by Colin Campbell
A RELATIVE who goes regularly to the publicly-funded Bells sports centre in Perth tells me the return to normal activity there is proceeding at the pace of a slow crawl.
In his late 60s, he welcomes seeing others of similar vintage at the venue. But very few familiar faces have returned. He has flashes of doubt if, even fully vaccinated, he should be there.
I tell him not to be paranoid, that virus concerns should be rapidly fading among those with a proper sense of perspective, and that the worst thing he could do is stay away, give up on regular exercise, and slide into morbid obesity.
When the Inverness leisure centre reopened last August the number of stayaways, as we reported at the time, vastly outnumbered those who returned.
It took weeks for numbers to pick up gradually and for the venue to gain some energy.
Then, just as the sterling efforts made by High Life Highland to reassure customers that it was safe to return began paying off, we were hit by the second lockdown in December and the building was emptied out yet again.
It took over four months for what might have been only an extended festive break to come to an end.
But the aftermath of this second and surely final period of closure has been very different to the hesitation and uncertainty which surrounded the reopening last August.
Many people this time have been quick of the mark in returning. I was caught out a couple of times by failing to book in advance. Given the limitation on numbers which still apply, the gym and other busy areas were full to capacity.
Despite the best efforts of the operators, however, the leisure centre is still far removed from having free and easy access system which attracted people in their thousands before.
Pre-booking is essential but many people would prefer to turn up and exercise at a time of their choosing. That’s not possible for now and restrictions are an obvious deterrent.
The maximum hour permitted has removed some of the most important pleasures offered by the centre. There are no changing rooms available and there are no showers. And certainly there is no place for lounging about after a workout for a chat with others.
Bundling up your gear and departing after 60 minutes is not the most appealing gym or leisure centre experience. It’s all a bit of a rush, at least for those who are serious about making their time there count.
How far away is the centre from returning to the set up which existed before the virus struck?
Everyone is looking for something these days in terms of a return to full normality.
For me and I’ve no doubt many other people it will be seeing the inside of changing rooms which have been sealed off for 15 months now and getting into those showers which have run dry.
And the chance to renew acquaintanceships at our leisure inside the venue, chatting in the pleasant haze of relaxation which follows an exercise session.
Why older people are still staying away from my relative’s venue in Perth is a mystery. Maybe too many have lost the habit, a seriously negative change of lifestyle at their age. Maybe some, even fully vaccinated, still can’t shake off those virus fears. Maybe they never will.
I’ve never hesitated for a moment during this whole saga in attending the Inverness centre. Hygiene and cleaning measures are strict and rigorous as they have been throughout. Machines are properly spaced and the entire system is as smooth and efficient as it possibly could be.
High Life Highland have excelled in rising to the challenges of the past 15 months.
All that remains is to anticipate the day when this venue, so hugely important to health and wellbeing in Inverness, re-emerges as the flourishing, thriving place it once was.
That may be some time away yet but the operators will be well aware of the eagerness there is for the return of changing rooms, showers, and chat, and a venue again filled with life and energy after so much dislocation and desolation.