Get active with leisure programme to change your life

Classes costing a few pounds pay off in big social dividends, says Zoé Mobey
Edinburgh Leisure encourages and helps to keep people active. Picture: Ian GeorgesonEdinburgh Leisure encourages and helps to keep people active. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Edinburgh Leisure encourages and helps to keep people active. Picture: Ian Georgeson

My job as a fundraiser would be easy if I got £1 every time someone said: “So, you work for the council gym?” My reply is always, “No, Edinburgh Leisure is actually a charity dedicated to creating opportunities for everyone to get active, stay active and achieve more.”

For the sceptics, Edinburgh Leisure is a separate not-for-profit organisation. We receive around 30 per cent of our funding from Edinburgh Council to provide recreation and leisure facilities in the capital, across 31 venues.

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However, this provides a much needed catalyst to generate income from fees, membership, coaching and other areas. Any money made is reinvested to improve facilities, developing our sports and physical activities’ programmes to meet the needs of five million plus customers. We offer a vast array of opportunities to get active including gyms, swimming pools, football pitches, golf, climbing, soft play, 700+ fitness classes and much more.

Physical inactivity is one of the biggest problems we face due to its negative impact on health and wellbeing. In the Lothians area 59 per cent of adults do not get enough physical activity. Yet, physical activity can reduce the risk of major illnesses by up to 50 per cent and lower the risk of early death by up to 30 per cent.

It also has a positive effect on mental well-being, with additional wider social benefits including better educational attainment, improved confidence and life skills, increased social cohesion that helps build stronger communities.

As physical activity experts and with city-wide coverage, Edinburgh Leisure is uniquely placed to tackle health and social inequalities head on. We run more than 20 community health projects that use physical activity to improve the lives of people and communities affected by poverty, disability and health conditions; an area of work we need to start shouting about.

Early intervention and preventative programmes make a real difference to lives and save the health and social care system money. However, these ­programmes can only run with the support of external funders, which is where fundraising comes in.

It’s really important for Edinburgh Leisure to demonstrate how we transform lives, but we also need to show the social value that is created through investment by applying social return on investment (SROI) principles.

One example of the amazing programmes Edinburgh Leisure runs is Steady Steps, supported by NHS Lothian and the Change Fund, delivering 16 weeks of group exercise to around 400 older adults each year who have had, or are at risk of having, a fall.

Using physical activity and peer support it improves balance, confidence and independence. The course costs around £500 per person, yet when you compare this to providing hospital treatment for one older person who has fallen at a cost of £2,103, the significant savings to the public purse are clear, returning a social value of £18 for every £1 invested.

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Then there’s Looked After and Active, created in partnership with Edinburgh Council to support around 1,200 children and young people in care, provides unlimited access to gyms, swimming, fitness classes, coaching and soft play for them and their carers. It gives them access to physical activities; encourages healthy habits; builds life skills and improves relationships with foster families and carers. It’s money well spent, returning a social value of £9.41 for every £1 invested.

Positive Destinations supports around 200 young people each year who have left or are about to leave school without any education, employment or training prospects. Students gain qualifications, build self-confidence, develop new skills, make longterm lifestyle changes and improve their employability. The project returns a social value of £8.10 for each £1 invested by Edinburgh Council, and sees 34 per cent of students moving into employment and 46 per cent into further education or training.

So Edinburgh Leisure is much more than just council gyms. We like to think of ourselves as all inclusive, community venues, no matter what age, shape or size you are, with something for everyone. For more information about Edinburgh Leisure’s community health projects, visit

• Zoé Mobey is head of funding & evaluation at Edinburgh Leisure