Find out the creative ways leisure trusts are supporting communities during the pandemic
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Find out the creative ways leisure trusts are supporting communities during the pandemic

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Ever since the UK's leisure facilities were closed on "lockdown day" – 20 March – the charitable trusts and social enterprises managing them have been coming up with a range of innovative ways to continue utilising the spaces and help surrounding communities.

In Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire, a leisure centre has been re-purposed to provide the base for The Chippy Larder: a membership programme that enables individuals and households from across the community to have access to affordable and nutritious food.

The initiative is a collaboration between GLL's Better, the charitable social enterprise that operates the centre and community food hub The Chippy Larder.

Food is provided by SOFEA, which sources provisions from surpluses generated by the Thames Valley region's supermarkets. Much of this food would end up in landfill if it was not collected by SOFEA.

In a separate initiative, Better-operated leisure centres in London and the south-east were among those to have donated over 115,000 items of PPE to St Thomas's Hospital.

The PPE is normally used by Better's staff on cleaning and maintenance duties and while administering first aid.

Better has also partnered with foodservice company Brakes to offer a home delivery service to its members and to create an alternative revenue stream during the lockdown.

Elsewhere, the Doncaster Culture and Leisure Trust (DCLT) has turned itself from a leisure provider into a community support provider.

Working closely with Doncaster Council, the leisure trust converted its facilities to set up a Community Hub project, as part of an emergency response system which ensured the most vulnerable people across the borough were supported during the early stages of the lockdown.

The Doncaster Community Hub – a partnership between the council, DCLT, St Leger Homes, Age UK and other voluntary, community and faith organisations – has operated from a number of DCLT managed venues, including Doncaster Dome.

The Hub delivered humanitarian support via an emergency helpline, food distribution and proactive support for the shielded population.

In Lancashire, Oldham Community Leisure (OCL) has initiated a number of new partnerships to help local residents.

When its centres first closed, OCL donated all remaining stocks from its vending machines to the Oldham Food Bank. Since then the partnership has grown and the Oldham Leisure Centre was turned into an operations hub for the foodbank.

All deliveries from external businesses come to the leisure centre, where staff and volunteers prepare food parcels and distribute them to local families, with the OCL team assisting with the logistics of collections from supermarkets.

Meanwhile, in Burnley, furloughed fitness staff from the Burnley Leisure trust have been using their expertise to provide local people with virtual exercise sessions.

The volunteers have been running online fitness classes for children and vulnerable people during the lockdown and were praised for filming a personalised workout video for a local woman with a weak muscle condition and learning disabilities.

Olivia Taylor, 21, usually swims at Padiham Leisure Centre with her mother or her carer, but struggled with home workout routines during lockdown. After her mother contacted the manager at Padiham Leisure Centre, fitness instructor Rebecca McDevitt put together a workout especially for Olivia.

"The routine is ideal for Olivia. She felt really included and we now use Rebecca's video as part of Olivia's daily routine at home," said Olivia's mother, Justine.

"This simple act of kindness has made a massive difference to Olivia and to me."

Speaking on the way trusts are activating in their old communities, Stuart Lockwood, chief executive of Oldham Community Leisure, said: "I believe we are integral to community spirit and, as such, we're all working hard to keep our community active, healthy, connected and safe.

"The world is a very different place right now and everyone is affected. "Across the community, we serve a wide range of individuals and groups. Over the next few weeks, we'll continue to support people in any way we can, as we prepare for a return to normal life once COVID-19 passes."

• To read more stories on how leisure trusts are innovating, click here for the dedicated page for news from members of Community Leisure UK

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Ever since the UK's leisure facilities were closed on "lockdown day" – 20 March – the charitable trusts and social enterprises managing them have been coming up with a range of innovative ways to continue utilising the spaces and help surrounding communities.
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