New opportunities for cost effective leisure infrastructure


Paul Cluett, Managing Director at Alliance Leisure highlights how it’s possible to breathe new life into leisure provision without necessarily committing to large scale capital investment. 

We know that investing in our leisure infrastructure is key to creating more active communities and transforming the health of the nation. We also know that money in the public sector is extremely tight; in some cases non-existent as councils are forced to direct resources away from leisure and into frontline services such as social care.  Despite these financial constraints, we have seen the investment of millions of pounds into public sector sports and leisure centres over the last 12 months, thanks to the UK Leisure Framework.  

The Framework was launched by Denbighshire County Council in February 2017 following the success of the council’s first partnership with Alliance Leisure, which saw the investment of almost £10m in upgrading tired and underperforming leisure facilities after years of under investment. Keen to help other public sector bodies to transform their leisure offer with successful and sustainable facilities, the council developed the UK Leisure Framework, which is EU Procurement Regulations compliant, and appointed Alliance Leisure as the leisure development partner. 

The Framework removes the burdens of public procurement by significantly reducing the process and ensuring projects are delivered on time and on budget whilst fully complying with the Procurement Regulations. We at Alliance Leisure are very proud to be working with local authorities and leisure trusts across the UK to reinvigorate their services with innovative projects that meet the demands of communities, achieve income targets and meet local outcomes

Developments with an estimated value of £27m have been signed in the first 12 months of the Framework. Five leisure projects have completed with another six developments currently on site.

Facilitating projects of all sizes

The projects are wide-ranging, from as little as £250,000 up to £15m. They include the completion of new 3G pitches at St Asaph Leisure Centre, the first development to be completed under the UK Leisure Framework.  Completed on-time and under-budget, the £250,000 investment provides the local school with first-class facilities that can be used by all of the community.

The Framework has also facilitated the redevelopment of Rhyl Leisure Centre following an investment of £850,000. The first phase of work, which encompassed the refurbishment of the swimming pool changing rooms, completed in summer 2017. Phase two includes the refurbishment of the gym, the conversion of an unused drama studio into the largest, dedicated functional training space in the area and a brand new group cycling studio. A high quality dedicated changing area for members will also be introduced.

Other projects include a £7.4m scheme to refurbish and extend Monmouth Leisure Centre andSC2 Rhyl, a £14.8m new leisure complex offering a 13,000sq ft leisure pool with flumes, slides and water play features, a TAG active adventure zone, changing village and café and bar area, which is expected to attract more than 350,000 extra visitors per year to the area. 

And in the last two months, further projects have commenced on site including a £2.4m investment by Cheltenham Borough Council in partnership with Cheltenham Borough Council and The Cheltenham Trust, a £2m redevelopment project with South Norfolk District Council and a £1.4m health and fitness development with Flintshire County Council in partnership with Aura Trust.

Hope in an era of hardship

These examples will give you an idea of the scope of works being realised under the UK Leisure Framework. By focusing on reducing costs and improving efficiencies for both the client and the contractor, the Framework ensures that a larger percentage of the client’s overall budget is allocated to the development project, rather than the procurement process. This allows local authorities to progress developments that almost certainly would have proved prohibitively expensive under traditional public procurement procedures. 

In an era of financial austerity, it allows local authorities to progress projects with confidence knowing they are developing innovative solutions that will prove popular with the public and will meet their financial targets. More importantly, the Framework enables local authorities to move beyond a culture of ‘make do and mend’ and to deliver leisure infrastructure that’s fit for purpose and that will help to turn the tide of the physical inactivity epidemic that is engulfing our nation.



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

Supporting local pubs

Pubs are a vital part of the fabric of every local community and every local authority in Britain. As with local shops, post offices and schools, communities simply aren’t the same if they lose their pubs. They are also vital to local economies, supporting nearly 900,000 jobs, UK wide, and an essential part of the tourism, leisure and hospitality sector, right across the country.

Yet many pubs have struggled in recent years, with a net reduction in pub numbers of 8,000 over the past decade. Whilst changing lifestyles and leisure opportunities are partly responsible, national and local taxation and regulation has played a major role.

At national level, pubs have struggled under the burden of huge rises in beer duty and the unfair distribution of business rates. On beer duty, despite three, one penny cuts from 2013-15, we have seen a 39 per cent rise over the past ten years. Whilst pubs are diversifying, and increasing their sales of food, they still rely greatly on beer, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of all alcoholic  drinks sales.

