‘A huge loss’: readers on how UK leisure center closures have affected them | Communities

Alice, an artist on the Isle of Wight, was hopeful that her son would be a confident swimmer by the summer. Her six-year-old had been making good progress in his lessons and was enjoying learning to swim underwater.

So it was a huge loss to learn in January that Gurnard Pines, the leisure center where he took his lessons, had suddenly been closed down. “It was quite dramatic, we heard the locks had been changed and no one could get in,” says Alice, 40. “Everyone was really distressed. My son had been going for a year and prior to that his swimming had been nonexistent because of the pandemic.”

There are other pools on the island but Alice says the waiting lists for lessons are long. Waiting lists have grown so much because there are now [so many] wanting to join,” she families says, adding that Gurnard Pines had been the closest pool to their home.

“Living on an island, it’s really important that everyone is able to swim. The loss of a pool is really big for the island. My son loves wearing goggles and swimming underwater, but with anything you learn at that age, if you stop for a long time it’s hard to catch up again. It’s a real shame for the community as well.”

Alice and her son. Photograph: Alice

Swimming pools are at risk of closing nationally because of high energy costs, and leading sports bodies have called on the government to include them and other leisure services in its energy discount scheme.

Eight organisations, including the UK Active and the Youth Sport Trust, alongside the Local Government Association, issued a plea to the government in January to step in to prevent the closure of sports facilities.

They said that without change, there would be “facility closures at a national level across 2023, and these closures will further damage our national health, our NHS and our economy”. The closures would affect “millions of people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds”, they said.

The potential closures come against a backdrop of those driven by austerity measures and the pandemic over the last decade.

Having played five-a-side football weekly at Nottingham’s John Carroll leisure center for two decades, Alasdair Maughan, 50, says he was “gutted” to hear it was closing in June 2021 after council budget cuts. The closure left Maughan and many others without a space to play football.

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Alasdair Maughan played football at Nottingham's John Carroll leisure center for about 20 years
Alasdair Maughan played football at Nottingham’s John Carroll leisure center for about 20 years. Photograph: Alasdair Maughan

It was a real loss to Maughan, who works as a software engineer. “I can’t remember how many goals I scored or how many injuries I got, but my Wednesday evening game was often the highlight of my week. This was a real opportunity to forget about all my problems for an hour or so. Playing football is my escape from the world. During a game you don’t think about anything else, and it’s a real release.”

It took him about a year to find somewhere to play, during which time he says he felt it affected his mental well-being, particularly when he was working from home. He has now found another center to play at, but it is 10 miles away.

He misses his old teammates and the sense of community at the old centre. “Although I only saw them once a week and knew little about their daily lives, I knew pretty much every detail of their play; Which foot was their stronger, how best to beat them and so on. We had a strong bond of camaraderie between us. It’s really sad to think that I’ll almost certainly never see them again.”

Joan Allman, 83, is fighting the potential closure of the YMCA in Crouch End, north London. This is an affordable club for all ages. It’s also a lifeline for somebody of my age,” she says. “There is an incredible community spirit. I’ve made some wonderful friends there and there’s excellent teaching. What more could you want?

Joan Allman enjoys the community spirit of her local fitness centre
Joan Allman enjoys the community spirit of her local fitness centre. Photograph: Joan Allman

The center may be forced to shut its doors in April after facing “significant financial loss”, but there is a local campaign to save it.

Allman was a pilates teacher at the center for 23 years before returning in September. She is now a dedicated member of the club, attending every day except Saturday, lifting weights and going to ballet barre classes.

She says her local YMCA is very different to other fitness centers she has worked at over the years. “I’ve worked in clubs most of my life and I’ve never known one like this ever. It’s inclusive of every age, that’s what’s so wonderful. You’re not made to feel like an idiot if you’ve not got this figure or that size waist.”

Allman has made close friends through the centre. We got out socially. We go out to the theater together, go for meals together. Last weekend, we went to a jazz club together, 20 of us. Not so much the younger ones, but a lot of the older women and men live on their own and their only communication is through the YMCA.”

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Andrew Naughtie

News reporter and author at @websalespromo


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