Sportside was heartened to see the latest stage three of England’s four-stage roadmap to recovery met this week when indoor exercise classes and sports started up again at gyms and fitness centres across the country.
The fitness industry was united in recognising it as a vital step for millions of people for their mental and physical health.
PureGym opened 10 new facilities in England last month alongside the reopening of its 230 sites and said that last month, in the first week of re-opening in England, they had “one million workouts”.
It added: “We expect to see around 165,000 members participating in 11,000 classes in England, Wales and Scotland this week.
“Our booking systems show that we have had more than 76,000 class bookings for the week commencing May 17 which proves how excited members are to get back into classes.”
Chief executive of ukactive Huw Edwards said: “Group exercise classes and indoor sports are loved by millions of people across the UK so it’s great to see them start to return.
“Through these popular community activities, our members have become the engine room of physical activity in our nations, making their reopening a vital moment for our physical and mental recovery.”
Beyond the obvious benefits to the younger generations who were itching to resume their gym regimes, sports industries were keen to emphasise that group exercise classes for the older generation have seen a very welcome return. These are classes that can help older people with their strength to stop them having falls at home or cancer patients who need rehabilitation services and also those using weight management programmes.
Around 400 gyms, pools and leisure facilities across the UK have closed during the pandemic with thousands more remaining under threat, ukactive said.
“Our sector still needs support and we will continue to fight hard for the financial and regulatory help which is urgently required so that as many facilities as possible are able to survive and recover fully,” said Edwards.
“Our members have shown tremendous courage and resilience in the harshest of environments, having to make tough operational decisions while facing no income during this period of lockdown. It’s time to support these vital facilities to play their fullest role in our nation’s health and wellbeing.”
Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, ukactive’s chairwoman, went further and wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging him to extend the National Leisure Recovery Fund for public operators, and introduce VAT relief for the private sector in line with other sectors, the Independent reported.
Meanwhile Sport England chief executive Tim Hollingsworth hailed the country’s latest easing of restrictions as a “giant step on the road to recovery”.
With sports like netball, basketball, table tennis and badminton resuming, all of which have been hit hard by COVID-19 constraints, Sport England also praised the return of group exercise classes which it believes is brilliant news for women, who make up 80 percent of participants.
“We have taken another giant step on the road to recovery and I am thrilled to see those indoor sports who were so badly hit by closures and restrictions getting back underway,” Hollingsworth told insidethegames.biz.
“Our own data shows us how challenging it has been for people to play sport and be active over the last year and though significant challenges remain for certain audiences and certain activities, the fact that so many more opportunities are now available thanks to the easing of restrictions is hugely welcome.”
Sport England added it had been working with partners to promote the return of activity via a series of campaigns and communication tools over the past few months.
But Hollingsworth admitted there were still “major challenges” to overcome.
Earlier this month, Sport England invested £20 million into its Tackling Inequalities Fund, which aims to tackle inequalities in accessing sport and physical activities.
“Some audiences are certainly finding it harder than others to be active and our insight bears this out,” said Hollingsworth.
“Many will require significantly more support than ever?before?and we are taking decisions now to ensure these numbers don’t slide further.??
“We know too that facilities are under strain, with publicly-owned leisure operators under huge financial pressures in particular and we’re continuing to work with the Government to offer support as they are absolutely vital to local communities.
“We also continue to work with the sports who require high levels of physical contact and with the Government so that they can return fully as soon as possible.”