Features: February 4th, 2011

Public sector leisure offers a very different service to that of 20 years ago. Here, Sarah Watts, MD of Alliance Leisure, explores the changing face of leisure and the newcomers to the country’s public sector leisure portfolio.

Since offering a limited range of facilities to accommodate conventional sports in the late 1960s, early 70s, public sector leisure has experienced a dramatic transformation. The past decade has seen a move from a ‘one size fits all’ approach to a wider reaching agenda now offering sport, leisure and wellness. As a result, there has been an increase in the development of spa and wellness centres and extreme sporting arenas.

Traditionally perceived as a 5 star luxury, reserved for the rich and famous, spa facilities have, more recently, become easily accessible for all. Alongside the 420 private spa facilities nationwide, a number of public day spas offering more affordable services are now being provided.

The first public sector day spa was opened by Pendle Leisure Trust in 2007. After extensive community research, it was confirmed that local residents were looking for more family and health orientated facilities. Inside Spa, part of a £3 million redevelopment of Pendle Wavelengths, has proved to be extremely successful. The public spa located in East Lancashire appeals to an array of visitors and comprises numerous treatment rooms, a sauna, a salt inhalation treatment room and a manicure and pedicure bar.

Inside Spa offers a value for money, family experience that has traditionally only been available in exclusive, private sector complexes. Our partnership with the trust has resulted in a significant increase in public spend, as Phil Storey, CEO of Pendle Leisure Trust explains: “The demand for Inside Spa is incredible; month on month we experience increased footfall. Between 2008/09 and 2009/10 we tracked 30 per cent increase in public spend within our facilities. This financial year alone we have already witnessed a further 18 per cent growth.”

“The need to expand our facilities, in partnership with Alliance Leisure, demonstrates our nation’s changing demand on leisure services. Not only is the spa well supported by the local community, but people are travelling from far and wide to experience the therapeutic and relaxing treatments on offer.”

Extreme offerings

The key to the future of the leisure industry is being able to offer local communities an array of sporting and leisure activities. Getting more people participating in sport and leisure and enjoying the benefits of regular physical activity will have far reaching health and social benefits.
An example of a dynamic leisure portfolio can be found in North Wales at Deeside Leisure Centre. Investing substantially into its leisure portfolio, Flintshire County Council’s flagship centre now offers six new floodlit football pitches, catering for both junior and adult football. This year, with an investment of approximately £2.5 million, Deeside Leisure Centre looks forward to the launch of an 80-station health and fitness suite, two fitness studios, a toning salon and the first Welsh public sector day spa. In response to the local community’s leisure needs and sporting preferences, the third phase of the redevelopment scheme comprises a further multi million pound investment of climbing wall facilities, a high ropes course and a skate park for boarding, inline skates and BMX bikes.

Delivering inspirational services

In light of the Government’s recent spending review, high on many local authority agendas will be to reduce subsidy whilst also maintaining high quality services and maximising income opportunities. But how can a local authority access the funding needed to transform its leisure provision?
Cllr Dennis Hutchinson, Executive Member for Leisure and Public Protection of Flintshire County Council, explains that partnership working is key: “Without the support of our strategic partner the council would not have been able to access the funding needed to undertake anywhere near this level of leisure development. In these difficult financial times, when all the talk is of public sector budget cuts, partnering with a private sector company means we can still look to make facility and service improvements for the benefit of the local population.”

The core ingredients of a successful 2011 for LAs will be lateral vision and intelligent use of space; now is the time to evolve existing, stagnant leisure sites into thriving health and fitness centres that cater for the diverse leisure needs of local communities. The redevelopment of Deeside Leisure Centre demonstrates how a fantastic opportunity can arise from an ageing and costly facility. Through creative design,

Alliance Leisure also provides client support to the leisure industry which includes sales training, staff development, promotions, lead generation, retention support, branding, print and design.