Pubs also shoulder an unfair burden from business rates. They pay 2.8 per cent of the entire rates bill, despite accounting for just 0.5 per cent of business turnover. Wholesale reform is needed to reflect changes in the economy to ensure that others, in particular online business, pay a fairer share. We also need to see an extension of the new, pub-specific business rates relief, and its increase from £1,000 to £5,000, per year.  

Of course, pubs are also greatly affected by local, as well as national policies, as the issue of business rates itself demonstrates. It is vital that reliefs reach all pubs that greatly need this help. Whilst many local authorities have done a good job in ensuring pubs receive their reliefs, others have lagged behind.  It is also important that local authorities working on strategies for the local retention of business rates by 2020, think carefully how they can support their pubs. 

The local planning system too, has a major impact.  The Assets of Community Value (ACV) legislation introduced in 2012 offered some protection for pubs and gave local residents the ability to buy a threatened local asset and run it themselves.

Given the vital role of many pubs, this is something we support in principle. However, it is important that the legislation is not used in a way that overly burdens pubs. As it turns out, around half of all ACVs designated under the legislation are pubs. However, ACVs have been granted on premises where the pub owner had no intention of selling. The ACV listing, in creating potential barriers to a sale, can have a negative effect on the value of the property, which can often be its owner’s only major asset, as there are around 26,000 independently owned pubs in the country.

In 2015, the legislation was further strengthened through a requirement for pubs which were ACVs to apply for planning permission for a change-of-use. Some local authorities have also made use of what are called Article 4 Directions, requiring pubs to apply for planning permission even for minor alterations. This is very unhelpful, creating additional, costly burdens for operators.   All of these actions have been over-ridden by the changes to the Use Class Orders, through the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 which require all pubs to apply for planning permission to change their use (except to extend food-led activities).  We are therefore asking local authorities to think carefully before imposing an ACV listing and asking DCLG to strengthen the guidance, which is certainly in need of updating. 

Other authorities have sought to use the Government’s Late Night Levy legislation as a source of additional revenue adding to the tax burden for pubs. Despite the fact that pubs are now often operating more in the causal-dining market than as traditional drinking establishments, this acts as an additional tax on valuable local businesses. The introduction of several Late Night Levies has been disappointing, though thankfully, other authorities have reversed plans to pursue this course. One location has even abolished its levy, as it failed to raise the revenues intended.  

Despite these challenges, I see huge amounts of positive work between local authorities and pubs around the country. There is widespread recognition that pubs are a vital part of our high streets, and that supportive policies, through strong partnership working, is the best way forward.

We are seeing this through the introduction, in many local authorities, of Business Improvement Districts, and a host of other initiatives, such as local Pubwatch schemes, Best Bar None, and Purple Flag, where there is great coordination and positive work between the police, local authorities, and local businesses.  With a supportive policy framework, I am sure we can continue to see thriving pubs in every community, given the important contribution they make to local life and the economy. 

Brigid Simmonds OBE
Chief Executive, British Beer and Pub Association and cCLOA Member

Salt Ayre Leisure Centre – a real success story

James Foley, Commercial Director at Alliance Leisure, explains how, in partnership with Lancaster City Council, Alliance Leisure turned a failing leisure centre into a thriving physical activity hub.

Looking at Salt Ayre Leisure Centre now, it’s hard to believe that just two years ago the facility was facing many questions around its long term viability. The local community had largely turned its back on the centre and the tired, aged building was costing the local authority significant sums to maintain with a large subsidy in excess of half a million pounds a year. The situation was unsustainable and significant changes were required if the centre was to survive.

The team at Lancaster City Council, were determined to find a way to re-invigorate the site to encourage more of the community to participate in physical activity.

Alliance Leisure working with the Council as part of a newly secured 10-year development partnership agreement, was invited to discuss the possible regeneration of the leisure centre. Just one week after appointment, Alliance Leisure began scoping a development project to create a vibrant sport and physical activity hub which would inspire the whole community and increase engagement.

A phased approach to the development was adopted, with the final element of the project – a luxury spa – marking its completion and opening in October 2017. 

Today the centre is a hive of physical activity. Alliance Leisure led the project from concept stage to delivery working with specialist leisure contractor, Createability, and architects Bignell, Shacklady, Ewing as interior designers. 

The facility now hosts an impressive array of new activities including; a Les Mills immersive cycling experience, the Trip™; Europe’s first outdoor Flight Tower; an 80 station gym – equipped by principle supplier, Precor, adventure play area, XHeight climbing wall, barista-style café and spa.

