Outdoor sports clubs in England are preparing for an influx of exercise-deprived players next week after lockdown restrictions are relaxed from Monday.
Swimming pools, tennis and basketball courts, golf courses and football pitches have been readying their facilities ahead of the much-anticipated easing of rules.
The reopening of outdoor sports facilities on Monday, when the Easter holidays begin, also coincides with changes to the rules on outdoor gatherings, with people able to meet up in groups of up to six people from any number of households, or a group of any size from up to two households.
This ends the “stay at home” order, but people are being encouraged to “stay local” where possible.
Goals, an organisation providing five-a-side football games across 40 sites in England, said it expects more than 100,000 players to use its pitches next week.
Adam Butterworth, operations director at Goals, said he had “not seen demand like it ever” in his 15 years in the industry.
He told the PA news agency: “It’s unquestionably the busiest outlook I’ve seen.
“If you look at all the things we’ve been denied in lockdown, playing five-a-side football can give you it all back.
“As well as exercise, and who wouldn’t want to burn 1,000 calories playing with their mates rather than running a 10k alone, you have the socialisation and banter that people need.
“I think in the evenings 99% of our pitches are going to be filled up, people need their football and we’re raring to go.
“We’ve invested significantly in PPE for staff, one-way systems, and sanitising stations in every pitch to make our customers confident they can feel safe while playing.”
Elsewhere, lidos, outdoor swimming pools, were busy preparing their facilities for a flood of users next week, with Beccles Lido in Suffolk undergoing “lots of cleaning” on Friday to open at 7am on Monday.
Brockwell Lido, in south London, said its swimming sessions for Monday were all booked up, while the South London Swimming Club said its volunteers had been “powering through this week to get the lido ready to reopen”.
Meanwhile golf course inspections were under way to make sure fairways were clear and greens manicured for tee-offs.
Nick Williams, head coach at the Albert Lawn Tennis Club in Wolverhampton, said the club saw an “influx of new players” after the last lockdown ended last year and he is hoping for another surge this time round.
He told PA: “I’ll be down early on Monday morning and we’re all very excited.
“Tennis is one of those sports where you’re naturally socially distanced, you’re 78 feet away from your opponent, never mind the two-metre rule!
“People haven’t been getting out of the house, they haven’t been able to move, but now we can open back up just as we’re getting into more sunny weather.
“I’m a nutritional therapist and I’ve seen people struggling with mental health during lockdown, and exercise can provide some really good benefits in terms of serotonin and dopamine to help us feel good.”
He added the club was offering free booking between April 5 and April 18 and had been undergoing some renovations during lockdown.