. Operators are rethinking how to balance their programming to manage the backlog of swimming classes and still create a viable offer to increase participation numbers.
There is now a real opportunity for clubs and groups to come back and complement their local operator’s health and wellbeing offer. We would encourage sports clubs and groups to speak to their local facility operators and have open and honest conversations about their programmes and schedule of activities to explore how they can jointly provide an inclusive and accessible offer for their local communities.
[i] The full report can be read on our website here: https://communityleisureuk.org/news/new-report-evidences-continued-financial-challenges-for-the-public-leisure-and-culture-sector/
[ii] Moving Communities Sector Recovery Analysis. Financial Year 2021 vs Financial Year 2019. Finance Analysis.