As the first phase of the project was handed over early in 2017, Alliance Leisure and the council approached  the ukactive Research Institute to evaluate the economic and social impact of the £5 million investment. The findings have exceeded all expectations. 

Since the redevelopment, visits to the centre have increased by 72 per cent with the average number of visits a month, per person, increasing from 4 to 10. Gym attendance has increased by 83 per cent, and fitness class attendance by 83 per cent. The new Les Mill Immersive experience is attracting more than 5,000 visits alone. In addition, the classes on the gym floor are proving really popular with all ages. The new Queenax™ rig is attracting more than 800 class participants a week. In addition, the new adventure facilities, including XHeight and the Flight Tower, have generated more than 10,000 visits.

There has also been a shift in user demographics. Female usage has increased by 172 per cent, now representing 58 per cent of the membership, and the average age of members has fallen from 43.7 years to 37.9 years. 

It is also encouraging to report that the centre is now attracting visitors from further afield with people travelling by almost a kilometre further away to use the new facilities. 

Investing in physical spaces that inspire participation is vital, but the value in dedicating resource to ongoing staff training and centre promotion should not be underestimated. Alliance Leisure has also entered into a client support partnership with Lancaster City Council to provide support across a number of core functions including marketing, staff training and sales services to ensure the continued operational and financial success of the project.  

Salt Ayre is a real success story. Based on current usage levels and revenue generation, the centre is projected to be in a revenue-neutral position in less than three years. 

This project proves that if we create vibrant, inspiring spaces we can encourage participation at scale, across a wide range of demographic groups, adding fuel to ukactive’s appeal to government for a £1 billion investment in leisure stock. A more active community is a healthier community. Moving forwards, our leisure centres can play a central role in a preventative healthcare strategy. This is the only sustainable solution to the healthcare crisis across the UK.

If you would like to read more about the Salt Ayre Leisure Centre project or view a photo gallery, visit

For more information on this project or to arrange an informal consultation with Alliance Leisure, please contact the office on 01278 444944. You can also follow Alliance Leisure on Twitter @allianceleisure.

Archives and local government

I was delighted to host the Chief Cultural & Leisure Officers Association (cCLOA) Executive meeting at The National Archives last September. It was the third time we’ve welcomed cCLOA, and we always have thoroughly engaging conversations about archives and local government working better together.

Local government is critical to us: they form the backbone of the national network of archives. County record offices and other archive services funded through local government hold a large percentage of the country’s archive collections; and make them accessible to their communities, enriched by the local knowledge and expertise of the archive staff and armies of volunteers.

We’re dedicated to providing a programme of support, advice and training, and to growing our relationships with each archive service. Over recent years, we have focused on local government transformation, as we’re keen to work closely with local government to develop effective archive services that deliver their councils’ priorities. This includes ‘spinning out’ support, fundraising and evidence gathering, and investing in building regional partnerships with shared strategic plans and joint development aims.

At the meeting in September, we shared our new guidance on commercial opportunities for archives. The guidance highlights how collections, expertise and spaces can be used to generate income, and was in effect commissioned by cCLOA, as the suggestion emerged during a previous visit to Kew. The guidance distils advice from The National Archives’ commercial team, as we have developed an approach which, over the last couple of decades, helps generate a significant contribution to our budget. Our experience has at times been hard won, so we are keen to share lessons learned with other archives. The guidance was also informed by research into good practice across the sector, and at September’s meeting we were joined by Victoria Bryant from The Hive in Worcester. Victoria outlined her innovative approach to remodelling her service’s financial base in order to maximise income generation opportunities and operate with a reduced core budget.

The 20-year rule and places of deposit

As Keeper of The National Archives, I’m responsible under the Public Records Act for public records across the country. A significant number of these are looked after by archives outside The National Archives – in what we call places of deposit or PODs – the majority of which are funded by local government. The records deposited in PODs are those created locally – including prisons, courts, hospitals and magistrates, so they form a large part of the history of many individuals and communities. They also underline local government’s critical role in enabling democracy and transparency, as the PODs ensure that these records are open to scrutiny and are available to investigations, for example the Saville and Hillsborough inquiries.

The introduction of the 20-year rule in 2010 accelerated the transfer of public records to PODs. They now transfer records 20 years after their creation, rather than the previous 30 years. The shift is being introduced gradually during a ten-year transition period. The changes mean that during the next decade, local archives will begin to see an increased number of public records come through their doors.

