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Public sector leisure set for transition to active wellbeing focus

We've worked with key stakeholders in the sector to publish a report on the current state of public leisure and how it should evolve to continue providing vital services that help people get or stay active.

5th December 2022

Today we’ve published a report outlining a shared vision for the future of public leisure as the sector looks to transition from delivering traditional services to a wider focus on active wellbeing.

This vision would create a closer relationship between health and leisure, built on social prescribing, co-location of services and the delivery of preventative activity opportunities – providing users with convenient places and ways to be active, located in close proximity to other health and social care services and facilities.

Co-location of facilities maximises the impact and value for money of these services and forms a key part of the 20-minute neighbourhood concept. 

Four men play basketball in a sports hall

This report provides an overview of the current landscape and outlines a model that will enable the sector to create a more sustainable future for the public leisure services that our chief executive Tim Hollingsworth knows are crucial in providing opportunities to be active. 

“Public leisure facilities and services have a vital and unique role to play in our sport and activity ecosystem because of their value to the people who use them most,” he said. 

“Months after the pandemic restrictions were lifted, participation levels at public leisure facilities have only partially recovered. 

“Facilities have also had to battle rising energy costs, chemical shortages and challenges in maintaining the right levels of recruitment and retention of the workforce. 

“However, the sector has come together to meet these challenges and, where possible, turn them into opportunities. 

“Collectively the focus should be on repositioning the traditional offer of public leisure into an active wellbeing service, doing more to create healthier and more active communities.

“The sector has already seen good examples of the shift in approach across the country but also recognises the need for national momentum.

“By providing this common agenda, we will help the sector move forward in a sustainable way with a service that meets the needs of modern users.”

The impact of the restrictions resulting from the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, the rising cost of energy and challenges with recruitment and retention, are some of the factors being felt hard by local authorities and public leisure operators – and this is alongside overall visits to these facilities only reaching 76% of pre-coronavirus levels in England between April 2021 and October 2022.  

As a result, we’ve worked, and will continue to work, with key players in the public leisure sector after it was agreed that change is needed to become stronger and more sustainable.

“By providing this common agenda, we will help the sector move forward in a sustainable way with a service that meets the needs of modern users.”

Tim Hollingsworth

Chief executive, Sport England

This report maps out shared medium-term goals for the public leisure sector and compiles commitments from across multiple stakeholders which cover a range of activities that will support services on the ground, strengthen the sector’s leadership, facilitate innovation and help to share best practice. 

The model also focuses on added value and supporting the delivery of key local priorities, aiding local authorities that are looking to collaborate more with parts of their local ‘system’, in order to better deliver community outcomes and align with their broader strategic outcomes – particularly health. 

And we were pleased to be able to launch the Digital Futures 2022 report with UK Active last week - an example of one of the commitments that is already progressing and will help support fitness and leisure operators to accelerate their digital strategies in 2023. 

We’d like to thank to thank the following partner companies and organisations for their collaboration in the development of the Future of Public Sector Leisure report: 

Activity Alliance, Active Partnerships, Association of Public Service Excellence, Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity, Chief Cultural and Leisure Officers Association, Community Leisure UK, District Council Network, Local Government Association, Swim England and UK Active.

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