Leisure centre closure causes needless harm to health and mental wellbeing

by Colin Campbell

THE decision by Nicola Sturgeon to propel Inverness and the Highlands from tier 1 to tier 4 overnight on Boxing Day has been widely condemned. No justification has been provided for such a draconian increase in restrictions with virus infections here still barely reaching double figures on any particular day.

On Wednesday Inverness was buzzing with pre-Christmas activity. Masks were everywhere but the city centre looked much like it normally does on December 23. But both stores and customers were behaving responsibly. The busiest had staff at the door to ensure the maximum number of people inside at any one time did not exceed guidelines. What more are they expected to do?

Well, from Saturday onward they are expected to and will have to shut down completely. From a carefully controlled and busy commercial precinct the city centre returns instantly to being to a dismal and empty ghost town. How can that be justified?

I made my last visit of the year to the Inverness leisure centre. From Saturday onwards it also again will be a dismally empty shell. This is supposed to last for three weeks but who knows whether that will be the outcome. When Nicola Sturgeon gets her teeth into a lockdown she can be stubbornly, mindlessly reluctant to get them out again.

Inverness Leisure and High Life Highland have been flawlessly efficient in adjusting the centre to the new normal since it reopened. They have risen to a huge challenge superbly well. One member of staff contracted the coronavirus, possibly at the centre but very likely not, and that has been the only glitch since August.

Initially people were very slow to return, and for a time there were doubts if they would return. But after a few weeks the numbers attending began to rise steadily and the upward trend has continued ever since. Pre-booking is now more or less essential.

But now High Life’s sterling efforts are being repaid with a draconian order to shut up shop again. It is a severe blow to staff and customers alike.

At least during the last lockdown people had the option of taking regular exercise outdoors. But if it turns out to be a harsh January for most that will not be an option.

The leisure centre has a uniquely important role in helping maintain health and mental wellbeing in Inverness during these oppressively troubled times. The centre lockdown is senseless and destructive as it stands. It would be much more so if the latest shutdown diktat lasts a day longer than three weeks.

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