To assist archive services in managing this increased activity, £6.6 million of New Burdens funding from central government has been made available to these archive services across the transition period. Over 40 archive services have already benefitted from New Burdens payments totalling £660,000 last year, depending on the volume of eligible public records they formally accessioned during 2015.

A number of those archives have already put this funding towards the creation of new roles in cataloguing and digital preservation – to build both digital and physical storage capacity, and purchasing files and boxes to preserve new public record collections. Although this funding is targeted at public records, and adhering to the 20-year rule, many of these activities are also helping to build service capacity in general.

You can find out more about the 20-year rule programme and New Burdens funding on our website.

Jeff James, Chief Executive and Keeper, The National Archives

@UkNatArchives, @jeffddjames

Response to Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016-2021

The Libraries Taskforce recently published their draft vision Libraries Deliver: an Ambition for Libraries in England 2016-2021. The document reflects on the evolving role of libraries in light of changing public expectations. It presents a vision for the future and discusses how it should be achieved.

As the membership organisation for cultural leaders whose strategic responsibility is the development of place-based approaches to cultural development, cCLOA is uniquely placed to contribute to the debate on the scope and the content of “Ambition for Public Libraries”.  Members have first-hand experience of managing the impact of political, structural, economic and financial changes affecting the cultural sector and councils, in diverse localities and across all regions. cCLOA members in most Local Authorities manage the Chief Librarian or Library Lead Officer.

Despite the willingness of members to lead and embrace the opportunities opened up by changing circumstances, there is genuine concern about the long-term impacts: on cultural capital; the health and wellbeing, resilience, quality of life and life-chances of local communities; and prospects for economic growth in some areas, particularly those facing considerable disadvantage.  There is a concern that there are increasing divisions between places where culture is recognised and embedded as a driver for change, and those where the case is less well developed.  This has a direct effect on the delivery of Libraries across Library Authorities and we would advocate that no universal solution fits all, but that each should focus on local need.

Our response the Ambition for Libraries Consultation is structured to reflect the themes of the consultation.

Context and Vision

The consultation document outlines the background context for public libraries along with the major challenges and sets out key assumptions about the future, including significant financial pressures. It is positive to see a good understanding of the current and potential role of public libraries, as well as recognition of the breadth of services and their potential contribution to local needs and priorities.

There is huge inconsistency in library provision across the Country. This is partly by design; large rural county authorities have different needs to their inner-city counterparts, and should be reflected in any vision for libraries. Library services should be accountable to local people through the local democratic structure, whether directly delivered by the authority or an alternative service delivery model.  Library services must be more responsive to local need and their potential role understood within the local authority environment.

It is vital that “Ambition” is used to raise the profile of library services and in a succinct and effective manner with local authority leaders and chief executives, and clearly articulate the contribution that libraries can make to supporting local improvements and priorities. The published Ambition document must be hard-hitting and clear. The opportunity for engagement with decision makers should not be missed and for this to be seen as yet another review of library provision. It should also provide a solid base upon which local authorities can build their future services.

There is going to be significant interest in the final Ambition document from a diverse range of stakeholders. Any final document must not lose sight that it should be engaging and influencing local authority decision makers to deliver sustainable improvement across public libraries, and not be diverted or diluted in this aim. It should not be seen as yet another review or library report without impact or ability to shape the future of libraries and for this reason we do not agree with a further library review.

In this context, it may be important to have a shared vision that all authorities can ‘buy in’ to, but also allow for the local services to have their own vision reflecting local priorities and consequently the local offer. 

What Libraries Can Achieve

The Ambition document reflects well the breadth of the contribution libraries can make to the local agenda. The narrative is strong and the Ambition statements are realistic and achievable; the Ambitions are closely aligned to the Society of Chief Librarian’s Universal Offers. There needs to be the flexibility for each library service to be able to prioritise and deliver their solutions based on local need, whether on an authority wide basis, or tailored to an individual library.

It is important that libraries are able to make the case for their offer and contribution to local priorities and that this contribution is understood by decision makers. This can often be difficult to demonstrate across the cultural sector; however the sector should not be penalised for this, particularly where there are other factors contributing to positive outcomes, such as improved health, literacy or economic regeneration. This may result in uneven delivery performance across the seven Ambitions and the proposed indicators may need to be reconsidered in this context. Equally the sector must get better at demonstrating outcomes and impact for local people and value for money.

