by Colin Campbell
THE Inverness Leisure Centre has returned to full normality – apart from the numbers of people going there.
Parts of it, as one staff member said, are still “eerily quiet”.
The centre fully reopened a week ago, with the biggest change for customers being the availability of changing rooms, showers and lockers, the end of the pre-booking system for activities other than fitness classes, and the lifting of a time limit for being there.
High Life Highland, which has done a superb job in adapting rapidly to changing rules and regulations over the past 18 months, were quicker of the mark than most similar venues elsewhere in lifting all restrictions last week.
For regular users of the centre, it was a final return to the normality they had long been looking forward to.
But High Life has not yet been rewarded with a surge in the numbers of people returning.
The centre gym, which is due to be expanded over the next few months and will absorb the cafeteria area, is still far short of being the hive of energy and activity it was before the coronavirus struck.
Even at peak times, when it used to be packed, numbers are well down on what they were.
“There’s certainly been no rush back now that we are fully open again,” one staff member said. “Sometimes it’s almost eerily quiet compared with what it was before. Numbers are slowly increasing. Maybe it’ll just take time to get back somewhere close to where we were.”
Some former users of the centre may have lingering concerns over the virus risk, and may not be able to shake them off. The irony is they could be stoking up more serious health problems by abandoning their former exercise habit than the miniscule threat presented by covid.
Other former centre users may simply have lost the exercise habit during long periods of lockdown inactivity and may be struggling to stir themselves into action again.
Another factor in these changed times is that a significant number of Eastern Europeans, who frequented Inverness Leisure in large numbers, have returned to their home countries.
The Inverness leisure centre, the most important social venue for health and wellbeing in the Highlands, may take a long time to fully regain the buzz and energy it had as thousands of people flooded into it from early morning until late at night before the virus struck.
But with charges being the cheapest in Scotland – £20 for single monthly membership compared with £36 for the publicly funded Bells Sports Centre in Perth – top rank equipment and classes catering for a wide range of activities and people of all ages and fitness levels, staff there and High Life Highland management can do nothing more in terms of trying to encourage people to return.