Optimism sport will 'thrive' despite 50 pc drop in leisure centres use

A file photo of a man wearing headphones in the gym, weightlifting

Gyms have faced lockdown and social distancing restrictions since March 2020, but sport is set to "thrive", say leaders - Credit: PA

Participation in sport at Uttlesford's leisure centres is down by more than 50 per cent on pre-pandemic levels, figures reveal.

Between April and June this year, leisure centres operated by 1Life on behalf of Uttlesford District Council reported a downturn of 51.25 percent compared to the same period in 2019.

But there is optimism from Olympic bronze medallist and Saffron Seals swimming club head coach Dave Lowe that sport will "thrive" in the district this winter.

He said: "The opportunities are really opening up to get the youngsters fit again.

"Fewer of our GCSE-age swimmers (age 14-16) continued to swim during the pandemic, so I was concerned.

"But we are changing the way we work to accommodate the surprising interest we have had from new members of all ages."

Across the three leisure centres in Uttlesford, the greatest decrease in participation was at the Mountfitchet Romeera in Stansted, where attendance fell by 71.89 pc.

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At the Lord Butler Leisure Centre in Saffron Walden, participation fell by 61.26pc, with a 30pc drop in Great Dunmow.

The Lord Butler Leisure Centre in Saffron Walden, Essex

The Lord Butler Leisure Centre in Saffron Walden suffered a 61.26 percent drop in participation between April-June 2019 and the same period in 2021 - Credit: Archant

A UDC report described the fall in participation as "significant".

Leisure centres have faced lockdown and social distancing restrictions since March 2020.

Government limits on social distancing lasted until June this year.

Active Essex, a county council initiative to boost participation in sport, said it is important to make sure that healthy living is on the agenda as the county recovers from the impact of Covid-19.

Rachel Lewis, who looks after Active Essex in west Essex, said: "It can be hard to re-start or create a new habit.

"We know the importance of physical activity on our health and wellbeing, and how it can help prevent and aid recovery from diseases such as the Coronavirus."

A 1Life spokesperson said: "The world has changed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and we had to adjust the way we operate.

"We would like to remind the community we are fully open again, and we are here to offer great value health and leisure services to all."

1Life has launched a free one-day trial pass to boost participation.