Councils are working closely with leisure centres and swimming pools in their areas as they look to try and reopen from this weekend. However, significant losses of income during this period has left many leisure providers on the brink of financial collapse.
The Government is set to announce plans to tackle the obesity crisis to get the nation fit and ready to deal with any second wave of COVID-19. The Local Government Association, which represents councils in England and Wales, said that leisure facilities are a key tool in this national effort but they need urgent funding to cover loss of income, maintenance and utility costs.
Many leisure providers are concerned that memberships and visits to facilities will not return to pre-pandemic levels for some time, meaning they will be unable to generate the income needed to cover the service costs of reopening.
Whilst some people have been able to take the opportunity to try online classes and new forms of exercise during lockdown, many others have seen their activity levels decrease and a number of leading health experts, including the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have warned that the lockdown has worsened the epidemic in childhood obesity.
The LGA also said the coronavirus pandemic has hit those from more deprived backgrounds and the black, Asian and minority ethnic community hardest, whether that be through deaths, digital poverty or a lack of accessibility to parks, private gardens and green spaces to exercise.
Obesity and physical inactivity are the biggest public health challenges we face, and councils are already stepping up and working with the Government and partners to help our communities live healthier and more active lives. With over a quarter of children aged 2-15 and 62 per cent of adults in England overweight or obese, and at an increased risk from diseases such as diabetes and cancer, the LGA said access to leisure facilities will play a key part in managing and reducing long-term health conditions.
Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Chair of the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, said:
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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.
Exercising regularly is clearly a great way to get healthy and tackle obesity. A more active community is a healthier, stronger and more prosperous community but the lockdown has increased physical inactivity and unhealthy eating habits for some families.
The Government urgently needs to provide funding to ensure leisure facilities stay open to all communities and recognises their role in the fight against obesity, inactivity and poor mental health, which in turn will help to save the NHS being overburdened in the future.