Lessening the burden on the NHS of the cost of physical inactivity could be achieved through strong culture and leisure links.

Dr Bridget McConnell, chief executive of Glasgow Life and a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, stressed the point during a discussion reflecting on the crucial role of sport, physical activity and cultural participation in broadening our understanding of health and wellbeing as part of the RSE’s summer events.

Dr McConnell was joined by Olympic rower and chair of UK Sport Dame Katherine Grainger, Mel Young, chair of Sportscotland, and founder of the Big Issue Scotland and president of the Homeless World Cup, and Dr Linda Irvine Fitzpatrick, strategic programme manager, Thrive Edinburgh, to discuss why culture and sport must underpin Scotland’s pandemic recovery.

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Pre-Covid, it was estimated that physical inactivity cost the NHS in Scotland around £77million per year, equating to £14 per person.

The Herald: The Herald is leading A Fair Deal for Glasgow campaign to fight for fundingThe Herald is leading A Fair Deal for Glasgow campaign to fight for funding

Dr McConnell said: “There is a wealth of evidence that recognises the fundamental role culture, sport and physical activity can play in supporting not just Scotland’s health and social recovery, but the country’s wider economic regeneration.

“Across Glasgow and the west of Scotland, tourism, hospitality, the arts, sport, heritage and culture employ almost 80,000 people and bring over £1 billion to the local economy. Regularly participating in cultural and sporting activities is intrinsically linked to improvements in wellbeing, particularly in relation to positive mental health and increased social connection.”

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She said the experience of the past 18 months and the demand for Glasgow Life’s services has shown just how valued and important Glasgow’s cultural and sporting provision is to local people.

“These services are needed now more than ever in terms of protecting our citizens’ wellbeing and building happier, healthier, more resilient and more productive communities in years to come,” she said.

“Increasing access to culture, sport and physical activity programmes can also help to lessen our reliance on the NHS and reduce future healthcare costs.

“However, in order for this to happen, there needs to be an honest conversation with government, the NHS, governing bodies in sport, and major culture funders about developing a new, more sustainable funding model that puts culture and sport at the heart of tackling some of society’s biggest challenges and which gives communities the opportunity to have greater input into shaping how their local services are planned and delivered going forward.”

Dr Grainger said she had heard from so many people how taking part in sport or watching sport had transformed people’s lives.

She said: “When I started out in sport I didn’t appreciate the impact and inspiration that is part and parcel of sport. My raison d’etre is to see how much more we can use sport to enhance and help people’s lives.”

The Herald: Glasgow's Riverside museum is operated by Glasgow LifeGlasgow's Riverside museum is operated by Glasgow Life

Mel Young, chair of Sportscotland, said: “I think Sportscotland is in a unique position in Scotland as it comes under the health portfolio and I don’t think there is any other country in the world where sport sits in there, and there is an absolute logic in that, as it is about physical activity. Sport needs to be inclusive for any sector, for anybody. I think we should be doing a lot more. We need to be connected up. Sport gets a tiny budget proportion but its impacts are substantial.”

The Herald is leading a campaign for A Fair Deal for Glasgow, calling for the city’s venues and treasures to be funded appropriately and for both the Scottish and UK governments to come together to deliver a new funding plan for Glasgow’s culture and leisure services.

It was prompted by figures which showed the crippling impact the pandemic had on the council arms length organisation which runs the city’s culture and leisure. Glasgow Life lost £38 million in income last year. Predicted income for 2021/22 is around £6.4m, and while Glasgow City Council has reached an agreement for it to receive a guaranteed £100m a year for the next three or four years, Glasgow Life has only been able to open 90 of its 171 venues.

Without further funds, it cannot open any further sites.