With England facing Lockdown 2, climbing walls are shutting once more. This is just the latest of a long line of challenges facing walls in 2020. Dan Middleton takes a look.
It’s been a torrid time over the last year for many, not least for those in the climbing wall industry. At the start of the year there seemed no end in sight for the spectacular growth in the number and size of facilities. This expansion was needed to meet an incredible explosion in demand, with the latest survey results putting climbing right up there in the top five sports in the country for participation, above even football.
As the end of the year approaches, many in the industry are now wondering if they will still have a viable business come 2021, whilst for some it is already too late and they have been forced to close permanently. The short-term future of walls in England and Wales may look rather different but, overall, unless there is a change in opinion in Government about the importance of keeping facilities including walls open, then the outcome is likely to be the same in both nations.
In England things initially looked bleak, as walls and gyms were forced to close in Merseyside, which was the first area to go into Tier 3 restrictions. Thankfully, this decision was successfully argued against, and the default position now is for walls to stay open when these restrictions are brought in. The announcement of the English Lockdown 2 has thrown all that into disarray, and has resulted in new calls by sporting bodies to keep facilities open.
In Wales, the current national lockdown has closed walls which had re-opened later than their English counterparts, and which had already been heavily affected by the ban on crossing first county, then national borders, with no exemptions allowed for the purposes in partaking in sport. The good news there is that once the Welsh lockdown ends on 9 November, walls will be allowed to reopen. What is unclear, as yet, is under what restrictions, if any, this will be allowed, and whether this will enable walls to remain viable.
It is perhaps fair to question why fight and campaign at all to keep these businesses open? After all, they are all mostly commercial enterprises which were able to make a good profit during the boom years. Likewise, whilst there are no easy decisions to be made by those in government these days, surely the health and wellbeing of the public must come first?
It is exactly for this last reason that the BMC is fighting, along with our partner organisations, to reopen walls in England and have those in Wales reopen with minimal restrictions as long as they are Covid secure. As the winter months draw in, safe and welcoming places to exercise become ever more important for mental and physical wellbeing.
The benefits of climbing in promoting this are well documented, and walls have taken great strides in becoming as safe as possible when it comes to minimising viral transmission. With the steps in place at the majority of climbing walls, most of us will feel comfortable that we can climb and train in such an environment with minimal risk to ourselves or others.
In addition, there are the knock-on effects to consider if walls close: a lack of opportunities for new participants to enter the sport, no places for junior athletes to compete and train, and reduced opportunities for therapeutic groups to use climbing for confidence building and personal development work. And last but not least, the risk to jobs provided by the industry and the need for these facilities to provide a large proportion of Mountain Training provision.
Behind the scenes, the BMC is talking to and working with a wide array of organisations, supporting the great work being done by the ABC and UKactive in lobbying on behalf walls and gyms, to help keep these valuable places running for all of our benefit. UK Government has been lobbied on our behalf by the Sport & Recreation Alliance and by UKactive, and we’re speaking to Sport England so they can inform and challenge ministers on any evidence used to make decisions.
We’ve also been lobbying at local government level via our links with the Active Partnerships. And in Wales, we’re working through our membership of the Welsh Sports Association to press our case for the importance of walls reopening there without major restrictions later this month.
Whilst the current situation is undoubtedly extremely challenging, rest assured that the BMC will continue to fight with our partners to help get walls open again. Until that happens, check out our resources for home training and getting outside when the weather allows.
You can also sign this petition, promoted by SRA and UKactive, asking for a recovery fund for sport to be set up to help provide much needed emergency funding for the sector:
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