A coalition of more than 200 bodies and individuals* from the worlds of health, sport, recreation, and leisure has written to the Prime Minister with an urgent plea for greater support for grassroots facilities and clubs amid the ongoing energy crisis.
With energy costs relief for the UK’s swimming pools, leisure centres, community facilities, and gyms ending on 31 March, thousands of facilities and clubs are at risk of permanent closure or reduced services, as public and private sector organisations of all sizes face unprecedented financial challenges, with bills remaining up to 200% higher than normal.
For public leisure operators running services within local authorities, the latest data from ukactive’s members shows that 31% of council areas in England remain at risk of losing their leisure centre(s) or seeing reduced services at their leisure centre(s), from 1 April**, with around 350 facilities nationally already having seen service restrictions, temporary and permanent closures since October 2022.
The signatories of the letter range from major health bodies to sport’s national governing bodies, and the nation’s biggest fitness and leisure groups, while athletes such as Rebecca Adlington and celebrities including Davina McCall have also added their support.
The letter warns that, “Failure to identify bespoke support for the sector (and schools operating sports facilities) as part of the Energy Bills Discount Scheme will be the final straw for many facilities and services – especially swimming pools.
“Without national intervention, communities will see the loss of essential local services, including swimming lessons for children which are vital for water safety; multi-sport offerings; mental health services; bespoke programmes for older citizens, ethnically diverse communities, women and girls, and disabled people; and long-term health programmes including cancer rehabilitation and support for those with musculoskeletal conditions and type 2 diabetes.”
Within the letter, the coalition calls for the Government to:
- Reclassify swimming pools as energy intensive as part of the Energy Bills Discount Scheme so they have access to the higher level of discount on energy prices.
- Set out what tangible support it will provide to the wider sector – including gyms, leisure centres, sports facilities, and clubs –to help navigate the energy crisis across 2023 so that service restrictions and facility closures can be minimised.
- Set out a “plan for growth” for the sector by aligning the proposed new Sports Strategy with the Spring Budget to unlock the potential of the sector to support the economic, health, educational and social wellbeing of the nation.
The letter was coordinated a group of bodies, including: Active Partnerships, the Association for Public Service Excellence, the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity, the Chief Cultural & Leisure Officers Association, Community Leisure UK, District Councils’ Network, the Local Government Association, Sported, the Sport and Recreation Alliance, the Sport for Development Coalition, Swim England, the Swimming Teachers’ Association, the Youth Sport Trust, and ukactive.
Andy Taylor, CEO of Active Partnerships said: “We know being active can transform people’s lives, improving their physical and mental wellbeing. Many of our facilities providing activity opportunities and delivering these benefits are at the heart of local communities. It is therefore vital that we support facilities to not just survive but create the conditions for them to thrive in continuing to provide opportunities for people who are too often facing the greatest barriers to leading an active lifestyles.”
Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said: “Over two hundred organisations and prominent individuals are united in urging the Government to safeguard essential community facilities across the country that remain under threat of service restrictions and closure, impacting people of all ages and backgrounds.
“Pools, gyms, leisure centres, and community facilities form part of our social fabric, and they are vital for our nation’s health and the economy. Action must be taken to protect our facilities, and to help them recover and grow so they can in turn support the growth of a healthier, happier, more productive nation.”
Jane Nickerson, Chief Executive of Swim England, said: “The breadth of organisations who have joined forces to send such a clear message to the Government demonstrates the hugely important role our pools and leisure centres play in supporting the health of the nation and the seriousness of the situation these facilities are facing as a result of hugely increased energy costs.
“It’s vital they get the support they need so they can remain at the heart of local communities, helping people lead healthier and happier lives and reducing pressures on the NHS and social care system.”