Indoor Leisure Facilities - Draft Strategy & Action Plan

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Post COVID-19 Position

Central Bedfordshire Council drafted the updated Leisure Facilities Strategy and Physical Activity Strategy prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time people's choices and patterns of exercise and physical activity were well known and documented by a range of national organisations' data gathering; chief among them being the Sport England's Active Lives survey.

During lockdown access to indoor sports and leisure facilities ceased, as did formal outdoor sport; exercise and physical activity was restricted to self-generated activities alone or with family/bubble. Many people felt motivated and had extra time to develop other forms of activity and for some this meant an increase in exercise and activity, but for others the lack of formalised facilities and activities resulted in a decrease in their activity levels.

Throughout lockdown Sport England carried out regular surveys to understand how people were reacting in terms of their activity levels and attitudes to keeping active. The link provides a weekly breakdown of responses https://www.sportengland.org/how-we-can-help/coronavirus and shows a mixed picture of activity as the crisis continued.

The country emerged from lockdown into the current constrained form of access to facilities and activities, but the potential for future increases in infection rates and the restrictions which may accompany them, mean there is still no settled 'new norm'.

To gauge early indications of people's intentions about visiting leisure centres post-Covid, Leisure-Net carried out a post lockdown recovery survey with users of leisure centres across the country. The survey received 65,000 responses and has been broken down into local authority area.

Results showed that 88% of people said they will use their leisure centre/club more or the same when it reopens, with 8% saying they will use it less and only 4% saying they will not return. The main reason customers gave for planning to using their centre less was because they will be doing outdoor independent activity, but it remains to be seen if that will continue in colder, wetter winter months.

Strategy Consultation

While much has changed, and may continue to change, the strategies are founded on key principles and knowledge which will remain constant.

What we know – health benefits

  • Health benefits of physical activity - being active benefits both physical and mental health.
    • It can reduce high blood pressure, help manage weight and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and various cancers - all conditions that can increase susceptibility to COVID-19.
    • It improves bone and muscle strength, increases balance, flexibility and overall fitness. For older people being active helps to prevent falls and injuries.
    • It opens up opportunities for social interaction, which can reduce the risk of social isolation, depression, cognitive decline and delay the onset of dementia.
    • We know that COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on people with the greatest need, who also have the most to gain from the health benefits of physical activity. Those living with Long Term Health Conditions (LTHCs), on lower incomes, BAME communities, disabled people, women and those living in urban areas all found it harder to be active during the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Public Health priorities - Central Bedfordshire's vision is to improve health and wellbeing and reduce inequalities now and for future generations. The Leisure Strategy supports this vision and contributes to all three identified priorities including; Improving mental health and wellbeing for people of all ages, Enabling people to optimise their own and their family's health and wellbeing, and Ensuring that growth delivers improvements in health and wellbeing for current and future residents.

What we know – supporting communities / sustainable communities

Alongside the dedicated facilities and activities that leisure centres provide, is their wider role in helping to shape and support our communities. Together with facilities such as schools, open spaces, libraries and shops, leisure centres play a role in creating and sustaining a vibrant and viable community.

  • Supporting growth – planning for new and improved leisure centres supports the forecast housing growth in Central Bedfordshire, and delivers the facilities needed by the current and planned communities to live healthy, active lives.
  • Planning Policy – to secure the right facilities in the right locations to support growth, the council needs a clear and evidenced policy. This enable the council to secure facilities and/or S106 developer contributions toward these facilities.
  • Local Plan - Policy HQ4 of the emerging Local Plan says leisure centres are not only important in contributing to improving the physical health of communities but function as valued community hubs where people meet and socialise.
  • CBC Investment Priorities – the strategy provides clear priorities for CBC in terms of future investment in leisure facilities.
  • Supporting the economy - leisure facilities support the local economy financially; 'every £1 spent on community sport and physical activity generates nearly £4 for the English economy and society'.
  • Community cohesion – centres offer social space for individuals and groups to interact, and can be a key space for bringing sectors of the community together.
  • Supporting Schools – leisure centres offer a range of facilities which support schools to deliver both curriculum and extra-curricular activities.
  • Nurturing grass roots sport – centres support a wide range of sports and activities for people of all abilities, but they also facilitate and nurture talent at an early age which ultimately supports competitive sport in all its forms.
  • Supporting people – while many have tried alternative forms of exercise during lockdown, many need the personal interaction, expertise and motivation provided by a class, a teacher and a supportive and competitive environment.

Purpose of consultation

Understanding the changing pattern of exercise and physical activity of our residents is a key consideration for Central Bedfordshire Council in progressing the consultation on the Leisure Facilities Strategy and the Physical Activity Strategy. While we cannot predict how long Covid will be with us, it is important to explore our residents' requirements in terms of accessing built leisure facilities and their attitude to exercise and physical activity generally.

We need to support the Local Plan with robust policy on the provision of built leisure facilities, to secure appropriate facilities or contributions from new development. We also need to shape our physical activity service to understand our target areas and deliver maximum impact.

In consulting on the Leisure Facilities Strategy and the Physical Activity Strategy at this time, Central Bedfordshire Council is conscious that there are no certainties about how and where people will choose to take exercise and physical activity.

We do know that public leisure centres feature at the heart of communities, they play an essential part in supporting our residents' health and wellbeing, and can help reduce escalating NHS and social services costs.

CBC iscommitted to being as supportive as we can to the sport and physical activity sector, and doing all we can to help people stay active.

The strategies set out the council's approach, and feedback from the consultation will help us set our policies for the future.

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