UK government announces £100m to support leisure centre recovery

A member of staff uses anti-bacterial wipes to clean an exercise machine at Nuffield Health Sunbury Fitness and Wellbeing Gym in Sunbury-on-Thames, west of London on July 25, 2020 as novel coronavirus lockdown restrictions are eased to allow gyms, leisure centres and indoor swimming pools in England to reopen. - England's gyms, leisure centres and indoor swimming pools were allowed to open their doors on July 25 for the first time since the March shutdown was introduced to combat the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP) (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)
The National Leisure Recovery Fund, which started in December last year, was set up to provide “a solid funding platform” for the industry, and is managed by Sport England. Photo: Adrian Dennis / AFP

The UK government has allocated £100m ($138m) to 266 local authorities across England to bolster the recovery of publicly-owned leisure centres and gyms from the coronavirus pandemic.

It said that the funding, which is part of the government’s commitment to “building back fitter”, will allow leisure centres to plan reopening with certainty.

The National Leisure Recovery Fund, which started in December last year, was set up to provide “a solid funding platform” for the industry, and is managed by Sport England.

Allocations will mean that leisure centres and gyms can begin preparations for reopening as part of step two of prime minister Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown. They will be permitted to re-open their doors to the public after 12 April for individual socially distanced use.

Step three of the roadmap will allow indoor adult group sports and exercise classes to be permitted to resume from 17 May.

The £100m comes on top of local authority funding also being increased in the Budget, with an additional £1.5bn for 2021-22 financial year to be made available to councils.

This takes the total Government contribution to local government finance to over £6 billion for the course of the health crisis.

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Sports minister Nigel Huddleston said: “We know that Local Authorities have faced significant financial pressure as a result of the pandemic so this £100 million for leisure will be vital in helping them recover.

“Communities across England rely on their local leisure centre or gym to help them keep fit and healthy and this funding will assist those public facilities to make ends meet.”

Tim Hollingsworth, chief executive of Sport England, said: “Leisure facilities have a vital role to play in supporting the health of the nation and in particular in serving our more disadvantaged communities.

“Sport England has worked at pace to enable the distribution of the investment to happen as quickly as possible and remains committed to doing what we can to continue to support this crucial part of our sector.”

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It comes as UK gyms collectively have taken a £2.3bn hit to their revenue since the start of the pandemic.

According to calculations made by Pharma Nord another £46.6m will have been lost by the 1,164,000 people who it would have expected to join in January 2021.

Gyms have been among the worst hit businesses during the pandemic, and many have been shut for a large portion of the last year, as fears of spreading the virus led to widespread lockdowns. The loss of monthly subscriptions and unused investments in COVID-secure equipment has been costly.

While fitness clubs can vary in price, the Money Advice Service suggests that the average membership fee is about £40 every month. Meanwhile, gyms are usually given an extra boost during January. Health orientated New Year’s resolutions mean that 12% of all new members join in the first month of the year alone.

Based on this rationale, Pharma Nord estimates that pre-COVID, gyms would typically make £388m every month.

The Gym Group (GYM.L) also recently announced that its monthly cash burn during the current COVID-19 lockdown is £5m, while the November closures cost £6m. The group said that 45% of last year’s trading days had been lost due to government restrictions.

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