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Community leisure contributes more than £3.3bn to UK society, according to a landmark report that is the first to put a figure on the wider social value of leisure centres in Britain.

These findings are fully detailed in Physical Activity: A Social Solution, one of three milestone insight reports released yesterday (1st November) at ukactive’s National Summit at the QEII centre in Westminster.

The report shines the light on the major value that leisure centres provide to the communities that they serve. As expected, community leisure has a huge impact on wellbeing (£2.4bn) and health (£715m), but findings also demonstrate benefits for wider social issues like education and crime, not traditionally considered to be impacted by the physical activity sector.

It reinforces the theme explored at ukactive’s National Summit 2017 – physical activity as the golden thread running through society – highlighting the enormous social impacts the sector has on the burning issues facing society today.

The findings, produced by ukactive in conjunction with activity insight platform the DataHub, are the first to offer a definitive number on the importance of public leisure to communities, particularly significant coming at a time when local authority leisure budgets may be at risk.

Drawing on data from over 1.8m people across 651 leisure facilities over the past two years – the report takes an unprecedented look at the impacts of public leisure on wider society, including calculating the social value of specific activities including football, swimming and group workouts.

The report also found that:

  • Swimming provided almost a quarter of a billion pounds in social value in 2017, the most of all activities, which was closely followed by fitness.
  • Full members generate greater social value (£431) than casual users who pay at each visit (£424)
  • Core members (4+ times a month in 9-12 months in the last year) generate over £1,000 more Social Value per person than infrequent members.
  • Group Workouts – encompassing group fitness classes like spinning – provided the highest social value per person at £431
  • Football has by far the largest social impact on education and crime proportionately – providing the greatest social value per person in both categories
  • Golf and group workouts have the largest social impact on health and wellbeing
  • The overall social value generated by the 651 sites has increased by £49 million over the last year – highlighting the continued strong growth in public leisure in recent years.

Collected from the membership management systems of leisure centre operators, then standardised and processed by the DataHub, the report includes insights on activities that have the largest social impact, the bearing of leisure membership on social value and the regions which garner most social value from leisure centres.

The report drew on data currently available to the DataHub, of which the overwhelming majority came from public leisure. As access to data grows across the whole sector to include private and third-sector figures, it will possible to paint an even broader picture of the social value from the physical activity sector as a whole.

ukactive CEO Steven Ward said: “These findings highlight the impact of physical activity sector stretches far beyond the traditional parameters of sport and fitness – with public leisure alone delivering £3.3bn in wider social benefits.”

“This report highlights that leisure centres remain at the very heart of local communities, of significant value to wider society. Local decision-makers should therefore continue to prioritise physical activity in future plans.”

Minister for Sport and Civil Society Tracey Crouch said: “Leisure centres are a place for communities to come together through sport and physical activity. This report highlights their value and shows how they provide important benefits – not just for health and mental well-being of individuals – but for society overall. “

The full report can be found here.