The government has pledged to invest £100m in supporting public leisure centres this winter, as part of a £1bn additional support package for local councils.
Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick confirmed today (22 October) the way the £1bn funding will be allocated.
Among the measures announced was a new, £100m fund – managed by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) – which will address the ongoing challenges faced by local authority leisure centres.
Jenrick said the grants will be targeted at supporting council leisure centres which are "most in need".
He added that the DCMS is now working closely with Sport England and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on the design of the £100m scheme for leisure centres – and that further details will be released shortly.
Culture secretary, Oliver Dowden said: "It’s vital that we keep ourselves fighting fit through the winter months and local authority leisure centres are crucial to this.
"This £100m fund will help keep leisure centres across the country open. I urge leisure centres to bid for the money and people to make the most of these precious local facilities."
The funding is seen as a big win for the public leisure sector and follows months of campaigning and lobbying by the sector, with ukactive CEO Huw Edwards giving evidence to the DCMS in July.
At the time, Edwards warned MPs they were at risk of “sleepwalking into loss of public leisure across the country,” and the sector's non-statutory status meant it had "fallen between the cracks" when it came to funding.
Responding to news of the funding today, Edwards said: “This is a welcome investment, especially as much of society is facing deepening challenges, where tougher restrictions and choices on support are being made.
“Today’s announcement is important as it invests in improving the health of local communities across the country.
"We're all aware that COVID-19 has exposed the health inequalities in our society, and supporting local facilities to help combat this virus is crucial.
“Public leisure centres, alongside the wider fitness sector, play an essential role improving the health of people, irrespective of age or background.
“They are crucial in fighting COVID-19 through improving people’s physical health and making them more resilient to the virus, and then supporting the rehabilitation of people recovering from this virus, and helping people’s mental health.
“We also know that continued constructive dialogue with the Government is essential to ensure the whole sector has an opportunity to stabilise and flourish.
“We will continue working with the Government on areas such as VAT and rent relief, and wider incentives that can drive consumer demand.
“A strong fitness and leisure sector is good for the country, as it drives business growth, creates jobs and innovation on the high street, and improves the nation’s health. All these characteristics have to be part of our national renewal post-COVID.”