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July 25, 2020
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BLOG – WARREN SMYTH

Warren Smyth is the chief executive of Abbeycroft Leisure, a not-for-profit social enterprise (charity) managing 18 leisure facilities across Suffolk.
As they prepare to reopen some of their facilities from Monday 27 July, he reflects on the last 122 days and what lies ahead for the leisure industry. 

I’ve been in the leisure industry for over 25 years, and I’m still as passionate about it today as I was at the start, however, the pandemic has brought all of our communities and businesses significant challenges, and ‘leisure’ is no exception.

During Lockdown
Whilst we had to close our facilities and services on March 20, we had a small team working tirelessly in a number of roles to ensure, where possible, that we were still able to provide support to the communities and customers we serve. Some examples of this work include supporting the ‘home but not alone initiative’ by staff redeployment, contacting our Active Living and Exercise on Referral customers to make sure they are keeping well, hosting a Medical Equipment Distribution Centre in Bury St Edmunds and our staff have been helping and volunteering in their own communities wherever possible

I am not trying to pretend that we have made the biggest difference and there are a lot of organisations who are doing amazing things, but we have tried to help and play our part where we can.

Preparing for reopening
Like many industries, we’ve had to quickly adapt our operating procedures to comply with government guidelines, and a variety of safety measures have been put in place to protect everyone during their visits. This includes one-way traffic, hand sanitisers, pre-booked sessions, and minimum use of changing facilities.

We also have enhanced cleaning procedures including:-

  • More frequent cleaning with a disinfectant proven to kill viruses like COVID-19 in all high touch surfaces
  • Closing the gym for 30 minutes between each bookable session for cleaning
  • Regularly cleaning studio floors throughout the day and disinfecting high-touch surfaces
  • After every group exercise class, bikes and all equipment will be thoroughly cleaned

I’ve heard a lot of people ask whether Covid-19 can be transmitted in hot and humid climates like pools and gyms…well the answer is that there is no evidence that Covid-19 is any more transmittable in a hot, humid climate than any other climate. The best way to protect yourself is by maintaining social distancing and frequent hand washing, and the use of anti-viral/bacterial hand gels. By doing this you eliminate viruses that may be on your hands and avoid infection that could occur by then touching your eyes, mouth, and nose.

The future
Our teams have heard some fantastic stories from customers including the enthusiasm for making a comeback to the facilities and it’s clear that people have been missing their normal gym, class or swim.

The one thing that I think that we have all learnt over this period is that our health is of paramount importance and the role that physical activity can play in improving both physical and mental health is now fully understood. It can help support our immune systems and build healthier communities.

So we’re extremely happy to be welcoming people back, and I would urge anyone who used to use a leisure centre or has enjoyed exercising at home during the lockdown and maybe wants to try something else now, to not be afraid of their local centre, gym, class or pool, wherever that is, because they are safe places and they need your support.

Warren Smyth
CEO, Abbeycroft Leisure

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