Partnership working key to delivering a quality, sustainable leisure provision

James Foley, Commercial Director at Alliance Leisure, highlights how local authorities can drive participation by engaging external expertise and, by thinking a little outside of the box, can make it possible to breathe new life into their leisure provision without necessarily committing to large scale capital investment.

The country is facing a health crisis. The population is aging, inactivity and obesity are at record highs and the NHS is buckling under the pressure. ukactive is calling for a move to a preventative rather than cure approach through investment in the creation of inspiring active spaces, but in these times of austerity and budget cuts, can councils realistically deliver this?

Thankfully the answer is yes. The recent Active people, healthy places report published by the LGA, in association with cCLOA and Sporta, shares many examples of how councils are driving participation through innovation and partnerships.

One of the learnings to come out of the LGA report is that councils will struggle to deliver an effective leisure solution alone. There needs to be collaboration with partners based on mutual priorities and a willingness by councils to explore new opportunities. These opportunities do not always need to take the form of bricks and mortar investment.

Take the project we delivered in Liverpool with Wirral Council. In January 2017, we began a two-year project to migrate the marketing of the leisure provision (8 leisure centres, 4 golf courses and a tennis centre) from a traditional to a digital focus.

 In addition to the development of a new website and supporting the introduction of a new app, we also launched new social media channels with huge success. For example, on Facebook, we trebled the audience size and increased engagement by 400 per cent. Similar success has been reported across other channels.

Paid-advertising campaigns have also been introduced on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google AdWords and YouTube. On Facebook, our adverts have reached more than 200,000 people and have been displayed 1.2 million times.

All of this activity has resulted in the Council’s health and fitness facilities membership increasing by 3000 members to just over 15k with net gains in membership seen in 10 out of the 11 months since the start of the partnership.  This has resulted in a 20% uplift in direct debit income which has more than covered the investment in working with Alliance as a marketing and training partner.

We also delivered a similar project in partnership with Leeds City Council earlier this year. Here, the arrival of 14 budget gyms posed a threat to the financial sustainability of the council’s 16 leisure sites. The Council needed to find a way to reengage the community without relying on capital investment. In January 2017 Leeds City Council engaged Alliance Leisure and together we developed a multi-channel offline and digital marketing campaign titled, ‘We Are Family’, built on the brand’s core values and family offering.

Over the first 30 days of the year the campaign reached more than three quarters of a million people living in Leeds, and generated 3,500 enquiries. This engagement led to almost 2,000 membership sales, representing the most successful start to a year ever recorded by the council. Originally intended as a three-month New Year promotion, the campaign was extended and by September, membership across the portfolio had grown by more than 2,000, from 17,500 to 19,500 members.

With the Leeds project, Alliance shouldered all of the investment risk with the council not paying a single penny until a pre-agreed income level was achieved. 

These examples serve to show how local authorities can drive participation by employing external expertise and thinking a little outside of the box, and without any capital investment. If, however, like many leisure facilities, time has taken its toll and redevelopment is considered the only viable solution, there is a means of reducing the risk, minimising the costs and generally increasing efficiencies.

In January 2017, Denbighshire County Council launched a new Leisure Framework and appointed Alliance as Leisure Development Partner. The Framework makes it easier and more cost-effective for public sector leisure providers to scope, develop and deliver physical leisure developments as well as cultural and marketing related services. It also ensures only suppliers with proven track records are engaged, mitigating the risk and ensuring value for money.

Since its launch, the Framework has helped many leisure providers to effectively and efficiency navigate their way through development works. Project sizes range from a changing room renovation at £300,000 to the £15 million redevelopment of a new Aquatics Centre in Rhyl, North Wales. 

Working in partnership with Alliance, through the Framework or independently, also enables councils to remove the need to secure upfront capital funds to finance the project.  Alliance shoulders this burden and the council then agrees to a long-term payment plan, activated only once agreed income targets have been reached. 

There is no doubt that these are challenging times for councils and there is little indication that the pressure will ease any time soon. That said, working in collaboration, engaging expertise from the private sector and taking advantage of the Leisure Framework, does make it possible for councils to breathe new life into their leisure provision without, necessarily, committing to large scale capital investment. Alliance Leisure has almost 20 years of experience working in partnership with local authorities, leisure management companies and leisure trusts to invigorate leisure services which significantly drives engagement. 

If you would like to hear more about the services and support we offer, please contact us on 01278 444944 or visit the website at http://www.allianceleisure.co.uk/