by Colin Campbell
HIGH Life Highland have done a superb job in reopening the Inverness leisure centre at the earliest opportunity after being given the go-ahead to get back in action from Monday. In a get up and go gesture of intent the doors were open from midnight on Sunday, signalling their determination to give customers every opportunity and encouragement to return.
However customers have been slow off the mark in returning to the venue.
Pre-lockdown it was busy throughout the day and packed at peak hours but as yet the influx of fitness enthusiasts that might have been expected hasn’t happened.
On Monday opening day the numbers turning up were thin on the ground.
I went along at 6pm peak time and the centre was much quieter than I’d thought it would be. Members of staff informally confirmed that it had been considerably less busy than they’d expected.
Last night between 6pm and 7pm there were fewer than half a dozen people in the gym, with most machines unused.
One member of staff said, regarding the slow pace of return, “It’s slightly worrying,” although any concerns at this stage that people have drifted away from the exercise habit may be premature.
There have been no radical changes at the venue, other than the obvious ones that would have been expected. Bikes, treadmills and other apparatus are available for use accommodating social distancing requirements. Pre-booked sessions are limited to an hour and the time limit is enforced, with courtesy and some flexibility by staff.
The restaurant area is closed and gym equipment has been laid out there. The Colin Baillie room is being used for stationary cycling although there are bikes in the gym and restaurant area also.
Customers go in at the main entrance and leave through a side door which takes them out to the rear of the centre and then the car park.
The changing rooms are closed so there’s no shower and time to cool down. That’s not a problem just now but might be less appealing later in the year when people leave in sweaty gym gear and are immediately hit by a freezing blast of icy winter weather. If they have cars, as the vast majority do, there’s no reason they should catch a chill. If they cycle or walk home, it’s less than ideal.
The swimming pools area is open but has not been busy.
However, the overriding factor is that the centre is now open and running smoothly again after a five month closure.
Some other major venues, like the Bells sports centre in Perth, are still closed and are not scheduled to reopen for at least another two weeks.
People will make their own choices but there is no obvious reason for anyone to be nervous about entering Inverness leisure. Everything that could and should be done to ensure safety has been applied, effectively and efficiently. And a paramount consideration is that the fitter and less weighty folk are, the more resistant they are to suffering complications from the virus.
When the shops reopened in the city centre it was very quiet initially but gradually picked up to the point where activity is now almost back to normal.
It’s likely to be the same pattern with the leisure centre, a slow start with numbers rising steadily.
In fact it’s probably advantageous that customers are pacing themselves when it comes to returning, as it gives the venue time to to adjust and adapt to the “new normal” accordingly.
But the most important venue for health and mental wellbeing is now back in action, a desolate, empty shell of a building no longer.
That serves as a major morale boost and one of the clearest indicators so far that life in this strangest of all years is slowly but surely clawing its way back to normal.