Coronavirus lockdown prompts plea to help leisure centres

A PLEA to help leisure centres across Somerset stay open comes after the coronavirus lockdown had “crippling” effects.

South Somerset District Council (SSDC) is working with local authorities across the South West to call on the Government to provide funding to safeguard the future of leisure centres.

Some businesses have seen a drop in income of up to 50 per cent during the pandemic.

Mitchell Wingham, founder and owner of MawFIT Ltd in Ilminster, said: “Lockdown was crippling for our entire sector, almost fatal for most independents.

“However, despite membership figures being down 50%, the gym is thriving and is slowly becoming a hub for our community once again.

“The safety of our members has been the only focus, membership numbers shall rise again in time.

“I look forward very much to MawFIT’s future as we have big things planned.”

Somerset County Gazette: MawFIT gym in Ilminster, where lockdown had 'crippling' effectsMawFIT gym in Ilminster, where lockdown had ‘crippling’ effects

As well as the fall in membership, the cost of additional measures such as PPE and hand sanitiser has also hit centres hard.

“SSDC is one of those authorities that is financially supporting its leisure providers to enable facilities to re-open,” said councillor Mike Best, SSDC’s portfolio holder for health and wellbeing.

“Our leisure providers income has suffered as a result of Covid-19 and we are keen to ensure that facilities continue to be provided in South Somerset.

“We are not alone and most councils across the South West, and we have been told nationally, are in similar positions.

“While the government has recognised that some councils have lost income from leisure facilities and has decided to compensate them, many others have not by virtue of who is providing them.

“This just doesn’t make sense; these centres really need some help now. This is a crisis that will not go away.”

Councils who are members of the South West Leisure Group have warned the Government needs to act now before it is too late for the sector.

A Government spokesperson said: “We recognise how important leisure centres are for people’s health and wellbeing.

“The Government is providing councils with an unprecedented £4.3 billion to tackle immediate pressures they have told us they are facing, and we are working closely with the leisure sector to discuss how we can support them further.”

Cllr Val Keitch, leader of SSDC, added: “The leisure facilities provided by local authorities are vital to our communities as councils provide the facilities that the private sector is not generally interested in such as swimming pools etc.

“Councils that outsourced management of these facilities are now being penalised by the government because they cannot recover the vast sums of money now being required to effectively prop up their external providers and enable them to open facilities.”

Somerset County Gazette | News