There needs to be better, timely collection of data and this data used as an evidence base for decision makers so that they are able to make informed decisions about the future of libraries and investment strategies. However, any future data collection and any performance regime should not be resource intensive, nor add to the burden of performance monitoring and reporting for the local authority or library operator.

The value and contribution of a broader arts and culture offer is highlighted.  However, there is little recognition of heritage and local history that many library services either deliver or have close working relationships with. Therefore this in an area the Taskforce should explore further.

Governance and Delivery

Design principles can be useful to support local authorities to review their library services. They should not be used to “to inform the superintendence of public libraries as a network”. Any such principles should not be restrictive, nor stifle creative innovative thinking about how library services are delivered in the future. 

We agree that the public library service should remain a statutory service. There have been a number of calls for greater clarity on the definition of a “comprehensive and efficient” library service in the context of the 1964 Public Libraries Act. cCLOA opposes any such tightening of the definition to a point where it does restrict positive change and innovation, but there could be greater clarity on how a local authority assesses need in relation to libraries to subsequently shape the delivery of services. There should be clarity around the status of Ambition, given that the consultation notes it is not to be a statement of Government policy.

cCLOA recognises and supports the need to develop the skills of the library workforce and agrees with the balance of skills outlined. In order to deliver libraries, there needs to be professional training appropriate to roles throughout the service. There should be clarity of the ‘professional’ role within the context of public libraries as this is often confused and relates to librarian qualifications. The skills of professionally qualified librarians are appropriate to certain roles, however the library sector is often lacking the additional leadership, business acumen and commercial skills required to deliver modern public libraries, balanced with the understanding of community need and aspiration. There should be opportunities for career progression, the development of transferable skills, movement between sectors the sharing of best practice. The library sector has traditionally been too inward facing in this respect. Libraries also need to look broader than library qualifications, with recognition that there are skills, knowledge and expertise from other sectors which are relevant and transferable. CILIP has a role in library workforce development, but also needs to reflect the broader skills required by the current and future workforce.

cCLOA agrees that training and development needs to also consider volunteers and appropriately address learning and development needs for the various different volunteer models across public libraries, as well as senior officers and members within the authority.

New Ways of Working

Local Authorities are able to demonstrate a strong track record and innovation around alternative service delivery models; there are already a number of different models for operating library services across the country and these reflect local circumstances. There are  examples of co-location, shared services and service integration, through to delivery by mutuals, charitable trusts and social enterprises; some operating solely library services, others with a much broader portfolio of library and other cultural related services. There should be stronger support across local authorities to examine these alternative models and understand the benefits they may bring. This may require additional skills, expertise and funding, and could further build on the LGA’s work in this area. There isn’t a one size fits all approach and Ambition needs to acknowledge and support this.

cCLOA agrees that the development of an “expectation set” should help library services to benchmark and demonstrate excellence. However, there is wide variation between library authorities and any model must be able to take local circumstances into account; it should not be overly prescriptive, nor promote a race to the bottom, suppress innovation and creativity in the sector.

Voluntary accreditation may be a useful model to set a standard for a library or library services, but once again this must be looked at in relation to local priorities. Other schemes such as Green Flag Awards for parks and green spaces, or QUEST Quality Accreditation for leisure facilities, exist within the wider leisure and culture sector, with accreditation for libraries conspicuously absent.  

cCLOA recognises and agrees that the development of the library digital and technological offer is key. The approach to digital services is currently disparate across library services and a more cost effective and joined-up approach welcomed. Funding, knowledge and expertise in this area are all key issues which may lead to some library services unable to deliver and any model must be sustainable. This is a notable example of where the proposed procurement and commissioning model could be particularly beneficial. We welcome further information on the Single Library Digital Presence.

cCLOA agrees that there are many excellent examples of co-location and integrated services, but this should not at the detriment of the library service’s ability to deliver effectively. The library can benefit from such change to increase footfall, broaden audience reach and challenge perceptions of libraries, as well as investment in services and physical improvements.

Marketing and Communications

There are still many misconceptions about public libraries, the services they offer, innovation and modernisation that is evident in so many library authorities. At times, there are also many traditional views which may stifle changes to services. Libraries need to market themselves effectively in order to compete with other leisure providers (leisure time).

There has been too much negative press around library consultation and changes rather than focussing on the positives. There needs to be more positive narrative about libraries generally.

