The government’s recent Levelling Up White Paper has been met with a mixed response, with many lamenting the lack of new funding specifically for leisure and others criticising the 10 year timescale as too long.
Whatever your views, it’s clear that something needs to be done to improve opportunities and to reduce regional disparities to make the UK a more equitable place to live, particularly as many of these inequalities have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
The paper sets out 12 missions to support the government’s levelling up objectives. These include narrowing the gap in health life expectancy – people living in the most deprived communities in England have up to 18 years less of their lives in good general health than the least deprived – and improving wellbeing in every area of the UK by 2030.
Sport and physical activity has a critical role to play in these areas as well as the wider levelling up agenda. At Alliance, we are working with local authorities using sport and physical activity as a vehicle to effect positive change in their communities. Authorities who are investing in new and improved facilities that not only actively seek to reduce local health disparities, but also contribute to the physical fabric of their community and provide a sense of civic pride – another of the White Paper’s 12 missions.
Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council is one such authority. The council is investing in a multi-million pound swimming pool and leisure centre for Halifax after securing money from the government’s Levelling Up Fund. A key part of the Calderdale Next Chapter transformation programme, the new Halifax Leisure Centre will combine Halifax Swimming Pool and North Bridge Leisure Centre into a single, flagship facility on the existing North Bridge Leisure Centre site, which sits in one of the Borough’s most densely populated and deprived areas.
Approximately 27,000 people in Halifax live in one of the UK’s 10 per cent most deprived communities, which forms the main catchment area for the project and represents 31 per cent of the total population.
The new centre will significantly enhance the quality of the leisure offer in Halifax while safeguarding vital facilities which deliver health and wellbeing benefits. With a central location and benefiting from improved connectivity thanks to new bus and railway stations plus improved highway links, the new centre is a prime example of how sport and physical activity can help drive wider regeneration.
The venue complements other on-going projects within the town centre to increase footfall, aiding the local economy’s pandemic recovery and addressing borough-wide priorities to reduce inequalities, grow the economy and build a sustainable future.
And, as an attractive new facility, Halifax Leisure Centre will be an important asset for the town, promoting a sense of ownership and civic pride amongst the local population.
Similarly, in East Lindsey, the Town’s Fund is seeing millions of pounds invested into the east coast with £12m to be spent in Mablethorpe as part of exciting plans that Alliance Leisure are supporting for the development of a new leisure and learning hub. Incorporating a range of leisure facilities, including a fitness suite and 25m swimming pool as well as community and digital learning spaces, this facility will serve the community not just as a place to get fit and stay healthy but also to meet others and learn.
This is levelling up in action, with sport and physical activity at the very heart of plans to tackle health inequalities, improve wellbeing and encourage pride of place.
About the author:
James Foley is Commercial Director at Alliance Leisure and has been in the industry for over 20 years.