Lib Dem Cheltenham launches free leisure passes for food bank users

Health and wellbeing is top of our party’s agenda. All of our local campaigners have a strong message on NHS services.

While leading campaigns about treatment, we must also pursue innovative approaches to measures that prevent ill-health. Liberal Democrat-led Cheltenham Borough Council is partnering with the NHS and local food banks to do just that. It’s a part of our response to the cost-of-living crisis.

I’m a strong believer in the power of physical activity to transform people’s lives. It has made my own life immeasurably better, despite an unexpected arthritis diagnosis at age 29. Whether it’s regular walking, having a swim, lifting weights, doing water aerobics, or going to a HIIT class, physical activity is proven to help people improve their health and wellbeing. In fact, it can be a ‘miracle pill’ for mental and physical wellbeing, as argued in the recent book by Guardian journalist Peter Walker. Sadly, the cost of living crisis means that so many people across Cheltenham have had to make sacrifices. In a town that many characterise as wealthy and prosperous, we have more than 600 families registered with local food banks and more getting help in other ways. Often, it’s nice-to-have activities like leisure centre trips that are sacrificed when people can’t make ends meet. That can have a big knock-on impact, not just now, but for people’s long-term health. People who lead sedentary lifestyles are more likely to suffer ill-health in the short and long-term, storing up problems for our NHS.

A few months ago Cheltenham was one of a number of local areas that declared a Cost of Living Emergency. That was in the midst of the energy price crisis, while wider inflation began to run rampant. As cabinet member for wellbeing, I led on our local declaration. Initially, it meant we put tens of thousands of pounds extra into the Food Network, to support people who were struggling so much they were unable to pay their food bills. At the same time, we looked at what else we could do for those most in need. Working with council officers, the local NHS and the food network (food bank operators) and The Cheltenham Trust, we came up with a scheme to provide some free leisure activities.

The result is an offer of 12 free sessions at Leisure@, the local leisure centre, through the FeedCheltenham pass. Launched at the end of May, the pass includes swimming, classes, gym and fitness, as well as soft play for families. The pass also gives 20 per cent off Cheltenham Trust events.

Up to 600 food bank users could benefit. In the early days of the scheme, it seems to have found popularity with a good number of families.

I hope this innovative partnership between the Council, #FeedCheltenham, the NHS and the Cheltenham Trust will help people enjoy themselves and improve their health – physical and mental – at the same time. That might mean people restart an old fitness routine, take up gentle exercise for the first time in a while, or perhaps ever. And it proves the difference that Liberal Democrats can make to people’s lives when we win.

* Max Wilkinson is the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Cheltenham. He’s also a local councillor and cabinet member for economic development, tourism, culture and wellbeing.

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This entry was posted in Local government and News.


  • Steve Trevethan 12th Jun '23 - 6:37pm

    Thank you for an interesting article on an excellent initiative!

  • Vary interesting. Until around 2009–10 food banks used to be a very marginal phenomenon in the UK. However, the number of food banks increased very rapidly in the 2010s. The Trussell Trust, which support the largest network of food banks in the UK, had around 35 food bank centres in 2010/11, 650 in 2013/14 and nearly 1300 in 2019/20. I used to be Chair of one of them when I ceased to be a Lib Dem Councillor.

    If Max Wilkinson does get to Westminster, I hope he makes a splash trying to repeal the Bedroom Tax, the other welfare changes of 2010-15, and especially the cruel ‘fit to work’ criteria which (as shown on BBC Radio Four at 4.00 pm today) resulted in several, hundred suicides.

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