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Local Leisure Centres in a Fit Position to Support the Community

The role of our leisure centres in supporting community wellbeing was highlighted by South Hams District Council's Executive Committee when they met on 3 March. At the meeting, councillors discussed a report regarding Fusion Lifestyle, the charity that manages Quayside, The Pavilions, Dartmouth and Ivybridge leisure centres. It examined how Fusion has juggled the challenges of essential closures and social distancing whilst still serving this vital role within our communities.

Fusion PR

The committee agreed to continue to support Fusion in the short term as it works hard to encourage more people back through their doors. It will do this by lowering the management fee in the short-term up to 2024. From 2024 the fee will be increased above what was originally outlined when the contract was awarded in 2016. As a result, the total amount that will be paid over the 25-year contract period will remain the same.

We all know that good access to local leisure and sporting facilities can help to improve mental wellbeing and physical health. As well as providing expertise and equipment to get people active, the Fusion team work with local organisations and host events including local youth nights.  The local leisure centres also serve as a hub within their community for people to meet up.  However, the pandemic has resulted in big challenges for public sport and leisure services. For example, they have been hit by both long closure periods and higher running costs.

Some people are still nervous to return to enjoying the facilities at their local leisure centre. The report shows that participation across all the Fusion leisure centres in the South Hams is now back to 76% of pre-pandemic levels (looking at December 2021 figures compared to March 2020)

These local figures are in line with the national trend for leisure centres following COVID. National research reveals that while public leisure centres have shown a steady rate of recovery since reopening in March, there are still former participants that have not returned, with recovery rates settling at just above 70%.

Throughout the pandemic, South Hams District Council provided a financial lifeline for many local organisations, allocating government grants to ensure they could survive the lockdowns. Fusion Lifestyle, received £435,000 from this Council to enable the leisure centres to re-open and the service to be maintained during 2020/21. As well Fusion received from the Council its share of the National Leisure Recovery Fund for £160,000 last March. 

Cllr Jonathan Hawkins, South Hams District Council Executive Member for Health and Wellbeing said: "Our leisure centres are more than just a place to get active - they're a place to get together with others. This not only benefits our physical health but also to our mental health too. Investing and supporting public leisure facilities is an investment in ill-health prevention. Our financial support to Fusion during the pandemic meant that when things did open up, our leisure centres were still there for local people to use.  Now we are reviewing what plans the centres have moving forward and what further support we can give as a Council to secure these most important facilities for local people. 

"It has been a very challenging time for many businesses, including the leisure industry.  It's good news that the number of people using our local centres is creeping back up. However, if even more residents support the centres in their town we can offer more activities for the benefit of everyone in the community. I hope that the programme of activities planned by the team at Fusion will see more local people using the excellent facilities that we have available in the South Hams."

Quayside, Pavillions, Dartmouth and Ivybridge leisure centres were able to re-open as planned on 12 April 2021 following the last national lockdown.

Throughout the pandemic and since re-opening, Fusion has offered members and local people a variety of incentives to get together to get active. This includes online classes, free gym and swim passes for local residents, and a 'mid-week mile challenge' on National Fitness Day.  In February 2022 the centres opened their doors for open day events. Lots of local people took the opportunity to enjoy the free activities and taster sessions, which had to be booked in advance.

In 2016, the Council signed a Design Build Maintain and Operate contract with Fusion for the two leisure centres in West Devon. The contract is for 25 years and allows the Council to bring in expertise and experience in managing a discretionary service for public leisure centres. In the recently adopted 'Better Lives For All' strategic plan for the South Hams, 'improving open space, sport and recreation' is a core focus area. A key action within the Thematic Delivery Plan is to secure the provision of high quality and accessible leisure services. This includes a £1.5m investment in Totnes leisure centre. 

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