Oxford City Council backs campaign for £800m government support for public leisure centres

Published: Monday, 3rd August 2020

With the many leisure centres across the country still struggling to open, Oxford City Council has written to the government giving its backing to the #SaveLeisure campaign from Community Leisure UK.

The #SaveLeisure campaign is calling for funding of around £800m to overcome the enormous financial impact of the Covid-19 lockdown period and its legacy, which has left public leisure providers facing a shortfall of around £800m this financial year (2020–21). Up to 35% of leisure facilities will not be able to reopen (from 25 July in England) due to the combination of exceptional increased costs resulting from lost income during lockdown and the need to operate at reduced capacity to comply with social distancing measures.

Without this funding, Community Leisure UK estimate that 48% of all public leisure facilities across the country face closure, meaning the loss of 1,300 centres by the end of the year, along with more than 58,000 jobs.

The first of Oxford’s public leisure centres begin reopening from 3 August, but the council’s leisure partner Fusion Lifestyle are still working to develop a viable plan for how and when our other sites can reopen.

Writing to the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, Councillor Linda Smith, cabinet member for leisure and parks, highlights the challenge in Oxford:

“Despite wishing to reopen a wide range of facilities as soon as possible to encourage our residents to get active again, the costs are prohibitive with approximately £1 million of additional funding needed to open the centres until March 2021.”

The Government launched its new Better Health campaign last week to encourage people to get fitter and lose weight as one of the ways to protect themselves from coronavirus. Public leisure facilities are perfectly placed to help people improve their physical and mental health and build resilience to coronavirus and future public health challenges. Providing services in the UK’s most deprived areas, public leisure facilities are a critical support for people from lower socio-economic groups who are 18% less likely to be active than their more affluent counterparts.

“The public leisure sector across the country is struggling, just at a moment when exercise and health are most critical to protect people from coronavirus. Public leisure centres are often in the most deprived areas, where there is no affordable alternative. We want to see the government backing its Better Health campaign with financial support for the public leisure sector, that’s why I’ve written to the Secretary of State to add our voice to the #SaveLeisure campaign.”

“In Oxford we’re pleased to see some public leisure provision reopening, with the gyms at Ferry Leisure and Rose Hill Community Centre reopening and Hinksey Outdoor Pool will open for 16+ lane swimming from 8 August. But we still have a way to go to agree an affordable plan for reopening other facilities, and we’re working with Fusion on a phased approach to reopening other leisure sites in the city.”

Councillor Linda Smith, cabinet member for leisure and parks

“Members of the User Group are delighted that Oxford City Council and Fusion are opening Hinksey Pool on the 8th August, initially to swimmers over 16 only. It means so much to people to be able to exercise in the fresh air again after so many months of inactivity.

“We appreciate the problems for the council and Fusion in opening the pool at a cost which won’t be covered by the reduced attendance because of social distancing requirements. We fully support the #SaveLeisure campaign as a way to ensure the opening of other pools and gyms across Oxford, all facilities which contribute to everyone’s health and happiness.”

Philippa Muir, on behalf of Hinksey Outdoor Heated Pool User Group