As leisure centres across England began re-opening last weekend, Tower Hamlets council has agreed plans to support the borough’s main leisure contractor GLL, in a bid to keep leisure facilities in the borough running in a safe and viable way.
Plans approved by the council’s Cabinet on Wednesday 29 July, include a three phased approach to re-opening leisure centres and a variation to the GLL contract to approve a management fee of up to £593k that mitigates against the financial impact of lockdown on the provider, who had been unable to operate for over four months.
John Orwell Sports Centre in Wapping, Mile End Park Leisure Centre, Poplar Baths Leisure Centre and facilities except for the swimming pool and health suite at York Hall in Bethnal Green are now open as part of phase one of the plans. GLL has asked users to pre-book before they visit and will continue with online classes and allowing members to freeze their membership.
John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said:
“We are pleased that leisure centres in Tower Hamlets are starting to reopen, with an emphasis on their safe operation and maximum value for our residents. If you are thinking of returning, or joining but perhaps don’t feel confident, I would encourage you to first visit the GLL website or download their app to learn more about the measures they have introduced before pre-booking your time-slot or taking an online class.”
Equipment within gym areas will be reduced to ensure that two metres social distancing between users is maintained, while some fitness classes will be relocated to sports halls or even, weather permitting, the open air.
Staff will be adopting a new, enhanced cleaning regime, while customers will be asked to follow a one-way system, wipe down any equipment that they have used and pre-book a time slot to help manage capacity, and more. Hand sanitiser will be available throughout venues and visitors do not need to wear a face covering.
All members of Better, the consumer facing brand for GLL, will be given borough-wide access to all Better-operated facilities for the foreseeable future. This means that members of centres that aren’t re-opening in the initial phase, such as St George’s Leisure Centre, Wapping; Tiller Leisure Centre on the Isle of Dogs; and Whitechapel Sports Centre, will be able to use alternative facilities. They will also be given the option to continue to freeze their memberships as will any members who don’t feel confident returning to the centres initially or who might have health conditions that put them at higher risk of infection from Covid-19.
Phase one of the plans also includes a revised pricing schedule which will be reviewed in advance of next year’s charges and fees.
Phases two and three of the plans include reviewing the centres that remain closed, extending opening hours – subject to demand, and working towards a normal programme.
Simon Sen, Regional Director for Better Leisure Centres in Tower Hamlets said:
“After nearly four months of lockdown, we’re delighted to finally be able to re-open four leisure centres.
“Phasing in our re-openings will ensure that the systems we have put in place to be Covid-Secure are working at an optimum level, before we roll out further.
“Keeping people safe is our priority and a shared responsibility. As a leisure operator we will be working in partnership with customers to ensure they have complete confidence when they return.
“There’ll be enhanced sanitisation of equipment and public areas. Customers can help by downloading our Better app, pre-booking their slot and arriving on time and dressed for their activity.
“The changes we are making will ensure we can maintain social distancing in centre and provide the best possible experience for customers.
“We recognise that some people may be worried about returning to their local leisure facilities, so we will continue to offer free access to online fitness and exercises classes via our Better app.”