Have you ever watched that movie Groundhog Day? In your head, raise your hand if you have! If your hand is in the air (metaphorically speaking), you will know what I’m about to say.

Here’s a synopsis for those that haven’t seen the movie. Bill Murray stars in the 1993 comedy as a weatherman. His day constantly repeats itself until he makes the right decisions to break the cycle of reliving the same day over and over again.

It is the same kind of feeling we are getting from the new national restrictions in England- Lockdown 2, Tier 3+, Fire Break, Circuit breaker, or whatever other names the English government, comes up with to try and make us think this time it is different. For those in the leisure sector and whose business relies on swimming pools, let’s be realistic, it’s no different, it is the same. Like Bill Murray, our sector has to face up to our Groundhog Day, the same challenge we faced in March, with the same restrictions and the same support.

Therefore, it is with a heavy heart that RLSS UK must, once again, announce, the temporary closure of the RLSS UK head office in Worcester, England, from Thursday 5, November. We will also place many of our staff (who rely on leisure centres and pool activity for the majority of their work) on furlough using the Government Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Unfortunately, with a reduced workforce, this means there may be a delay in responding to your queries and providing the support you have come to expect from us. I’m sorry about that and ask for your patience. You can of course visit our website for support. This will remain updated with the latest information and guidance. We all hope this will only last a month, as promised by the PM, and we can get back to providing training, education, and qualifications for a sector we all care deeply about.

And that leads me to my final point. Surely it is time to change the mindset of our politicians on the importance to this sector. We must move from the non-essential category to an essential activity. If garden centres can do it, then why can’t we?

Swimming has to be one of the safest ways to keep fit in the current crisis. Operators have worked hard to make their venues COVID-19 safe, the guidance on social distancing in a pool (by many seen as over-cautious) works, and, in well-maintained pools, you are generally bathing in CHLORINATED water -  known treatment for killing bugs and viruses.

Time and time again, we have heard that the Government listens to the science, the evidence, and the experts in tacking this virus but, it appears not in our case. Frustratingly our sector is incredibly safe. UK Active reported less than three cases per 100,000 visits to a gym or leisure centre and, I would love to know how many of these three were swimming? My guess is zero.

Here is the actual science:

  • Weekly swimming participation in England saves the NHS and our social care system more than £357 million a year*
  • With 70 percent of the NHS budget spent on chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, regular physical activity like swimming can reduce the occurrence of these conditions by 20-40%*
  • One million people in the UK will have dementia by 2025, and this will increase to two million by 2050, costing £26 billion a year in the UK. Swimming, particularly in cold water, identified improvements in pain reduction, balance, functional capability, and fitness as well as improvements in their mental health, mood, confidence, ability to concentrate, and reduced anxiety*
  • 4m adults in Britain felt that swimming had significantly reduced their symptoms of anxiety or depression. Swimming is also associated with improved sleep and improved quality of life in people with long-term conditions*
  • Swimmers are happier, more confident, more socially connected, and have more friends than non-swimmers*
  • Pre-COVID 1.2m children learn to swim each year*
  • Swimming is a life skill, and you are at a greater risk of drowning if you accidentally fall into the water if you cannot swim. Children currently cannot learn to swim.
  • Since the reopening of the leisure sector – measured from 25 July to 11 October – shows the sites have seen more than 45 million visits, with an overall rate of 0.99 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 visits**

This is the science, and this is the data we ‘should’ be judged on!

We all want to reduce the number of cases and deaths by reducing the R-rate. But leisure is not having any impact on the current R-rate levels increasing, so, it is hard to see what significant impact closing it down will have in reducing this rate.

However, the unintended and long-term consequences (as shown in the data above) will be significant.

It is time we all stood together and demonstrate we provide an essential service to the UK and, we must remain open to protect the health and wellbeing of our nation.

Until then, please bear with us, be patient, keep supporting us, and make your voices heard.


Robert Gofton


*The Value of Swimming Report, Swim England, 2019

**UK Active Report 2020