Elected members of Derry City and Strabane District Council today approved a phased reopening of Council owned leisure facilities when they met virtually for their monthly Full Council meeting.
Members approved proposals to reopen tier one leisure centres at Foyle Arena and Templemore Sports Complex in Derry, the Riversdale Leisure Centre in Strabane and the Derg Valley Leisure Centre in Castlederg on Friday 07 August, subject to Government regulations, for gym and classes only.
Elected members were informed at the meeting how staff from the leisure section have been busy working behind the scenes to ensure services will adhere to Government guidelines.
Members also heard details of a recent survey carried out by Council seeking views of the public and its users to help it plan and understand the public’s requirements when they reopen. Almost 1800 people took part in the survey outlining their key priorities for returning to sports activities once leisure centres have reopened.
Karen McFarland, Director for Health and Communities, speaking at the meeting reassured elected members that extensive work had taken place at leisure facilities across the Council to welcome the public back to the leisure centres and sports facilities next month.
She said: “It is important to note that Council has to work within the NI Executive’s COVID-19 guidelines and our staff are working behind the scenes to ensure everything is in place to ensure safe workout areas, hygiene and booking facilities whilst maintaining our high standards of service.
“Our priority is to reopen our tier one centres at Foyle Arena and Templemore Sports Complex in Derry, the Riversdale Leisure Centre in Strabane and the Derg Valley Leisure Centre in Castlederg in the first instance for gym and classes only. We have been looking at options and safe working practices to facilitate this and look forward to welcome back our customers on 07 August.”
Ms McFarland added that the facilities will have a number of restrictions in place and a booking system will be in place from 31 July via the Council website at www.derrystrabane.com/leisure.
She said plans are also in place to have a bespoke App available for bookings, in the coming weeks.
“Each of these facilities will reopen with limited capacity, primarily for gym and fitness classes only and with reduced numbers of people and bookings will need to be made in advance. We will have staggered start and end times and all classes will last for 50 less than 60 minutes. Users will be advised on booking that they must arrive “gym ready” as our shower and changing facilities will be closed. While our vending machines will be available, our on-site cafes remain closed and our drinking water stations will be placed out of use, so users are advised bring their own drinking water to stay hydrated.”
Ms McFarland advised that stringent cleaning regimes have been stepped up at all centres. She said the public will be advised to sanitise on arrival and departure at all facilities and to adhere to the strict social distancing measures, with signage erected across all facilities.
She added: “Some of our outdoor pitches and courts are currently available for club hire only at this stage and we anticipate that it will be some time yet before we can expand our services to offer swimming and other activities.”
Members heard that as part of the phased reopening of leisure centres, Council will be embarking on a marketing campaign, including a social media video campaign, to provide advice, information and reassurance to the public. They were informed that to make things simple and easy Council has put together a five-step approach to reopening that outlining its key messages to users when they return to sports and leisure activities. Users will be encouraged to think about them as follows
1. RE-ENERGISE: From Isolation to Rejuvenation.
2. RESPECT: Please respect our staff and your fellow members space by observing social distancing.
3. REMEMBER: Remember to practice good hygiene, wash your hands and clean your kit
4. RESERVE: Please pre-book all activities
5. The REST: Please bear with us, we will provide updates soon on the rest of our key services.
A marketing video giving users an insight into the measures taken and what to expect on arrival at our leisure centres has been compiled and is available to view at https://youtu.be/K0-N8O2dXIw
It was also outlined at the meeting that while sports pavilions and pitches remain closed to the public, a booking system is in place to facilitate some outdoor recreation facilities for sports clubs and sporting organisations for training purposes only. The Council has been working proactively with clubs and user groups on this over the past number of weeks and bookings are now being taken. Members also heard that Council have been working with the local community sector in relation to the reopening of MUGAS.
In relation to tier two leisure centres at Brooke Park, City Baths, Melvin and Bishop’s Field, members were informed that effective social distancing was problematic at these sites and they would remain closed but under review.
Karen McFarland outlined to members the challenges faced by staff in facilitating the reopening of facilities. She said: “This has been a very challenging time for our leisure centre users and members and we appreciate their patience and understanding at this time. We want to reassure the public that the health and safety of the public and our staff are our main prime concern and as we plan our phased reopening, it will require their continued patience and co-operation.”
The meeting was informed that leisure members and user groups would be contacted over the coming days in relation to the opening dates and new procedures in place and that all information would be communicated via the appropriate social media channels and on the leisure section of the Council website at - www.derrystrabane.com/leisure.
Members also agreed to a number of other operational changes within Council services including the reopening of the Council offices on Strand Road, Derry, and Derry Road, Strabane, to the public from Monday 27 July, with restrictions, and the reopening of the Registrar’s Office service in Strabane at Derry Road premises by bookings only from next week.