Gyms face ‘uncertain future’ with many unlikely to open in England

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Martha Fairlie

Gyms and leisure centres are now allowed to reopen in England but at least a third are expected to remain shut due to financial difficulties caused by coronavirus lockdown.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden announced in July that gyms and leisure centres will be able to reopen with strict hygiene and social-distancing measures.

But Community Leisure UK - the member's association that represents charitable leisure and culture trusts - says at least 35% may not be able to reopen due to increased operating costs and warn that jobs could be at risk.

It estimated that 48% of all public leisure facilities face closure - meaning as many as 1,300 could disappear by the end of the year, along with more than 58,000 jobs.

Gyms will have to adhere to strict social distancing procedures when they reopen. Credit: PA

“We’re expecting at least 35% not to open tomorrow,” Mark Tweedie, chief executive of Community Leisure UK said.

“The main reason is financial viability, because as with all of the high streets and services – zero income since the end of March."

He said leisure facilities are impacted by operating costs, especially those with swimming pools which are costly to run.

Mr Tweedie said: “So what some operators are doing is saying ‘well we can’t open at all because we’ve just got mainly pools only’, or ‘if we’ve got a pool and a gym, we’ll just open the gym and not the pool because that will help us recover financially’.

“And some are being bold and saying ‘look we’ll open the whole lot’,” he said - adding that in some areas it may be decided to just open one pool and direct as much capacity to that one as possible."

Some places are facing such a major financial crisis that they do not plan to open until the end of the furlough scheme, he added.

The sector could lose £305 million due to the pandemic. Credit: PA

The District Councils' Network (DCN) warned of the "uncertain future" faced by gyms and leisure sector with an estimated loss for the sector at £305 million.

It is understood that private gyms make be more likely to open as their business model ensured they were operating at a profit before the pandemic hit.

The DCN, which represents 187 district councils in England, called on the Treasury to provide a rescue package to save leisure centres from collapse.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak was asked about the UK response to migrant crossings on Friday morning Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Councillor Dan Humphreys, DCN lead member for enhancing quality of life, said: “It is great that gyms and leisure centres are able to reopen today – with safety for staff and users paramount.

“But they open on the brink, their income has plummeted over the lockdown and many face an uncertain future.

“This is why it is absolutely critical the Treasury comes up with a rescue package for leisure centres yet to receive financial support.

“The national recovery from coronavirus will need places like leisure centres, gyms and swimming pools to remain open and survive, so as to help improve the physical and mental health of people of all ages.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has outlined a £30 billion "mini-budget" to kickstart the economy and protect jobs in what he said was a plan designed to get the country through the economic crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, chair of the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, said: “Many providers are in serious trouble and, without urgent Government support, there is a real risk that our leisure facilities will disappear.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that indoor gyms, swimming pools and other sport and exercise facilities will not open in Luton or Blackburn with Darwen due to an increase in coronavirus cases.

Gyms in Northern Ireland opened earlier this month, but indoor gyms remain closed in Scotland and Wales.