By Laura Jones, Solicitor at Irwin Mitchell

Over recent months, people have begun to adjust to a new normal and keep their distance from others. Many of us are working from home or on furlough and leisure activities have been restricted due to lock down. We have re-evaluated our busy lives and our priorities have begun to change.

Leisure before Covid-19

Leisure activities have always played a large part in our lives as a way to relax and socialise.  Due to changing demand, the industry has evolved over time and leisure now comes in a variety of forms - there is something for everyone.

Restaurants offer a wide variety, from cheap meals to fine dining. Food offerings are constantly evolving as restaurants compete to attract more business.

Health clubs have reportedly seen their highest year in memberships in early 2020 and gyms are no longer somewhere for a quick workout, but a place for the whole family offering fitness and wellbeing activities.

Cinemas proved resilient to economic challenges and keep up with technological advances.

Over the last five years venues have emerged across the country, in and outside of our cities, providing us with trampoline parks, adult entertainment centres, flight clubs and axe throwing to name but a few. As a result of the increase in online shopping and the decline in retail, trampoline parks especially have been targeted by landlords to fill large empty retail units, attracting a new audience to retail spaces.

Ultimately as a result of our need for social interaction and activities, the leisure industry has evolved to bring forward new concepts and experiences encouraging us all to spend money.

During lockdown

As the UK was subjected to lockdowns, the leisure industry ground to a halt. The majority of people found themselves, probably for the first time, spending an overwhelming amount of time in their homes.

Restaurants adapted to provide takeaway food and even high end restaurants developed tasting menus delivered to your door. For some these provided a life line, whilst for others it was something to look forward to.

People turned to fitness apps and PE with Joe Wicks in place of their usual trip to their health club or gym and exercise outdoors was enjoyed by many.  

Subscriptions to streaming services doubled and seemingly replaced trips to the cinema, whilst trips to the park and the coast replaced visits to entertainment centres.

We maintained contact with family and friends by video call apps, held quizzes and played games online, socialising in true social distancing style. We became more aware of city life and its lack of green space. We reduced our city travel and therefore the vast array of leisure offerings. People have created home offices and they have invested in technology to allow them to work from home effectively.

Leisure after lockdown

With rules being relaxed our leisure industry is re-opening. Businesses are finding ways to operate with social distancing and providing enhanced cleaning.

The Eat Out Help Out scheme has enticed people back into our restaurants, with Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday becoming the new weekend! As this has been so successful, many restaurants are continuing the scheme into September, subsidising meals with their own money. A number of surges in Covid-19 cases appear to have resulted from pubs that have not been following government guidance. This may put some consumers off.  

Health clubs have begun to reopen, offering limited services, although some have had to close again due to local lockdown. Many people have not returned as they are enjoying outdoor work outs, but this may change with the onset of autumn.   

Most cinemas re-opened in mid-July, however, there is a lack of major releases to entice the public back to the cinema. Until these begin to be released, this may impact on numbers.

Trampoline parks and entertainments centre report reduced flows of customers but better than expected numbers. Green spaces and outdoor activities still remain popular, especially with the mild weather.

Our city centres are still quiet and office workers remain working at home with no prospect of change anytime soon.

The future

Economic pressures are likely to impact the leisure industry who are heavily competing for business.  Venues, capacity, pricing, customers disposable income and demand will also impact. Despite this, our need for leisure remains and companies will need to be smart in the way they operate.

Travel may impact on our choices; free parking may encourage visitors to leisure parks rather than taking public transport. This may cause increased visits to out of town parks encompassing restaurants, cinemas, and entertainment centres.

Once the weather becomes cold many are likely to return to their health clubs. 

We have invested in our homes which, we are now able to work from. Will we be allowed back to the office this year? Will employers expect us to go back or be more flexible? Will this impact on our commute and where we want to live? These questions are all to be answered. Ultimately, where we live and work will affect the convenience of our leisure activities and subsequent impact on the leisure model going forwards.

Social interaction will be as much part of our lives in the future as it is today, whether interaction is through social media or in person - our leisure will be formed around this need. Businesses will need to be flexible in their approach, be resilient to external pressures and keep on trend so that we continue to spend our money on leisure activities.