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14 Mar 2023 | 14:14

The Sport for Development Coalition and its national sector partners have welcomed a new £63million fund from Government to support publicly-owned leisure centres with swimming pools. The one-year fund is part of this year’s Spring Budget. 

These centres play a vital role in generating important sport for development outcomes such as positive mental wellbeing and community cohesion, as highlighted by the Sport for Development Coalition’s #OpenGoal Shared Advocacy Framework

The funding announcement follows research published this week which showed that almost 400 swimming pools have closed across England since 2010, with those parts of the country with the greatest health-related deprivation impacted most.


It also follows sustained and co-ordinated calls for more support on energy rates relief for such venues from the Coalition and national sector partners including Active Partnerships, CIMSPA, the Local Government Association, the Sport and Recreation Alliance, Swim England, ukactive and Youth Sport Trust. This included a letter to the Prime Minister in late February with more than 200 signatories from across sport, physical activity and recreation. 

£40million of the new funding will help pools become more energy efficient for the long term. Leisure centres with swimming pools, many of which were built in the last century, are responsible for up to 40% of local authority carbon footprints. This is due to the need for pools to be heated to safe temperatures. 

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said: “It is essential that children have the opportunity to learn water safety skills and adults of all ages can benefit from maintaining an active lifestyle too.” 


Applications for funding will need to be made by local authorities, where Sport England will manage the process. Funding will be awarded following a competitive bidding process. Council-run pools, and pools run on behalf of councils by private companies and charities are also eligible for support. 

Hitesh Patel, Executive Director of the Sport for Development Coalition, said: “Along with the recent announcement around opening up school facilities to local communities, this is another positive step in the right direction by Government in acknowledging and investing in the vital role of sport and physical activity in generating positive health and societal outcomes, and strengthening communities. 

“Along with our national sector partners, we now call on Government to build on this momentum and work with us to fully maximise the contribution of sport to building a fairer, more equitable and sustainable future.” 


Importantly, the Coalition is calling on future funding to focus on those communities in the greatest need of ‘levelling up’, as exemplified by the Ministry of Justice’s Youth Justice Sport Fund which the Coalition is currently delivering, led by StreetGames and the Alliance of Sport in Criminal Justice. 

To champion this, Coalition members will come together on April 6, the UN’s International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, to mark the first anniversary of the #OpenGoal framework. The framework demonstrates how the multiple returns on investment that sport for development can help to generate – from increasing mental and physical health and wellbeing to reducing crime and unemployment – can help to generate significant public cost savings, especially in those communities facing disadvantage and deprivation. 

The Coalition’s national sector partners welcomed the announcement. On behalf of the Local Government Association, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: “We are pleased the Government has recognised the importance of our public pools to the nation’s health, our communities, and the safety of our children.” 


Jane Nickerson, Swim England CEO, said the fund would help facilities become more environmentally sustainable, another key element of the #OpenGoal framework. She commented: “We welcome this intervention, which is an important recognition of the incredibly challenging situation currently facing swimming pools and their value to local communities. The financial support announced will undoubtedly make a difference for a number of vulnerable pools as they battle with increased energy costs.” 

Lisa Wainwright, Sport and Recreation Alliance CEO, noted it was important that “the sector's collective voice has been heard”, while ukactive CEO Huw Edwards added: “We will now support the Government and Sport England to channel this financial package to those facilities most at need, helping to retain services and keep facilities open.” 


Pic credit: Swim England