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Tees Active Latest Update – 15th July 2020

Tees Active is your local, not for profit, charitable leisure trust, and we’re proud to support our community to stay active and healthy, both physically and mentally.

Due to Covid-19, Tees Active has furloughed over 300 staff, and like every organisation, we have been hit hard by this pandemic. The complete shutdown of Stockton’s leisure venues for more than four months, has resulted in the millions of pounds of income that we rely on to operate our services being wiped out. For this reason, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief last week upon hearing the announcement that leisure centres can begin to reopen from 25th July, and we are delighted to welcome you all back very soon. It’s been too long!

At Tees Active, we are passionate about the work that we do and believe strongly in the power of physical activity to further the health and wellbeing of our community. This is what energises us and drives us forward every day, knowing that the service we provide has a profound impact on the lives of our customers. The decision to reopen leisure centres is a huge step forward for the country, and our sector, as we begin to find our feet and work towards some semblance of normality. Whilst we embrace the decision with enthusiasm and excitement, we must also maintain a high level of vigilance and caution.

Like much of the leisure and hospitality industry, we had been working towards a possible reopening of our venues on the 4th July, and were disappointed when this wasn’t to be. We immediately started calculating trends and observing patterns derived from previous government actions, and began working optimistically towards a possible reopening on the 18th July – of course, making daily assessments from the available information. This uncertainty has been felt across every industry and highlights the tentative nature and overwhelming importance of managing the gradual easing of restrictions with careful consideration and planning.

Like most leisure providers, as we plan for reopening, we have mirrored this sensible and measured view by adopting a phased approach to reopening our services. We must start slowly and build up gradually, this is the safe and responsible way to progress. Doing too much too soon will only increase uncertainty and could further delay the resuming of some activities.

Since the situation evolved all those months ago, we have and will continue to act only on the direction and guidance that is presented to us. Of course, this has largely stemmed from the UK government and Public Health England, but also more recently from the industry bodies that we are associated with. Some have been more vocal than others and much swifter in their response to tackling the pressures we face upon entering this next phase. As it stands, we are still awaiting guidance from some of these organisations, who are understandably still processing the information released following the announcement, and we are confident we will receive more details shortly. However, this has naturally identified an obvious road map for the phased reopening of services and we believe we now have adequate information to present a timeline of provisional, yet realistic, dates for reopening a wider range of our activities.

Since outdoor pursuits was given the green light, we have been able to reintroduce white water paddling at Tees Barrage, where booking is now open for experienced paddlers. We will also be reopening Air Trail on the 25th July.

In the first indoor phase of the plan, Activ8 Health & Fitness at Billingham Forum, Splash and Thornaby Pavilion will reopen for gym sessions from the 25th July, with studio-based fitness classes following closely behind on Monday 27th July. We can then assess the flow of visitors across each site and adjust our operations, if required, before entering the second phase.

Shortly after, in phase two, we will reopen all of the swimming pools for public swimming only from the 10th August. It is important to highlight that whilst not every aspect of each activity will resume from day one, the revised measures, opening hours and programme adjustments are all temporary, and it is our intention to resume a more complete programme of activities as soon as operationally practical, financially viable and safe to do so. At this stage we anticipate swimming clubs will return from 17th August, followed by the Learn to Swim Programme in September once children enrol for school and parents return to their normal routines.

One week after this, phase 3 will commence with the opening of the Billingham Forum Ice Arena on the 15th August for public skating and private lessons only. Again, this reduced programme allows us to make an assessment and understand the impact of multiple activities running simultaneously in one venue. Unlike a lot of businesses, our leisure centres offer such enormous variety and it would be irresponsible for us to launch all of these activities together. Whilst we have applied our knowledge and experience to programme these activities most efficiently, this aspect still remains largely unknown.

In essence, the timeline has been formulated based on how quickly guidance has been issued, as this has determined how much progress we have been able to make in each area. For example, the fitness industry has been extremely forthcoming with information to enable operators to open safely, which has allowed us to make advancements in this area more quickly than others.

Of course, all of this is still subject to external influences, on a local and national level, and we will be reviewing everything over the course of the coming weeks and months.

Sadly, the social distancing guidelines means that some areas such as soft play and sauna and steam, amongst others, are unable to reopen safely at this time. However, we are committed to reopening them as soon as it is safe for us to do so.

I’m sure everyone can understand and appreciate our intentions to safeguard our staff and customers, and enable us to properly manage the gradual return of activities in a rational and calculated manner. We expect other operators will also adopt a similar approach and introduce the same measures to avoid compromising the safety of staff and customers.

We know this decision will not please everyone and undoubtedly it will leave some user groups feeling a little disappointed in the short term, however your patience and cooperation is critical in enabling more services to resume as quickly as possible.

It’s also worth remembering, that planning around evolving government guidance, ensuring the welfare of our staff is maintained and the viability of adapting our venues to meet social distancing takes time and we have a responsibility to get it right from the outset. We’re having to regularly evaluate this on a venue by venue, activity by activity basis. Coupled with this, we are creating an entirely new set of operating practices that includes, new and extensive risk assessments, testing key building systems, introducing additional hygiene measures and training, implementing new booking systems and engaging with our trade unions. Unfortunately, it’s not simply a case of reopening the doors and returning to the way things were.

As a charitable community trust, Tees Active is at the heart of the community and we are committed to being open and transparent with our customers. We fully understand your eagerness to get back to doing what we all love and we hope this roadmap will provide some reassurance for you. I would like to take this opportunity to personally thank everyone for their understanding, support and encouragement – it is warming to know our community is behind us as we all work through this together.

Please keep an eye on our social media channels for updates.

Stay safe, stay active

Leon Jones
Tees Active Managing Director

15th July 2020