Recreational centres

Sports & Leisure Centres

Most towns have a community sports or leisure centre (also called recreation centres), usually run and financed by the local council. Some cities and towns also have modern commercial sports centres, which, although more expensive than municipal centres, offer unrivalled sports facilities (and some charge minimal membership fees).

A huge range of sports and activities are catered for, including badminton, basketball, netball, swimming and diving, squash, indoor soccer (five-a-side), rollerskating, BMX bikes, gymnastics, yoga, weight training, table tennis, tennis, racketball, aerobics, cricket, climbing, canoeing (in the swimming pool), archery, bowls, hockey, trampolining, martial arts and snooker. Councils publish a wealth of information about local sports and leisure centres.

Some centres have ice rinks and dry-slope skiing facilities, while most have one or more (e.g. main and learning) indoor swimming pools, squash courts (usually around six), badminton courts, sports halls (which are available for hire), general activity and fitness rooms, and a games room. Sports shoes with light-coloured soles which don’t leave marks should be worn for all indoor activities. Many sports centres have a health and beauty salon, that may include a sauna, Turkish bath (or steam room), Jacuzzi, solarium, spa bath, massage and a beauty treatment room.

Centres usually provide meeting rooms, nursery facilities, a sports shop (usually with a racket re-stringing service), a reasonably-priced restaurant or café, and a licensed bar. All centres provide parking, which is often free. In addition to sports activities, some centres (usually called recreation centres) also organise a range of non-sporting leisure activities, e.g. art, bingo, bridge, chess, dancing, music, photography, Scrabble and whist.

Opening Times

Sports and leisure centres are usually open seven days a week from around 9am to 11pm, although some smaller centres use school sports facilities and are available only from early evening (e.g. 5pm) Mondays to Fridays and at weekends. Many close on public holidays and over the Christmas and New Year period, when leaflets listing opening hours are provided. Membership, for which there’s usually a nominal fee of around £10 a year, may be necessary, although this may be required only if you want to book courts or equipment (usually one or two weeks in advance). Non-members may need to pay in advance when booking facilities (notice of cancellation is usually 24 or 48 hours).

In some centres, particularly in London and other major cities, annual membership costs from £10 to £60 a year and may be higher for non-residents. Season tickets, block bookings and subscriptions are usually available for some facilities. Most centres charge spectators an entrance fee of around 50p and all have reduced rates for children (or juniors), at around half the adult rates. They also have daytime off-peak rates (usually before 5pm) for most facilities. Some commercial sports centres offer a day pass (e.g. £10 for adults, £5 for children) that allows you to sample as many sports or health sessions as you wish (e.g. between 7am and 5pm). Many centres also organise sports sessions or clubs for the middle-aged (50+) at reduced rates and others organise women-only activities. Membership and hire fees may be reduced for under 18s, senior citizens, the disabled and the unemployed.

Membership Advantages

All sports and leisure centres run clubs and have club nights for a variety of sports. They also organise leagues, tournaments, ladders, knockout competitions and special events. Membership of a club may reduce court fees and entitle members to free or almost free participation on club nights. Most centres run fitness training and sports courses throughout the year (junior and adult), and also offer individual and group coaching. Equipment can be hired for a number of sports, including squash and badminton rackets and table tennis bats.

Holiday sports sessions and play schemes are held during school holidays (e.g. summer) and at weekends, and most centres organise special sports and games parties for children on request. All centres have changing rooms and showers. Theft from changing rooms isn’t uncommon and you should take all your belongings and clothes with you or lock them in a storage locker. Most centres allow the use of storage lockers free of charge, usually on payment of a returnable deposit.

This article is an extract from Living and working in Britain. Click here to get a copy now.

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