MUSEUMS, leisure centres, libraries and neighbourhood centres in Leicester will reopen on a step-by-step basis this summer.
The city council has taken a measured approach to reopening its facilities, taking into account the local coronavirus infection rate as well as the availability of its buildings and staff – many of whom have been redeployed to help with the city’s response to the pandemic.
Staff who normally work in museums, libraries and leisure centres have been supporting efforts to trace contacts of those who test positive for COVID-19, delivering test kits to homes in areas with high infection rates, or helping out at vaccination centres.
Council buildings have also been part of the city’s response, with libraries and community centres converted into rapid testing sites or pop-up vaccination hubs.
But from Monday (21 June), many of the city’s libraries, museums and swimming pools will reopen – and chief operating officer Alison Greenhill hopes that most of the council’s sites will be open by the end of June.
“Leicester has been in lockdown longer than anywhere else, so it’s really important that we adopt a cautious approach and get the balance right between reopening our services and having the capacity to respond quickly, if infection rates were to rise sharply,” she said.
“Some venues are still being used as coronavirus testing sites, and many staff are still required to support the city’s response to the pandemic, but providing the infection rate is stable, and there are no further changes at a national level, we’re aiming to have most of our leisure centres, museums and libraries open by the end of June.”
From Monday (21 June), 13 neighbourhood libraries will reopen, with measures in place to keep customers and staff safe. The children’s Bookbus will also be back in service next week.
However, Hamilton and Fosse libraries – which are still being used as rapid testing sites – and the Central Lending Library, whose staff are supporting track and trace efforts, will remain closed for now.
Reduced opening hours are temporarily in place in Leicester’s libraries, so people should check before making a special journey. More information is available at leicester.gov.uk/libraries
Leicester Museum & Art Gallery, Abbey Pumping Station, Newarke Houses Museum and the Guildhall will open their doors again on Monday (21 June), with Belgrave Hall reopening on Wednesday (23 June).
The city’s flagship museum on New Walk will reopen with Wildlife Photographer of the Year – a major touring exhibition of amazing photographs on loan from the Natural History Museum – and Round the World with Thomas Cook, a brand new exhibition inspired by the travel pioneer whose global business started in Leicestershire.
Newarke Houses Museum will welcome visitors back with a new exhibition that remembers The Leicester Blitz.
Timed tickets – which are free of charge – should be booked in advance for visits to Leicester Museum & Art Gallery. Book online or call 0116 225 4900 to reserve your tickets. Pre-booking is not required for the city’s other museums.
Tickets for the King Richard III Visitor Centre, which also reopens on Monday, can be bought at kriii.com/book-tickets/
De Montfort Hall, which has been used as an emergency food hub and as a vaccination centre during the pandemic, has already rescheduled many of its shows until later in the year but will reopen to present a short programme of outdoor theatre shows in the gardens during August. Tickets are available at demontforthall.co.uk
Six leisure centres in Leicester will be extending their offer from Monday (21 June), with swimming pools reopening at Aylestone, Braunstone, Cossington, Evington, Leicester Leys and Spence Street. New Parks Leisure Centre will reopen for family swimming sessions at the start of the school holidays.
Racquet sports and dry-side activities will resume at most centres from Monday (21 June), while Leicester Leys’ climbing wall is expected to reopen in early September.
Community centres across the city will start contacting and inducting their existing customers over the coming weeks, with a view to reopening from mid-July in line with easing of the current restrictions on indoor mixing.
When they do reopen to the public, new COVID-safe ways of working will be in place to keep staff and customers safe.
Leicester’s director of public health Professor Ivan Browne said: “Coronavirus has impacted on the lives of people in Leicester for such a long time that many people understandably want to see an end to the restrictions.
“But with the new, highly-transmissible, Delta variant now the dominant coronavirus strain here and elsewhere, and with the infection rate in Leicester rising, it’s clear that we need to proceed with caution.
“As we gradually reopen our facilities, it’s important to remember that restrictions are still in place and we all need to play our part in reducing the transmission of this disease.
“Keep your distance from those you don’t live with, wear a face covering whenever it’s required and please stay at home if you’re feeling unwell, you’ve tested positive for COVID, or you’ve been told to isolate by the NHS Test & Trace service.
“But the best thing you can do to protect yourself and others is to have both of your COVID vaccinations. Book your vaccination on the NHS booking site, at hospital hubs, at participating pharmacies, or as soon as your GP contacts you.”
Changes to opening hours and the latest information about city council services can be found on the service update page.
Latest figures for coronavirus infections in Leicester show a rate of 128.7 per 100,000 (seven days up to 12 June). This is up from the previous week’s rate of 101.9 per 100,000 (seven days up to 5 June).