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Click on the cover to view as a virtual edition:
JUNE 2024
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Fairlocks Pool Products
Leisure Operator Announces Its First Pool Closures Due To Energy Costs
Freedom Leisure, one of the UK’s leading charitable and not-for-profit leisure trusts that manages over 100 leisure and cultural venues including over 60 swimming pools on behalf of client partners, has had to announce the closure of the first of its swimming pools due to the crippling increases in energy prices.

The swimming pools at Willen Lakes in Milton Keynes and at Rye Sports Centre in East Sussex will close from the end of October and likely to be for the foreseeable future unless there is a significant improvement in the wholesale price of energy or further government support to the wider industry.

Freedom Leisure has recently seen its annual energy bill move from £8m to £20m and this is despite the recent government announcement outlining the short-term support available for businesses.

“We are frankly devastated that it has come to this. Public sector leisure is one of the most exposed sectors because energy costs are such a large proportion of our overall costs particularly with swimming pools and as a not-for-profit leisure trust we operate at very low surpluses and these increases simply cannot be absorbed. These increases present us with a significant challenge where very difficult and painful decisions need to be made with our client partners about expenditure and what effectively we can afford to operate and what we cannot,” said Ivan Horsfall Turner, CEO of Freedom Leisure.

Freedom Leisure is in dialogue with all its local authority partners to try and mitigate against further closures but this cannot be ruled out and many industry commentators believe the current energy crisis may be of a greater threat to the sector than Covid and, without interventions, predictions of a significant number of closures of facilities have been forecast.
Freedom Leisure passionately believes it provides essential wellbeing hubs within each of the local communities it serves, encouraging more people to be more active more often and helping to reduce the obvious pressures on the NHS.

“The leisure industry feels as though it’s in a perfect storm as we’ve not yet fully recovered after Covid, and with wage inflation, the cost of living crisis, supply chain challenges and now energy price increases we have huge challenges to overcome. I know other genuine not-for-profit leisure trusts are feeling similar pressures and we are not alone in having to make decisions that clearly fly in the face of our values and vision - to improve lives through leisure,” added Turner.

Since the onset of the energy crisis, Freedom Leisure has been in very close dialogue with national governing bodies such as Swim England and other partner organisations including UK Active that have worked tirelessly to lobby government about the plight of the leisure industry and in particular the trust sector for more support.

“Despite seeing a recovery in the past 18 months, our sector remains vulnerable following the coronavirus pandemic due to the huge increased costs for both local authorities and pool operators. It is extremely concerning that operators and councils have no other choice but to close pools as they cannot afford to keep them open in the face of spiralling energy costs. The very real danger is that Rye is merely one of the first dominos to fall and we will see further closures across the country. People rely on these vital facilities for their physical and mental wellbeing as well as for teaching children a life skill that could one day save their life. It will be a travesty if the Government doesn’t recognise how valuable they are to society,” said Jane Nickerson MBE, Chief Executive at Swim England.

“Our national data shows that gyms, pools and leisure centres remain highly vulnerable to rising energy costs, given the sector’s high energy intensiveness – costs which impact facilities all year round. The reality is that greater, targeted support is required to save many fitness and leisure facilities, as demonstrated by the closures of the Freedom Leisure sites in Milton Keynes and Rye. The loss of swimming and fitness facilities will be a major blow to local communities and, if allowed to continue, will seriously threaten the physical and mental health of our nation,” commented Huw Edwards, CEO at ukactive.

For more information contact Freedom Leisure on 01825 880260 or visit www.freedom-leisure.co.uk

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