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COLIN CAMPBELL: Inverness’s ultimate ‘warm space’ has lively welcome

By Colin Campbell

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Inverness Leisure.
Inverness Leisure.

This time last year during what was termed the fuel bills crisis the hunt was on for “warm spaces” where people could gather in comfort without the worry of their money draining away as they hunkered down to get through the winter.

Inverness Town House was proposed by councillors as a main venue, but I had doubts about that. How would people without cars get there through the frost and rain? By waiting in the cold for a bus which might or might not turn up?

It would, however, have been quite popular with the lads and lasses who hang around seedier enclaves of the city centre. The proposal, understandably, didn’t get off the ground.

This winter fuel bill concerns have at least been partly reduced. But many older people will testify that it’s still good to have one warm space to go to, and that’s Inverness Leisure.

I go there during the day now, to avoid the dangerous traffic mayhem for anyone on a bike after 5pm. There are many others of similar vintage who do the same.

I recently asked my Raigmore consultant about the wisdom or otherwise of maintaining vigorous activity and exercise as we get on in years. “Absolutely the very best thing you can do,” was his succinct and reassuring reply. Obviously his advice was for me, and may not apply to everyone, but the thrust of his viewpoint was clear.

And the link between Raigmore and the leisure centre is also clear enough. It’s an unhappy fact that the nationwide “obesity crisis” is growing, expanding and worsening all the time, in Inverness as much as anywhere, with the range of health problems it brings. The leisure centre is a powerful antidote to that.

Younger people go there after work in the evening. Those who have shed the burden of clocking on or being anchored behind a desk go during the day. A wide range of classes is available for group exercise and in some of them the average age of the participants must be over 70. I’m on nodding terms with people who are on treadmills or lifting weights who must be at least 80. Maybe their actual age is even older, but their regular exercise habit has trimmed a few years off their appearance. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. And after their sessions are over it feels like they’ve regained their youth.

Inverness Leisure has expanded its provision across the community, and has initiated online exercise classes for those who can’t make it to the venue in a commendable drive to ensure no-one is left out.

A relative of mine from Perth who goes to the main public leisure facility there visited the centre a year or so ago and was bowled over by the standard of equipment and the range of activity. He said it was far superior to what he’s used to, and it costs less too. Twenty-odd quid a month for an individual member, and not too much more for a family is good value for money. Concern about the rundown and decline in public services is high on the agenda these days, but the leisure centre has been spared that – at least as far as those of us who go there can see. Any moves to reduce the level of public funding for the venue are damaging, retrograde and should be strongly opposed.

Next to Raigmore, it’s the most important health and wellbeing asset in the Highlands. During Covid, the spectacle of a facility normally pulsating with energy from early morning until late at night being reduced to a lifeless, empty shell was the most depressing sight of all for me in that dismal time. That put in stark perspective how important and integral it is to the lives of so many people in Inverness.

This winter it is the ultimate “warm space” to go to. And if it hots up even on the chilliest days to the point where we end up dripping with sweat, I’ve no doubt my excellent and encouraging consultant would fully approve.

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