by Colin Campbell
DURING the usual entry and exit rush from the Inverness Leisure Centre a fairly senior member of staff recently told me he anticipated “big changes by August”.
This was in response to my query as to when customers might expect the venue to return to something approaching normality, which it is still far removed from as of now.
I don’t know whether his view at the time was based on a firm plan or informed speculation, but that now has to be very much in prospect.
Nicola Sturgeon has announced that virtually all coronavirus restrictions will be lifted by August.
If she keeps her word and doesn’t find another reason to backtrack on that commitment, High Life Highland, which runs leisure centres across the region, will not drag their heels in acting on it.
Up to now they’ve done an exceptionally good job within the boundaries of what’s been possible in keeping the leisure centre up and running.
When reopening day arrived after the first lockdown they made a statement of intent by offering access from midnight of the first Monday when they were back in business.
Back then, with the vaccine still some distance over the horizon, there was a slow and sluggish response from customers who had previously descended on the centre in their thousands.
Some may have lost the exercise habit, but many considered it too risky to return to the centre, viewing it as an enclosed, sweaty, breeding ground for the virus.
For my part, given the amount of work and careful planning to maximise social distancing, and the rigorous hygiene and cleansing system in place at Inverness Leisure, I had no qualms about returning to a venue that had been greatly missed.
Since opening up again in April, the leisure centre has been busier but is still nowhere near attracting the numbers it previously did.
The necessity to book in advance is a minor inconvenience. But the continuing lack of access to changing rooms and showers is a major one, as are the time limited sessions, which mean there is no space for lingering, chatting or relaxing.
I know through conversations that these factors are still keeping many people away.
A full return to normality with access to all the centre has to offer would change that overnight.
High Life have already shown they are fully capable of rising to the challenges of the past 16 months since the leisure centre was first forced to close its doors a year last March.
So can customers look with ahead with confidence to a return to something close to full normality – changing rooms, showers and chat – by August, or around that time?
That would be a massive boost for a venue which is hugely important to health and wellbeing in the Highland capital.
And it would be a signal that the stifling, restrictive and sometimes fearful months surrounding the cursed virus are now, to all intents and purposes, finally over, with life and energy flooding back into a venue which brings so much benefit to Inverness.