Pathway to recovery must prioritise leisure, says Belfast gym operator

The resumption of leisure services must take priority in the Executive’s pathway to recovery as vital to public health and wellbeing, social enterprise GLL has said.

The largest social enterprise operating leisure facilities in Northern Ireland and the UK, GLL is calling on the NI Executive to prioritise the reopening of fitness facilities, including gyms and swimming pools, in its pathway to recovery plans.

Almost a year since the onset of Covid-19 regulations in Northern Ireland, access to leisure facilities and the ability to enjoy physical exercise remains heavily restricted. Although necessary to reduce the R number and save lives, GLL says any further extension will cause more damage to the mental and physical health of the population.

Data from Northern Ireland crisis response charity Lifeline revealed that over 25,000 people called the suicide prevention line during the period 2019/2020, an increase of over 2,000 people in distress.

For many, group and individual exercise is an integral part of daily life. GLL believes that as the pandemic rumbles on, feelings of loneliness, isolation and despair are growing further.

Gyms across the UK were proven to have low rates of Covid-19 transmission when opened at various points last year. UK Active data from 2,000 operators shows an overall rate of 1.7 cases per 100,000 visits, measured from 75 million visits to gyms across the UK between 25 July to 27 December 2020.

Jacqui Pope, Head of Service at GLL said:

“The public has endured almost a year of restrictions on the very way we live, work, exercise and interact. This is having untold consequences on the physical and mental health of our population and for every day that leisure facilities remain closed, public health deteriorates further and the risk to public wellbeing becomes critical.”

“Exercising outdoors has been tougher throughout the winter months and people have been robbed of the opportunity to enjoy regular exercise at a time when the negative and worrying news of the pandemic develops constantly. The link between exercise and mental health is well understood and the Executive cannot delay on reinstating this vital aspect of public life.”

“With plans to ease lockdown in England now published, the people of Northern Ireland deserve the same hope. As a leisure provider we stand ready to open our doors and resume our crucial role in preventing a health crisis.”

Love Belfast
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