#SaveLeisure Campaign

Published on: July 13th 2020

UK public leisure sector faces catastrophic job losses due to coronavirus

Government urged to support the sector as financial reserves plummet

The devasting impact of the coronavirus continues to be felt across the UK’s public leisure sector, with almost 7,000 jobs at risk and a further 6,000 roles confirmed for redundancy.

To date, there has been no financial support for the industry, which delivers vital public services for communities across the UK, including leisure centres, swimming pools, outdoor sports courts and pitches and parks.

In a report published today, the sector’s member association, Community Leisure UK, outlines the potentially disastrous long-term impacts for the sector, which employs more than 46,000 staff and delivers a collective social value of £1.5bn.1  

Figures from Community Leisure UK’s Covid 19 Impact Report, shows that almost half of leisure facilities in England (44 per cent) have not found it economically viable to reopen since lockdown measures were eased. In Scotland, only a third of facilities plan to immediately reopen when given the green light by government and a quarter of facilities in Wales remained closed initially.

The report highlights the precarious position of leisure trusts. Current reserves across the sector have dropped to 64 per cent compared with pre-covid levels, and with only 10 per cent of reserves expected to remain by the end of this financial year most leisure trusts will have insufficient funds to operate. It also means many trusts are unlikely to survive a second lockdown and those that do survive will have little or no financial reserves to rebuild their businesses.

Without financial support, the sector is facing thousands of job losses. Currently, 26 per cent of the contracted workforce (6,975 jobs) and 50 per cent of casual roles (9,218 jobs) are at risk. In addition, more than 6,000 contracted and casual staff have been confirmed for redundancy, or in the case of casual workers, not been offered work.

The leisure sector is one of the biggest employers for 18-34 year olds, so these job losses will hit youngest workers the hardest, contributing to fears that the UK may be on the brink of a surge in youth unemployment.

We call on the UK government to act now to save this vital, irreplaceable part of our communities by investing circa £800 million to provide an emergency relief fund to sustain UK leisure infrastructure and services through the Covid-19 lockdown and the recovery phases to the end of March 2021.

[1] Source: 4Global Datahub


Mark Tweedie, Chief Executive of Community Leisure UK, said:

This report highlights the perilous situation of the public leisure sector. To date, our sector has received little financial support, yet our facilities play a critical role in society improving the public’s physical and mental health and helping to reduce the burden on the NHS. Without financial support we will lose many of these precious facilities for good depriving communities across the UK of vital public services at a time when the government is urging people to get fit and lose weight to beat Covid-19. Once again, we urge the government to support the sector to ensure the survival of public leisure provision.

Jane Nickerson, Chief Executive of Swim England, said:

This report is incredibly concerning, but sadly not surprising. If facilities remain closed, there will be many swim schools, swimming teachers, lifeguards and facility staff worrying about when, or even if, they will have a job to go back to. We’ll continue to shout loud on their behalf about the urgent need for ring-fenced funding to help prevent these vital community facilities being mothballed. We won’t back down in the fight for the #SaveLeisure funding our sector needs to protect as many pools and jobs as we can.

Tara Dillon, CEO of CIMSPA, said:

Public leisure centres employ a large number of people and create enormous economic, health, social and community benefits. Covid-19 has created huge financial challenges for this part of the sector and we urge the Government in all parts of the UK to provide additional financial support to protect these vital public facilities. If they are allowed to close, communities up and down the country (often in socially deprived areas) will lose vital facilities and we will lose many thousands of jobs among the talented and dedicated leisure workforce.

Professor Nanette Mutrie MBE, Chair of Physical Activity for Health at the University of Edinburgh, said:

The leisure industry must be saved if we are to prevent an increasing cost burden for the NHS in dealing with increasing obesity, type 2 diabetes and poor mental health which loss of activity will create. Money used to save such facilities, which are in danger of permanent closure due to the impact of the pandemic, must be seen as an investment and as future cost saving to the NHS. Public leisure facilities need to re-open in order that the health benefits of activity are available to all and all age groups and not just to those who can afford a private membership.

Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said:

If we do not find a solution for the financial plight of our community leisure facilities then the UK stands to lose one of its most powerful weapons in the fight against Covid-19 – the fitness and leisure workforce. No one is more passionate about the fitness of our nation than the staff in our gyms and leisure centres, who dedicate their careers to helping people stay happy and healthy. We continue to call on the Government to support local authorities to protect the future of public leisure provision by providing ring-fenced funding urgently, before we see any more facilities disappear.

Fergus Feeney, CEO of Swim Wales, said:

As a National Governing Body Swim Wales is supporting the #SaveLeisure campaign launched by Community Leisure UK urging the UK Government to commit circa £800m relief funding to enable the full reopening and recovery of the public leisure sector. Without this dedicated relief fund a third of all public leisure facilities in Wales may not reopen and half will face permanent closure by the end of the year. Our ‘places of sport’ and activity must be protected if we are to continue to tackle obesity and improve our nation’s health and wellbeing.

ABOUT Community Leisure UK

Community Leisure UK (CLUK), is a members’ association for organizations who deliver public leisure, sport and cultural services across the UK. Commonly called Trusts. Members are registered Charities, societies or community interest companies who work in partnership with Local Authorities. CLUK has 110 member Trusts who, combined, operate approximately half of all public service leisure provision across the UK, the remaining proportion is operated by in-house Local Authority departments and by private companies. Members combined turnover in 2019 was over £2bn. CLUK is Fair Tax certified and a member of Coop Group, Charity Finance Group and Social Enterprise UK.

ABOUT ukactive

ukactive exists to improve the health of the nation by getting more people, more active, more often. ukactive provides services and facilitates partnerships for a broad range of organisations, all of which support our vision and have a role to play in achieving that goal.

We serve over 4,000 members and partners from across the public, private and third sectors, from multinational giants to local voluntary community groups. We do so by facilitating partnerships, campaigning and providing outstanding membership services.


CIMSPA is the professional development body for the UK’s sport and physical activity sector, committed to supporting, developing and enabling professionals and organisations to succeed and, as a result, inspire our nation to become more active.