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Leisure chief acknowledges frustration among gym and pool users but says 'we now have a date to aim for'

By Alan Hendry

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Chief executive Steve Walsh says High Life Highland staff are aiming to deliver an enjoyable and safe experience when they welcome customers back.
Chief executive Steve Walsh says High Life Highland staff are aiming to deliver an enjoyable and safe experience when they welcome customers back.

The chief executive of High Life Highland (HLH) says he accepts that users will be frustrated at having to wait longer to return to the charity's gyms and swimming pools.

Steve Walsh emphasised that the health and safety of customers and staff will remain the top priority and that the decision on reopening sites "is very much out of our hands".

He was speaking after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon presented the latest review of lockdown restrictions in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday. Announcing that as things stand gyms and swimming pools will not be allowed to reopen until September 14, she said: "I absolutely understand and share the desire to see these open again."

However, clinical advice was that such facilities posed a particular risk and required a cautious approach. Ms Sturgeon said the position would be reviewed again in three weeks and, if possible at that point, reopening could be brought forward to the end of August.

HLH is responsible for operating many gyms and swimming pools across the region.

“While the announcement from the First Minister is not the news we had been hoping for, it does mean that we now have a date to aim for in terms of reopening our gyms and swimming pools across the Highlands," Mr Walsh said.

“Staff have already been back reconfiguring sites to accommodate the Scottish Government’s social distancing measures and making sure we will still be able to deliver an enjoyable experience, but most importantly a safe experience, when we welcome our customers back.

“I am sure many of our customers will be frustrated that they are having to wait a bit longer for their return to our gyms and swimming pools.

“Our first and foremost priority remains the safety and health of our customers and our staff and we are hopeful that customers will understand that the decision to reopen our sites is very much out of our hands.

“High Life Highland is keen to continue the role it has played in supporting those communities and to do its bit to suppress the spread of the virus and help prevent any possibilities of cases increasing in the region.

"We are continuing to deliver services online where possible and are trying to negotiate with Highland Council for access to external sporting facilities within the shared school estate, to enable sporting activities to take place outside in line with the government’s route map guidance.

“I would like to reassure our many thousands of members and customers that our teams across all our locations are working hard and doing all they can to ensure HLH sites are ready to welcome everyone back on September 14 into Covid-secure sites across the Highlands if the date is confirmed by the Scottish Government."

Mr Walsh added: “Despite the challenges our charity faces, High Life Highland remains committed to working with the Scottish Government to deliver its route map, as well as with partners in Highland Council, SportScotland and Community Leisure UK, to enable customers and members to return to their chosen activities when it is safe to do so.”

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