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High Life Highland (HLH) rises to pandemic challenge with a commitment made to safeguard the charity's future


By Andrew Dixon

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Steve Walsh.
Steve Walsh.

Commitment has been made to safeguard the future of leisure provider High Life Highland (HLH).

The charity outlined pledges that had been made when reporting its latest accounts for the year to March 31, 2021.

A trustees and directors report alongside the figures stated: “Highland Council, as the parent company of HLH, has committed to supporting the charity during the coming year and will work to underwrite any year-end deficit incurred with £3.4 million of reserves earmarked for that purpose.

“In addition, HLH has made provision to utilise £2 million of its own reserves to ensure the charity’s ongoing financial sustainability.”

The charity’s total income of £33,176,925 in 2019/20 decreased to £30,478,738 in 2020/21. For the same period, total expenditure dropped from £36,782,363 to £30,137,941.

At the year-end, it had a deficit on its balance sheet of £25,382,238, moving from a deficit of £8,646,937.

HLH’s activities were hit by the pandemic with lockdown measures forcing periods of closure for a number of premises it operates.

The number of customer visits almost halved from 8,876,161 to 4,865,333, while High Life subscriptions dropped from 20,259 to 9008.

The report stated: “Restrictions posed as a consequence of the pandemic resulted in a substantial loss with earned income, particularly in leisure facilities with customer numbers substantially lower in comparison with the previous year.

“This was mitigated through funding from the government’s job retention scheme in addition to savings in staff and other operating costs resulting in a positive year-end position, allowing the charity to supplement its unrestricted reserves for utilisation in 2021/22.”

A deficit of around £5.2 million is forecast for the current financial year.

HLH chairman Ian Ross said: “Throughout this period and beyond, I have been consistently impressed by the commitment and efforts of all our staff. HLH has made use of the furlough scheme for a number of staff, but was still able to maintain a number of key services.

“Many of our staff, including those on furlough, have still continued to make a significant contribution to Highland communities as volunteers, supporting the good work of Highland Council, NHS Highland and others – ensuring people across the Highlands have access to very necessary services and support.”

He added: “There is no doubt that our services will become even more important to Highland communities as we come out of the pandemic, with an emphasis on social inclusion and promoting community resilience.”

The charity – which is focused on developing and promoting opportunities in culture, learning, sport, leisure, health and wellbeing – is preparing a business plan covering the period to March 2026.

The average number of employees decreased from 1438 in 2019/20 to 1190 in 2020/21, while staff costs dropped from £24,570,987 to £22,429,909.

HLH chief executive Steve Walsh expressed gratitude to “dedicated, professional and hard-working staff” for “enabling services to operate safely in difficult and ever-changing circumstances.”


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