Coronavirus: Leisure centres ‘could close’ without funding

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Gyms have to ensure social distancing and not all members feel ready to return indoors to exercise

Some public pools and sports centres could be at risk of closing without more government money, according to a group representing leisure trusts.

Community Leisure UK said 15 cultural and leisure facilities were at risk.

Leisure trusts – usually not-for-profit bodies – run services in 11 out of Wales’ 22 council areas.

The Welsh Government said it had given extra money but the Welsh Local Government Association said long-term funding was needed.

Quarter of members lost

Not-for-profit Better Cardiff has recently reopened six of its eight leisure centres.

Head of service Rhys Jones, said he hoped it would manage the next 12 months, but there were no guarantees after the trust lost a quarter of its members during lockdown.

“When the government instructed us to close on 20 March we lost all our income overnight, so more than £2.5m of income,” he said.

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Better Cardiff

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Public pools are popular but expensive to run

He urged the Welsh Government to provide financial support for the sector, adding any inaction was “threatening people’s health and physical and mental well-being”.

“We are part of the answer to this virus, this is a public health crisis, everyone knows being physically active boosts your immune system and is a good defence against the virus,” he said.

Mr Jones added he recognised the need to be safe but the policy of only allowing 30 people in one room regardless of its size was “holding things back a little bit”.

Community Leisure UK said its latest research showed 44% of trusts in Wales would be “non-viable or insecure” by the end of this financial year with “15 facilities across leisure and culture are at risk of permanent closure”.

The body said there was a “critical need for ring-fenced government financial support” and it had been difficult for trusts to access other UK government help such as loan schemes or grant funding.

‘We can’t all afford expensive gyms’

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Alyson Smith says her local leisure centre is a “fantastic resource”

Alyson Smith, from Cardiff, described her local leisure centre as “her rock” in the last two years after her partner died suddenly.

The fitness enthusiast said she was worried about funding and wants to see investment in a healthy population.

She helped to create a “Stay Strong” programme alongside staff at Eastern Leisure Centre in Llanrumney.

The course offers fitness classes and workshops or relaxation techniques to help people deal with issues like anxiety.

With the programme paused under lockdown, she said the last few months had been “awful”.

“I became quite depressed towards the end of lockdown because at one point I had not seen another human being for three months”.

“We can’t all afford to go to expensive gyms or spend thousands of pounds on home exercise equipment.

“This offers something at the centre of community that’s reasonably priced and it’s a fantastic resource,” she added.

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Better Cardiff

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Leisure centres will not be able to operate as they once did

Huw Thomas, Welsh Local Government Association spokesman for tourism and leisure, said long-term funding was needed.

Leisure centres, whether run by councils or trusts, had taken a financial hit during the pandemic, and “as they start to reopen you know they’re not going to be able to reopen to the same level of numbers as existed previously”, he said.

A Welsh Government spokesman said it provided support to the sector through its economic resilience fund and through Sport Wales.

He said it had recently announced a further £260m for councils, “bringing the total amount of support to half a billion pounds”, to help with additional pandemic costs, which could be used to support leisure facilities.

BBC News