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Sport England advocates pivot to wellbeing

Sport England has released the Future of Public Sector Leisure report
It looks at how to evolve the traditional leisure sector into a service that is more focused on active wellbeing
The report was devised in association with Activity Alliance, Active Partnerships, APSE, CIMSPA, CLOA, Community Leisure UK, DCN, Local Government Association, Swim England and UK Active
Chief executive Tim Hollingsworth says this evolution will create healthier and more active communities
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Collectively the focus should be on repositioning the traditional offer of public leisure into an active wellbeing service, doing more to create healthier and more active communities
– Tim Hollingsworth, chief executive, Sport England
Credit: Sport England

Sport England has released the Future of Public Sector Leisure report which looks at how to evolve the sector from a traditional leisure service into one that is more focused on active wellbeing.

The report was devised in association with Activity Alliance, Active Partnerships, APSE, CIMSPA, CLOA, Community Leisure UK, DCN, Local Government Association, Swim England and UK Active. It reflects discussions among these leading organisations about the leisure sector’s current position and how best to progress amidst an energy and cost-of-living crisis.

Sport England says that the vision outlined in the report will create a closer relationship between health and leisure that is “built on social prescribing, co-location of services and the delivery of preventative activity opportunities – providing users with convenient places and ways to be active, located in close proximity to other health and social care services and facilities”.

The concept of the twenty-minute neighbourhood has provided some of the inspiration behind the report, with the goal of creating a more sustainable future for the public leisure services along with more active communities. The document reports early on that “fewer than two-thirds of adults and less than 50 per cent of children and young people meet the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines for physical activity”, which is at least 150 minutes per week for adults and at least 60 minutes per day for children.

It states that the evolution of the leisure sector, in the envisioned way, will require four pillars: leisure, physical health, mental health and social care; provision that is local and place-based; strong sector leadership; and low carbon provision.

“Public leisure facilities and services have a vital and unique role to play in our sport and activity ecosystem because of their value to the people who use them most,” said chief executive Tim Hollingsworth. “Months after the pandemic restrictions were lifted, participation levels at public leisure facilities have only partially recovered. Facilities have also had to battle rising energy costs, chemical shortages and challenges in maintaining the right levels of recruitment and retention of the workforce.

“Collectively the focus should be on repositioning the traditional offer of public leisure into an active wellbeing service, doing more to create healthier and more active communities. The sector has already seen good examples of the shift in approach across the country but also recognises the need for national momentum. By providing this common agenda, we will help the sector move forward in a sustainable way with a service that meets the needs of modern users.”

There are some insightful figures published in the report that highlight the high degree of collaboration and communication that must take place for “national momentum” to be achievable. Before Covid there were 2,727 leisure centres in England – which includes 33 per cent of swimming pools – 17 per cent of these were owned and operated by 61 local authorities and 83 per cent were run by 84 different external operators with different contacts in place with 267 local authorities. Around 68 per cent of sports halls and swimming pools were built more than 20 years ago and 72 per cent of all school swimming lessons take place in a public leisure facility.

While funding buoyed many leisure centres through Covid, these resources are now exhausted. The pandemic highlighted the financial fragility of the sector, states the report, confirming that virtually all of its income (94 per cent) comes from customer fees.

Huw Edwards, CEO of UK Active, commented: “While our sector continues to face huge challenges due to the ongoing energy and cost-of-living crises, we must continue to plan the evolution of public sector leisure provision, and the publication of the Future of Leisure report represents a milestone on this agenda.

“Together with our members, we are committed to supporting and driving forward an agenda of continual transformation of the whole sector ecosystem, including the delivery and role of public sector leisure. We are already demonstrating progress, as seen in our Decade of Change work and the recently published Digital Futures report on the digital maturity of the sector.

“We will continue collaborating with Sport England, the government and other sector stakeholders to drive forward the reforms necessary to allow our sector to achieve its full potential in supporting the health of the nation.”

The report can be accessed here.

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Sport England has released the Future of Public Sector Leisure report which looks at how to evolve the sector from a traditional leisure service into one that is more focused on active wellbeing.
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