We acknowledge the challenge faced nationally and that some very tough decisions need to be made in combatting COVID-19 but are disappointed at the Government’s decision to close leisure facilities as part of the renewed national lockdown.
The accessibility of community health facilities is integral to the health, wellbeing and resilience of the population during a public health crisis and these renewed closures will inevitably lead to reduced activity levels and subsequent negative impacts on physical and mental wellbeing. Both of which are directly in opposition of the Government obesity plan.
This is something that was acknowledged by the Government’s own SAGE committee as recent as 21 September 2020, with experts concerned of ‘the risk of increasing mental health problems with closure of gyms’. This lockdown significantly differs from the one earlier this year as with adverse weather and an early loss of light, outdoor physical activity opportunities are not as accessible and the impact of closing leisure facilities is even more severe on people’s activity levels.
We’re incredibly proud of how the whole sector and our independently owned clubs have risen to the challenge of these unprecedented circumstances. Our sector has welcomed members back safely into gyms for over four months which is what makes this decision even more difficult to take. Recent data from ukactive from the week of 5-11 October showed that across five million gym visits, there was an incidence rate of 2.88 cases per 100,000 visits. This is tracking far below the national average and proves that leisure facilities are not significantly contributing to person-to-person transmission of the virus.
With the lockdown to be finalised in Parliament this week, we urge an urgent change in decision and allow the fitness sector to continue to help serve and protect the NHS and our wider nation in the fight against the virus.
If there is no change to the terms of the lockdown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must provide comprehensive financial support for the health and fitness sector. It’s been well publicised that a third of leisure facilities have still not reopened since the original national lockdown due to their perilous finances and without the necessary support during this second lockdown, these figures will become even more bleak.
As a sector, we have had one of the longest lockdowns out of all businesses and during a national health crisis, there needs to be a strong financial package. As a minimum, this must include the same VAT relief as hospitality and given access to the same grants as public leisure sectors and the arts via the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). While the return of the furlough scheme is welcome, that and the £3,000 from the Local Restrictions Support Grant are not enough when our revenues are zero.
Landlords are continuing to demand full rent and banks are removing loan holidays so there must also be an extension to the moratorium which prevents landlords from serving eviction notices to commercial tenants. This is currently due to be lifted on 31 December and even in the best-case scenario that we’re allowed to reopen on 2 December, gym owners will have endured another four weeks with no income. While we appreciate landlords are continuing to be affected by the pandemic too, there needs to be legislation to ensure they share equally in the pain. Gyms are here to stay and its mutually beneficial to help in the short term in order to continue a healthy working relationship and trade together in the longer term.
We have spent a significant time in lockdown investing in additional virtual resources for our members who will have access to our new online member platform AF Connect Online and the Anytime Workouts app. We look forward to continuing to support them, even though they won’t be able to be within the four walls of our clubs and thank them for their patience and understanding of the situation in what is a frustrating time for everyone.
As a sector, we cannot take this lying down. We are a direct solution to the public health crisis and are being held back from playing the integral role we know we can play in the nation’s recovery. People’s physical and mental health are at stake as well as people’s jobs and livelihoods and we will be campaigning with all our might to ensure we’re able to reopen at the earliest possible opportunity and provide an essential service to the nation.