Clubs ready to deliver if facilities are ready to return

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Research by the Sport and Recreation Alliance has shown that community clubs are ready to return once restrictions end but there remain serious concerns that a reduction in available facilities may leave some unable to deliver activity.

88% of respondents are ready to provide active opportunities to their communities but our results show that accessing facilities is the number one barrier for clubs preventing them to being able to return. 

Those who use leisure centres, school facilities and other indoor facilities reported that the challenge of accessing these areas to deliver their sport was either ‘significant’ or ‘critical’.

Lisa Wainwright, CEO of the Alliance said: “We were heartened to see so many of our wonderful community clubs are in a position to return once restrictions allow, but it is alarming that our facilities aren’t as well prepared. Urgent financial support is required to allow our leisure centres, gyms and activity centres to re-open as soon as possible.

“The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the infrastructure which allows our local clubs to deliver their activity. Many have been forced to close with little sign of re-opening.

“Coupled with the inability to access and utilise school facilities during this period, we are rightly concerned that millions of people who are ready to return to activity may have nowhere to play, train or compete.

“It is therefore also vital that schools and other educational providers feel comfortable in reopening their facilities for community use. Pre-pandemic, 45% of all sporting facilities in England were contained in an educational setting.

“Around half of this stock was available for community use. Making sure that this proportion of our facilities is available to active opportunity providers should be considered a strategic priority for our sector.

“It shouldn’t stop there. Due to the limitations on facility capacity, clubs now require more facilities to be available, just to return to previous levels of support.

"Through no fault of their own, some leisure operators have been unable to reopen facilities due to their perilous financial situation. For those facilities which have opened, many have been, or will be, forced to do so at a lower capacity. 

"We appreciate the need for limiting facility capacity when the science shows this will aid the fight against the pandemic. This means that fewer participants can be hosted compared to pre-pandemic settings.

“Our analysis of Sport England's Active Places Power database shows that 22% of all sporting facilities in England are currently locked behind school gates and unavailable to the community for use. Unlocking this and increasing availability would help to meet the shortfall in supply for facilities currently being experienced by our clubs.

“Therefore, government must seriously explore the requirement for operators to be financially supported to re-open facilities and welcome back their local communities."

Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, added: “Our nation’s love for sport and physical activity is clear and we know it’s been a hugely challenging start to the year, with our gyms, pools and leisure centres closed during lockdown.

“Despite being allowed to reopen now, many of these essential facilities remain closed or in danger of permanent closure if they do not receive further financial and regulatory support from the Government. 

“Gyms, pools and leisure facilities provide the engine room for our nation’s activity levels and form a critical part of our health infrastructure, supporting the physical, mental and social wellbeing of people of all ages and backgrounds.

“We urge the Government to act swiftly to deliver the tailored financial and regulatory support which many facilities need to reopen confidently so they can continue providing for their communities.

“The Government has an opportunity to provide our private sector facilities with the same VAT relief offered to other sectors, and to deliver a second phase of the National Leisure Recovery Fund for public sector operators.

“If we are serious about our ambitions to put health and wellbeing at the heart of the UK’s recovery, and reducing our health inequalities, facilities in the physical activity sector must be allowed to survive and thrive.”

The Sport and Recreation Alliance will continue to work with our members, the sector and government to share knowledge and insight into the re-opening of community activity.

The full research report can be read here.