Local leisure centres in a fit position to support the community
The role of our leisure centres in supporting community wellbeing will be discussed by West Devon Borough Council's Hub Committee when they meet next week.
At the Hub meeting on 2 November, councillors will be discussing a report regarding Fusion Lifestyle, the charity that manages Meadowlands and Parklands leisure centres. It examines how Fusion has juggled the challenges of essential closures and social distancing whilst still serving this vital role within our communities.
We all know that good access to local leisure and sporting facilities can help to improve mental wellbeing and physical health. As well as providing expertise and equipment to get people active, the Fusion team work with local groups like Okehampton Community and Recreation Association. The local leisure centres also serve as a hub within their community for people to meet up. However, the pandemic has resulted in big challenges for public sport and leisure services. For example, they have been hit by both long closure periods and higher running costs.
The report shows that participation across all the Fusion leisure centres in West Devon and the South Hams is now back to 80% of pre-pandemic levels (47,000 in August 2021 compared to 58,000 in August 2019).
These local figures are in line with the national trend for leisure centres following COVID. National research reveals that while public leisure centres have shown a steady rate of recovery since reopening in March, there are still former participants that have not returned, with recovery rates settling at just above 70%. This current data is being compared to 2019 figures in the same period. This national data also reveals that recovery in rural areas is lower than for urban areas and stands at 65%.
Throughout the pandemic, West Devon Borough Council provided a financial lifeline for many local organisations, allocating government grants to ensure they could survive the lockdowns. This local support included funding of over £500,000 to allow Fusion's leisure centres in Okehampton and Tavistock to help cover lost revenue and to prepare for safe reopening in April 2021 following the last lockdown.
Cllr Tony Leech, West Devon Borough Council Lead Member for Health and Wellbeing said: "We knew that it was vital to offer financial support to make sure that when things did open up, our leisure centres would still be there for local people to use. Now we are looking at how this funding has safeguarded Fusion's vital role within the community, what plans the centres have moving forward and what further support we can give as a Council to secure these most important facilities for local people.
"Now more than ever we're aware of the benefits our leisure centres bring not only to our physical health but also to our mental health too. Investing and supporting public leisure facilities is an investment in ill-health prevention. After a challenging 18 months, I'm very pleased to see that the numbers of people using the centres is now creeping back up. If even more residents support the centres in their town, we can offer more activities for the benefit of everyone in the community. I hope that the programme of activities planned by the team at Fusion will see more local people using the excellent facilities that we have available in West Devon."
Both Parklands and Meadowlands leisure centres were able to re-open as planned on 12 April 2021 following the last national lockdown.
Figures in the report that will be discussed include:
- Casual public swims have been very popular, also fitness classes have seen increased usage. The gym usage has been slower to recover.
- The launch of a new tourist membership in May 2021 has been popular across the sites.
- Extended opening hours have been introduced in line with demand.
Throughout the pandemic and since re-opening, Fusion has offered members and local people a variety of incentives to get together to get active. This includes online classes, free gym and swim passes for local residents, and the recent 'mid-week mile challenge' on National Fitness Day.
There are also plans for more events to help residents try new activities and enjoy their local leisure facilities. These include an open weekend at Meadowlands at the end of November with the chance to enjoy free class tasters and other activities.
Issued: 27 October 2021