Huw Edwards: physical activity sector adapting to closures, but reports of eviction threats are shameful
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Huw Edwards: physical activity sector adapting to closures, but reports of eviction threats are shameful

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The physical activity sector is adapting to the difficult circumstances caused by COVID-19 (Coronavirus), according to ukactive CEO Huw Edwards.

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4's Today programme on 28 March, Edwards said the closure of all gyms, health clubs and sporting facilities means that the sector is facing unprecedented challenges.

"It's been a very traumatic week for the fitness and leisure sector – for the leadership as well as the workforce," he said.

"There are great levels of anxiety and stress. But we have to contribute to the collective fight and support the government and the NHS.

"And while facilities are temporarily closed, they are still open for business. For example, we are working with our children's activity providers to support children and young people being active every day.

"We are also seeing our gyms and leisure centres getting their facilities online and providing resources, so people can be active at home. Many are also looking after the older and the vulnerable with bespoke programmes for people who are in retirement age. So the sector is adapting to the circumstances."

While Edwards also welcomed the government's financial support packages, he said there remains work to be done to ensure the help is available as soon as possible.

"The reality is that we are seeing our members having zero income, so we've been working very closely with government on this," Edwards said.

"The government announcements so far have been very positive, but it's now a question of how that money filters through to provide the financial support.

"There are two main areas to this. The first being the access to investment.

"Some of our members find themselves 'between' the measures offered by the government: they are too large to access the loans, but probably too small to access the major investments. So we need the government to unlock that money.

"Secondly, we need the government to really enforce the issue of freeing up that funding when it comes to private landlords, local authorities and the banks."

Expanding on this, Edwards said there had been some "saddening" reports of operators being put under pressure due to rents and bills.

"There are some really disappointing stories of our members being threatened with eviction and winding-up orders," he said.

"That is quite shameful in the current circumstances, so we will be working with the government on that."

Edwards' comments on the behaviour of landlords and lenders has resulted in the matter being discussed on social media platforms.

Among those commenting on the issue was Steven Ward, chief transformation officer at Spain-based Ingesport – and a former CEO of ukactive. "For those landlords that think this is the time to push companies over the edge, shame on you," Ward said on LinkedIn.

"Many in our industry took the brave call to jump into the graves of businesses fleeing the high street or retail parks, when other sectors failed to make such premises work.

"Who do you think comes next? Who do you think is going to be in a better place once this crisis subsides? Take a breath, support your tenants, and help us all rebuild."

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The physical activity sector is adapting to the difficult circumstances caused by COVID-19 (Coronavirus), according to ukactive CEO Huw Edwards.
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