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Back to the leisure centre

This guest article about getting back to the leisure centre has been contributed by Sarah Joiner, Vice Chair of the Multiple Sclerosis Trust, who was diagnosed with MS in 1981.

Ready to return to the leisure centre?

So here we are! It’s the beginning of April 2021. Those of us with our letters from Matt Hancock and Robert Jenrick have been shielding for just over a year and it seems strange now to venture cautiously out into the fleeting sunshine.

None of us will deny it has been very hard, shielding or not, and to maintain any discipline over an exercise routine has required a will of iron.

Last week’s issue of Independent Living flagged up the shocking but sadly not unexpected research that it is likely 4 out of every 10 people with a disability have not exercised.

This isn’t down to laziness. This is, in the main, down to access.

People haven’t had the correct equipment at home, it may not be possible to fit said equipment in their homes, those who need the assistance of another person to exercise couldn’t have visitors, and the genuine hurdles are endless unfortunately.

I am a swimmer – five mornings a week. I certainly don’t have my own pool. So every time Boris called time on the water, I sat on the edge of the pool and cried goodbye. I have been lucky in that I can exercise independently but under supervision so three times a week my trainer and I have Zoom-ed through stretches and lifts and flexes. But it isn’t swimming…

Lack of exercise = Physical deterioration

At the recent virtual MS Trust Conference attended online by some 473 health professionals working with people with MS, anecdotal evidence from everyone was their dismay at the physical deterioration of their patients without their usual exercise routines in 2020. That has to be mirrored across the NHS and the nation as a whole.

The leisure industry in the UK needs our support and our support will benefit our bodies. So what might be stopping you returning? I use facilities at either my local Better Leisure Centre or an equally local EveryoneActive Leisure Centre (external links will open in a new browser window).

Both organisations run the majority of the local authority leisure centres in the UK providing us with gyms, pools and a wide range of activities from squash to yoga. Better runs over 260 facilities and EveryoneActive more than 190. Have a look at their websites and see what’s nearest to you.

Leisure centres, safety first

COVID secure leisure centre reception areaNaturally we will have concerns about the safety of returning to leisure centres but my experience from my first return after the lockdown of March 2020 and twice since then quickly allayed my initial worries. It is no longer a free-for-all rush to the equipment or water. You need to book your slot via the App or on your computer before visiting. The time is precise, the route in and out well marked (and policed by the staff!) and there is plenty of space and air around you, whatever activity you are undertaking.

The centre I visit is spotless! Every time I glance around, the staff are cleaning. By the poolside the places to change are marked out. Everyone is so thrilled to be back they follow the rules to the letter. As we slip into the water, we exchange smiles and a quick word on our joy to be back. After all, it’s not just about doing lengths. It is seeing the regular group of swimmers who are there at the same time as me. We are a community of our own and it matters to see each other. On finishing a swim, the changing rooms are virtually deserted. This is due to the timed slots so there is never crowding at any point.

Adjusting to meet individual needs

The staff are very happy for you to ring or even pop in for a chat at the desk prior to a first ever visit or your return so that you can check routes to accessible changing rooms or discuss an individual alteration to their set plans in order to accommodate your abilities and needs.

I shall leave you pondering how you are going to start or restart your routine. It really is important you do. Below is a one minute video I made as a local resident and leisure centre user with Better. That might give you the final push? Good luck!


What are the dates to remember?

If you are in England, 12th April is when leisure centres, gyms and indoor pools reopen.

In Scotland, the wait is a bit longer – 26th April.

Even longer for Wales, where the scheduled date is 10th May.

A date doesn’t appear to have been scheduled yet for Northern Ireland. And of course all timetables are subject to revision if the course of the pandemic changes for the worse.


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One Reply to “Back to the leisure centre”

    Avatarwendy starkie says:

    this epidemic has opened up some issues we had before and now is the time to make sure when things are back they are truly accessable for all
    as we will have to do keeping our distance for a long while yet and if it was to return we would need to distance again, i think it is time thgat swimming pools had proper access for disable. this can be done in lots of ways but most need more than one person to do it
    for many of us who are disable with the right access we could get in ab/nd out ourselves
    so my 3 main suggestions are
    if steps were a little wider and on a slant it would be easier for a lot of disabled people to do independently
    or the latest entry is a lift that takes you in your chair into water, then brings it back up until you need to get out , then you press for it to come back down with chair in it for you
    in my liesure centre they have neither and you can only get a short time if booked for help and its by a hoist which can only be used by trained staff

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