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UK swimming sector analysed in new Leisure DB report

State of the UK Swimming Industry Report 2023 will be published on 31 July.
The report shows the average price of a swim has broken the £5.00 barrier for the first time (US$6.45, €5.83).
Nuffield Health is the UK’s number one private sector pool operator by number of sites with a pool and GLL in the top spot in the public sector.
Pool numbers fell only 1.8 per cent in the 12 months to the end of March 2023 compared to a fall of 5.1 per cent between 2019 and 2022
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Average charges for an adult swim session have topped £5.00 (US$6.45, €5.83) for the first time, as expenditure on swimming and swimming lessons reaches record levels, according to the new State of the UK Swimming Industry Report 2023 from market intelligence outfit, Leisure DB.

The finding bears out industry feedback showing that some operators and consumers are accepting the need to charge more for swimming.

Speaking to HCM recently, Duncan Anderson, CEO of South Downs Leisure, which is managing the new Swim Lanes lido in Brighton UK, explained that swim prices have been adjusted to ‘reflect the true cost of operating a pool’.

“We needed to charge the correct price at Sea Lanes, to not only fit in with the value proposition of the brand, but also to make it sustainable for the future and to reflect the true cost of operating a pool,” said Anderson

In addition to analysing the price of a swim, State of the UK Swimming Industry Report 2023 ranks operators by size, identifying Nuffield Health as the UK’s number one private sector pool operator by number of sites with a pool and GLL in the top spot in the public sector.

In the public sector, an average of 51 per cent of all pools in the UK are managed by a trust, with the figure in Scotland the highest at 67 per cent.

In addition to the numbers, the report includes interviews with operators and experts from across the sector, providing the story behind the statistics, as well as advice on best practice.

“What clearly emerges is a huge opportunity to further optimise pool capacities and revenues, with many operators reconfiguring pools and timetables to accommodate more swimming lessons,” says Leisure DB’s David Minton, while Marc Jones from Fitronics says: “Demand for swimming lessons is surging, with a huge backlog of children who couldn’t learn during COVID.”

The report identifies opportunities for the sector to increase revenues by adopting growth tactics. Bethan Laker of The Leisure Experts says: “Currently, the sector lacks the know-how when it comes to turning pool operations into profitable ventures.”

RLSS and Swim England Qualifications board member, Helen Bull, echoes this, saying: “The industry now needs to do things differently. The current situation reflects a lack of investment and a lack of joined-up action.”

In spite of concerns about pool closures, the report shows little change in the number of pools operating in the UK, with the total number down only 1.8 per cent in the 12 months to the end of March 2023.

This compares to a fall of 5.1 per cent between 2019 and 2022, indicating that operators are finding ways to keep pools open, even with the pressure of energy prices.

“What’s surprising in our 2023 figures is that we haven’t seen a more significant decrease in pool numbers,” says Minton. “There’s been less of an overall reduction in pool stock over the past 12 months than in the year directly following COVID.

However, “High energy costs will undoubtedly cause more casualties,” warns Minton. “It’s important to note that our figures include pools temporarily closed but slated to re-open and the coming 12 months will be critical, as big decisions are made on the future of pools across the UK.”

Liz Terry, editor of HCM magazine said: “Swimming is the ultimate workout, combining cardio, strength and flexibility and pools are critical to the nation’s health and safety.

“We need to see rapid decarbonisation of the sector to keep energy prices under control so we can keep pools open and enable access for all. We applaud the kinds of actions being taken by operators such as Everyone Active, with its new Net Zero strategy and urge other operators to follow suit”. Terry also called on government to continue to support the survival of the sector.

Minton said government support would be essential to the continuing sustainability of the sector, pointing out that more needs to be done. “The application process for the funding announced in March is only just happening," he said and "[Further] government support has not been forthcoming at the time of writing this report".

State of the UK Swimming Industry Report 2023 includes a breakdown of pool numbers and regional coverage, openings and closures, public and private sector analysis and commentary on trends. It will be published on 31 July 2023 and is available to pre-order/order at www.leisuredb.com/publications.

The UK government's Swimming Pool Support Fund is providing £60 million to local authorities in England with swimming pools:

Phase I - Revenue: £20m is available to support facilities with swimming pools with increased cost pressures. Closing date 11 August 2023.Phase II - Capital: £40m will be made available for capital investment to improve the energy efficiency of public facilities with pools in the medium to long term. Launch date for applications is September 2023

BACKGROUND: Industry lobbying

On 26 April, UK Active, Local Government Association, Community Leisure UK and Swim England told a meeting of the UK government's All Party Parliamentary Group for Swimming that increases in energy prices pose a ‘clear and present threat’ to swimming pools without further government support.

The meeting, attended by the Minister for Sport, Nigel Huddleston MP, heard that energy cost increases of between 100 -150 per cent for the leisure sector could force pool owners and operators to increase prices and consider closures.

Figures from UK Active showed that the total energy bill for the leisure sector has risen from £500 million in 2019 to between £1–£1.2 billion for 2023.

Huw Edwards, CEO of UK Active, said: “Our members want to avoid passing on these cost pressures to their customers, especially given the rise in the cost of living, nor do they want to restrict services or close but these outcomes are growing more likely every day that the Government does not act.

“Pools, gyms and leisure centres were recovering steadily following the pandemic [lockdowns] to serve their communities at a crucial time for the nation’s mental and physical recovery but with reserves exhausted, and increases in costs across a range of areas, the situation is incredibly challenging.

“We want to work with the Government to secure the support pools and fitness facilities need to ensure our nation’s health inequalities do not widen any further.”

Jane Nickerson, CEO of Swim England, said: “Swimming saves the NHS and social care system a minimum of £357m per year.

“This has never been more important than after the past two years, but the energy crisis poses a clear and present threat to the future of many facilities.

“With 40 per cent of people who exercise in the water not doing any other form of exercise, the loss of these facilities would be disastrous.

“Swimming is also a life skill. Too many of our children already leave school unable to swim, particularly those from less affluent families and those from ethnically diverse communities.

“Price increases and pool closures would only serve to make this situation even worse, widening health inequalities and excluding those most in need of these facilities.”

Pool owners and operators outlined to the meeting a range of measures they were taking to reduce energy consumption in their pools right now and longer-term investments in more energy efficient and carbon neutral solutions.

However, they stressed that none of these measures could resolve the acute difficulties immediately facing swimming pools.

Energy costs are typically a leisure operator’s second highest cost after staffing costs, which have also increased and the costs of chemicals required to treat pool water increasing by as much as 80 per cent.

BACKGROUND: Black Swimming Association flags up drowning riskNew insight from the Black Swimming Association indicates that children from ethnic minority backgrounds are seven times more likely to drown than children of White or White British ethnicity

The numbers are based on analysis of the National Child Mortality Database https://www.ncmd.info/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/NCMD-Trauma-Thematic-Report.pdf

The organisation has outlined a series of recommendations based on the data, which were discussed yesterday [25 July 2023] at an event in observance of World Drowning Prevention Day, at Number 10 Downing Street, London.

The World Drowning Prevention Day event brought together stakeholders and representatives from government bodies, aquatic bodies, lifesaving organisations, community leaders, and global experts to discuss water safety, access to swimming facilities, and strategies to empower all individuals across the UK, including those from diverse backgrounds, to participate in aquatic activities confidently.

"The Black Swimming Association is honoured to be have participated in the Number 10 event, a day of major significance for water safety and drowning prevention" said Danielle Obe, chair at the BSA. "It's crucial that we recognise the unequal and inequitable access to water safety knowledge and aquatic skills faced by Black and Asian communities in the UK and that we work together to eliminate these disparities.”

The event took place on the third World Drowning Prevention Day, a United Nations observance that serves as an opportunity to highlight the tragic and profound impact of drowning on families and communities and offer life-saving solutions. 236,000 people drown worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organization and most of these deaths are preventable through evidence-based and cost-effective solutions, including teaching school-aged children water safety and survival swimming skills and providing safe places away from water for pre-school children.

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Average charges for an adult swim session have topped £5.00 (US$6.45, €5.83) for the first time, as expenditure on swimming and swimming lessons reaches record levels, according to the new State of the UK Swimming Industry Report 2023 from market intelligence outfit, Leisure DB.
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