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National Leisure Recovery Fund

We're administering the government's £100 million fund for local authority leisure facilities.

Please note, the fund is now closed to submissions and all applicants will be notified of the outcome of their application by late February.

About the fund

The National Leisure Recovery Fund seeks to support eligible public sector leisure centres to reopen to the public, giving the sport and physical activity sector the best chance of recovery to a position of sustainable operation over the medium term.

We've worked with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to set the fund criteria and will act as the accountable body for its administration and monitoring - on behalf of DCMS.

A total of £100 million is available as a biddable fund to eligible local authorities in England, which will be allocated in a single funding round covering the period 1 December 2020 to 31 March 2021.

We've worked closely with the Local Government Association (LGA), ukactive, the District Councils' Network, Community Leisure UK, Chief Cultural and Leisure Officers Association and others to make sure the application and funding process is as fast and simple as possible.

A number of pilot sessions have also been held with local authorities and their operators to test the process.

Can I use the award on costs incurred during lockdown?

Given the changing circumstances with the latest lockdown restrictions since the NLRF applications opened, DCMS has agreed some changes to the criteria for how the award money can be spent.

Therefore, even though the applications should’ve continued to be made on the basis of the position as at 14th December, and include for the additional costs for reopening between the 1 December and 31 March; the award monies can also now be used towards the following costs incurred by your outsourced operators during this latest lockdown period:

  • Utilities
  • Staff costs not furloughed
  • Essential asset maintenance
  • Security.

In addition, recognising that lockdown has delayed any reopening plans, remaining monies for reopening can be utilised beyond the 31 March 2021. All award payments will continue to be made before the end of the financial year, i.e. prior to 31 March 2021.

A public swimming session at a local authority swimming pool.

Funding objectives

The core objectives of the National Leisure Recovery Fund are to:

  • Support the reopening of public sector leisure facilities and activities following the second period of national restrictions in England.
  • Provide the best chance of recovery to a position of sustainable operation over the medium to long term.
  • Sustain the delivery of activities (such as swimming) that aren't widely accessible in the private market.
  • Enhance health and wellbeing and support physical activity across England – contributing to the government’s objectives around healthy lifestyles, reducing obesity and reducing inequality.

The investment is intended to ensure that, by 31 March 2021, successful applicants are either:

  • fully or partially reopened, subject to continued coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions
  • operating on a sustainable, cost-efficient, basis so that, where relevant, they can open more fully at a later date.

Who and what we're funding

We anticipated demand for the fund was likely to be very high and only those bodies meeting the eligibility criteria and presenting a case aligning with the fund's core objectives, were encouraged to apply.

  • Who could apply?

    • Local authorities in England who hold responsibility for the provision of leisure services and have outsourced their leisure provision to an external body to the local authority.
    • Local authorities in England whose outsourced leisure arrangements have ended since 20 March 2020 and services are now delivered as an in-house function.

    Where local authorities have multiple outsourced leisure providers they must submit one application for funding, supported by separate details for the providers for whom they're applying.

    For the purposes of this fund, a local authority is defined as 'an organisation that's officially responsible for all the public services and facilities in a particular geographical area'.

    This specifically refers to local authorities classified as a district, metropolitan district, unitary, London borough or county council.

    The eligibility of parish/town councils to access the fund is dependent on the specific circumstances. 

    Please see the guidance document for more detail.

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  • Who couldn't apply?

    • Local authorities not located in England.
    • Local authorities that deliver their leisure service as an in-house function of the council - these authorities should access the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government's Income Compensation Scheme.
    • Local authorities that don't hold responsibility for the provision of leisure services.
    • Any organisation not defined as a local authority.
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  • What we're funding

    The fund is available to support the difference between income and expenditure for the period 1 December 2020 to 31 March 2021 that enables leisure facilities to reopen, or partially reopen, where this offers a reasonable balance of activities and programming within coronavirus guidelines.

    More detail on the income and expenditure the fund will assess, and how this should be categorised, can be found in the example application forms.

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  • What we wouldn't fund

    The fund doesn't provide support for applications that include certain costs.

    These costs are:

    • Anything already covered by other strands of government support (e.g. the Job Retention Scheme).
    • Anything incurred before 1 December 2020 and after 31 March 2021. This includes costs incurred during lockdown and any difference between income and expenditure between the period 25 July-4 November 2020.
    • Any financing costs associated with new capital expenditure undertaken since 20 March 2020.
    • Anything associated with mothballing facilities that won't reopen during the period 1 December 2020 to 31 March 2021.
    • Any capital expenditure relating to repairs and routine maintenance, and any expenditure on repairs that's covered by insurance.
    • Any costs that don't relate to the operation of leisure assets and don't support the delivery of leisure activities.
    • Any executive pay related to the delivery of leisure services.
    • Any pay rises in the period of December 2020 to March 2021.
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Please see the detailed guidance document for further details on funding requirements.

