Readers on how the closure of leisure centers in the UK has affected them

<span>Photo: Patrick Eden/Alamy</span>” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/” “–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/>.</div>
<p><figcaption class=Photo: Patrick Eden/Alamy

Alice, an artist on the Isle of Wight, hoped her son would be a confident swimmer by summer. Her six-year-old had made good progress in class and was enjoying learning to swim underwater.

So it was a great loss to learn in January that Gurnard Pines, the recreation center where he took his classes, had suddenly closed. “It was quite dramatic, we heard the locks had been changed and nobody could get in,” says Alice, 40. “Everyone was very distressed. My son had been there for a year and before that he hadn’t swum because of the pandemic.”

There are other pools on the island, but Alice says the waiting lists for classes are long. “The waiting lists have grown so much because they exist now [so many] Families wanting to get involved,” she says, adding that Gurnard Pines was the closest pool to her home.

“When you live on an island, it’s really important that everyone can swim. Losing a pool is really big for the island. My son loves wearing goggles and swimming underwater but with everything you learn at this age it’s hard to catch up when you stop for a long time. It’s also a real shame for the community.”

Swimming pools across the country are at risk of closing due to high energy costs, and leading sporting bodies have urged the government to include these and other leisure activities in its energy rebate scheme.

In January, eight organisations, including UK Active and the Youth Sport Trust, as well as the Local Government Association, called on the government to intervene to prevent sports facilities from closing.

They said that without changes “there will be operational closures at a national level by 2023 and these closures will continue to 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 the backdrop of austerity and the pandemic over the past decade.

Alasdair Maughan, 50, who played weekly five-a-side football for two decades at the John Carroll Leisure Center in Nottingham, said he was “burned out” when he heard it closed in June 2021 following cuts to the council budget. The closure left Maughan and many others without a place to play football.

It was a real loss for Maughan, who works as a software developer. “I don’t remember how many goals I scored or how many injuries I sustained, but my Wednesday night game was often the highlight of my week. This was a real opportunity to forget all my troubles for about an hour. Playing soccer is my escape from the world. You don’t think about anything else during a game and it’s a real salvation.”

It took him about a year to find a place to play. During this time, he felt it was affecting his mental well-being, especially when working from home. He has now found another center to play at, but it’s 10 miles away.

He misses his old teammates and the sense of community in the old center. “Even though I only saw them once a week and knew little about their day-to-day life, I knew pretty much every detail of their game; which foot was her stronger, how best to hit her and so on. We had a strong camaraderie between us. It’s really sad to think that I will almost certainly never see her again.”

Joan Allman, 83, is battling 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 someone my age,” she says. “There is an incredible community spirit. I have made some wonderful friends there and the teaching is excellent. What more do you want?”

The center could be forced to close its doors in April after facing “significant financial losses” but there is a local campaign to save it.

Allman was a Pilates instructor at the center for 23 years before retiring in September. She is now a dedicated member of the club, attending every day except Saturdays, lifting weights and taking barre classes.

She says her local YMCA is very different from other fitness centers she’s worked at over the years. “I’ve worked in clubs most of my life and I’ve never met one like this. It’s inclusive of all ages, that’s the wonderful thing. You won’t feel like an idiot if you don’t have that body shape or that waist size.”

Allman made close friends through the center. “We dropped out socially. We go to the theater together, eat together. Last weekend, when we were 20, we went to a jazz club together. Not so much the younger ones, but many of the older women and men live alone and their only communication is through the YMCA.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *