Kirsty Cumming: Scotland’s sport, leisure and culture services fill an increasingly important role

Libraries and museums, sports pitches and swimming pools are all vital hubs of activity.  Picture Ian Rutherford
Libraries and museums, sports pitches and swimming pools are all vital hubs of activity. Picture Ian Rutherford
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BREXIT may appear to be all-consuming but there is a place in every community where people can escape from politics, phones and technology, and enjoy a relative calm.

Those places are under threat, more of that later, but they currently still exist and are the local sport, leisure and culture facilities working harder than ever to develop a service to suit every single member of the community, whether they are active, inactive or simply struggling to find ‘me’ time.

Kirsty Cumming, Community Leisure Scotland Policy and Engagement Manager

Kirsty Cumming, Community Leisure Scotland Policy and Engagement Manager

Scotland’s sport, leisure and culture services are filling an increasingly important role in improving the health and wellbeing of our communities. As the national association for charitable leisure trusts, Community Leisure Scotland welcomed the pledge in the Scottish Government’s draft budget for 2019-20 to keep vital public services at the forefront of its financial planning.

We say ‘vital’, and some will ask ‘really?’ Sports pitches, swimming pools, libraries, museums – vital? But if you’re asking that you won’t yet realise the hives of activity inside them, and the lifeline services that these local facilities provide. Leisure trusts have evolved from organisations set up to manage facilities, and save money, into key community anchors developing service provision to better uncover solutions to a host of local challenges. From helping young mothers and families, pre-schoolers, teenage girls and older adults, to finding new, supported routes to mental and physical activity, trusts are reshaping service delivery and sharing successes across the country to meet local, strategic objectives.

Ultimately, trusts are enabling people to engage and be involved, whether that is having a health check, having a coffee in a safe and warm space, going for a swim, walking in the park, borrowing a library book or becoming a gym member. We all need safe places to achieve those simple but valuable things in life and that’s where your local charitable trusts step in.

Over the past 20 years, most local authorities in Scotland have shifted the management of sport, leisure and culture to charitable trusts – often referred to as ALEOs – in a bold effort to protect services and facilities at serious risk of closure.

By doing so local authorities have saved millions of pounds in rates relief, brought in experienced local business people, entrepreneurs and community representatives to form skill-based ­trustee boards, and, crucially, ensured that all profit generated by these valuable community facilities and services is reinvested back into them. This reinvestment of profits enables any income generated through facilities such as gyms and cafes to be used to fund a widening range of programmes, many in partnership with national and local organisations, charities and sports clubs, which deliver significant social and community benefit, but are not financially viable in themselves.

Few of us truly grasp how much these services underpin our communities and support the health of the population, with trusts now offering services in schools, hospitals, health centres, care homes and mental health facilities, as well as across the more obvious leisure and cultural community facilities. These facilities go way beyond their traditional services and are hubs for a ­terrific wealth of community clubs and social interaction.

We need to keep it that way. Your facilities are under serious threat as public funding remains squeezed by the effects of austerity, and you are key to their future. Use them, talk to your trust about improving services, volunteer and keep them at the heart of your community. In this year’s draft budget the Scottish ­Government gives a commitment to support sports, arts and culture across the country, and to focus on the provision of community-based and more joined-up anticipatory and preventative care.

Leisure trusts are keen to support these aims and to work in partnership to help improve the physical and mental health and wellbeing of our people. From trusts such as Live Borders, to Shetland Recreational Trust, Community Leisure Scotland has members large and small across the length and breadth of the country, all working together to focus acutely on the needs of their communities.

There have been great developments across the trust network in early interventions to help pre-school and primary children become more physically literate, increasing the number of girls and women now in regular activity, helping people reduce the effects of obesity and long-term illnesses and in helping older people to cope physically and mentally in their communities.

The trusts exist for you, whatever your background. We all need a place to escape to. If Brexit’s not your thing, or after-Christmas shopping’s becoming tiresome, why not head along to one of your local charitable trust facilities? Your body and mind would thank you for it.

Kirsty Cumming, Community Leisure Scotland policy and engagement ­manager.