How much could I apply for?

To help ensure an equitable distribution of the fund, a Notional Funding Allocation (NFA) has been calculated for each eligible local authority.

The purpose of the NFA is to maximise the impact of the fund and provide financial assistance for as many local authorities and their leisure providers as possible.

Funding awards won't be made in excess of the notional allocation except in the most exceptional circumstances.

The NFA is determined on a per capita basis. This is then adjusted to take into consideration physical activity levels, number of facilities and health outcome indicators.

The NFA also provides Sport England with a control to ensure funds are distributed equitably and not exhausted prematurely - however, eligible authorities are still required to demonstrate the need for funding and that the proposed recovery plan presents a sustainable model that can achieve the desired outcomes and objectives.

All applicants will receive an application form, elements of which will be partially pre-populated with historic and operational data and their respective NFA. The allocation is a guide for applicants in determining how much to apply for i.e. the funding request.

Please note, each applicant should consider their specific local circumstances when submitting their application. Individual funding awards will depend upon the assessment of the submitted application against the defined fund assessment criteria.

Further information regarding the notional funding allocation can be found in the detailed guidance.

Two women walk on treadmills in a gym

  • What's needed for your application?

    Applicants will be asked to provide a recovery plan by completing a partially pre-populated application form.

    The form will comprise of:

    Historic and forecast financial information

    • Monthly average staffing hours - excluding staff placed on furlough.
    • A summary of monthly income and expenditure from April 2019 to November 2020.
    • Forecast income and expenditure from December 2020 to March 2021.
    • Forecast income and expenditure from April 2021 to March 2022.
    • Published financial statements/management accounts in respect of leisure services for the previous three full financial years 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20 (or as applicable).

    Operational information

    • Monthly participation by activity - from April 2019-November 2020 (actual) and December 2020-March 2021 (forecast).
    • Details of site and facility type, capacity and opening hours - from 25 July-4 November (actual) and December 2020-March 2021 (forecast).


    Applicants are also asked to provide narrative responses to a small number of questions covering:

    • existing financial support
    • the facilities and activities to be provided
    • the impact of the funding in enabling facilities to reopen that otherwise would've remained closed, or offered on a restricted basis.

    See the guidance document for further details on what will be pre-populated in your application form.

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  • Prepare and submit your application

    Applications will be open on 14 December 2020 and the deadline for receipt of applications is noon on 15 January 2021. Applications must be submitted by the local authority using the online portal.

    Your application must include the financial, operational and supporting narrative information as set out in the detailed fund guidance.

    The criteria guiding funding decisions are also available in the guidance document.  

    Your application must have the approval of your chief executive officer or Section 151 officer as well as your leisure provider. The guidance document explains how to do this.

    The deadline for fund applications is noon on 15 January 2021. As the fund is time limited, we unfortunately won't be able to accept applications after this deadline.

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Data analytics and insight specialists 4GLobal have produced a brief model of participation rates for the three tiers until March 2021, which may be useful when completing your application.

After you've applied

Once an application's been received via the National Leisure Recovery Fund portal, you'll receive an email notification confirming its receipt.

If further information is required to enable your application to be assessed, you'll receive an email detailing the what's required and the deadline for the return of this information.

If the additional information isn't returned by the stated deadline then the application won't be progressed and no funding will be awarded. If the application is deemed ineligible, no further information will be requested.

When a final decision's been made on your application, we'll email you to confirm the outcome of the assessment. All applicants to the scheme will be notified of the outcome of their application by late February 2021.

It's important to note that the funding award decision is final and there's no appeals process due to the time-limited nature of the fund.

If a funding award's been approved, a copy of the Funding Agreement will be included In the notification of decision email. This will need to be signed, using e-signature, and returned by the stated deadline. If a signed Funding Agreement isn't returned by the stated deadline then the award decision will expire and no funding will be awarded. This is to ensure the fund can be fully utilised in the timeframes available and achieve the maximum benefit.  

We know from experience that our funding programmes are oversubscribed, which means we must take some tough decisions. Please be aware that we've limited funds available and therefore cannot fund everything we’d like to.

Express your interest in applying for the National Leisure Recovery Fund

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