Whilst national campaigns have their place, there should be no compulsion to participate in these and for local priorities to be considered once again, nor for non-participation to be seen as a negative. For example, the Universal Offers calendar could become unwieldy when overlaid with local evens and celebratory programmes. There is a danger that a library service could feel forced to participate in a programme which may not be so relevant to their community.

Any marketing and communication strategy must also raise awareness of libraries and secure buy-in to Ambition by both national and local decision makers.

Action Plan

cCLOA supports the development of a proportionate action plan in order to take forward the Ambition programme. It is important that there is clarity around how the Taskforce will work with local authorities and their delivery partners to implement the Ambition agenda, along with a clearly defined process and outcomes expected, including a number of key indicators to monitor progress.

It is important that there is now action taken to support improvement and the delivery of Ambition across public libraries. There have been a number of reviews undertaken in recent years which have failed to deliver, or have failed to gather momentum; it is time for action. There is a build-up of support and anticipation for Ambition and it is vital that the Taskforce now exploits this to publish a final Ambition document and engage library authorities and partners to deliver.

Iain Varah, Chief Executive at Vision RCL and cCLOA Past Chair & Gareth Morley, Head of Culture and Libraries at Vision RCL


Pitch Grading Framework will raise playing surface standards ‘from the Ground Up’

Geoff Webb, CEO of the Institute of Groundsmen came to talk to the cCLOA Executive in September 2015 and shared his initial thoughts for a pitch grading framework to benchmark the quality of every playing surface in the UK – complemented by an education framework to help those responsible to continually improve standards.

Geoff has offered the following update:  IOG are progressing on the detail of the framework, next steps are to align the existing Performance Quality standards devised years ago by Peter Dury of Notts Sport who was a member of the IOG with the revised ‘pitch grading framework’.   This work is now underway. The group of leading agronomists and groundsman will then reconvene in September to assess and peer review the suggested framework and to conclude how many levels to have.  This will include a level of unclassified which will mean the assessed site was below a basic grading.  

Once the group have agreed the detail, we will then be working with the Sports NGBs to look at adoption of the principles of the framework we will look as well to discuss with cCLOA members as well as other bodies.

We will in parallel be aligning a tiered education and training programme, that is appropriate for the complexity and standard of pitches, targeting training for the volunteer through to the professional.

Other discussions including talking to those responsible for developing the criteria for playing pitch strategies have proven positive and the ‘ pitch grading, idea looks as if it will be a welcome additional factor when strategies are planned going forwards.

IOG await as well the outcome of the Sport England strategic review, which they expect will include some recognition and provision for investment into natural turf pitches. The Grounds and natural turf improvement programme set up by the IOG, the FA, The ECB, Rugby League and Sport England, which created the role of Regional Pitch Advisors in 2014, and has led already to over 1000 assessments of sites to be carried out. The data is then collated to look at the results of any programme of investment and site management. The visits are proving invaluable, the Pitch Grading programme will align to the work of the team already out in the regions networking with the NGBs infrastructure helping to improve natural turf pitches on a sustainable basis. 

A presentation on the findings and plans for implementation of the Pitch Grading Framework will be given at SALTEX at the NEC on the 2/3rd November; in the interim you can find out more on the IOG website

Geoff Webb, CEO, The Institute of Groundsmanship 


Everyone an artist, everyone a scientist, culture at the heart of every community

Fun Palaces are about bringing arts and sciences, crafts and technologies together, making all culture accessible to all people – primarily by handing over curation of cultural engagement to the public. Over two weekends in 2014 and 2015, 5262 local people created 240 community Fun Palaces with 90,000 people taking part. These are great numbers for a tiny organisation that started just over three years ago and is run by a part-time team of four, but Fun Palaces are not only about engaging people in their own creativity and they are certainly not about building audiences, although that is often a happy by-product. Our joyous mission is to use culture as a catalyst to build community, encouraging people to step up and create participatory events by, for and with their own communities.

From our little office in south London we are quite clear that we have no idea what is best for communities the length and breadth of the UK, we have no intention of suggesting we have all the answers – we don’t even have many of them, but we know people who do.  Local people, making Fun Palaces from within their own communities, for their own communities. We firmly believe that there is no austerity of brilliant people and it is by encouraging these people that we will discover not only new cultural leaders, but also a new culture – one that is genuinely for all, from all.  A culture of full engagement and full participation.

So far, our statistics suggest we’re getting it right.  After making their Fun Palace, 78% of Makers reported that they were proud of the area where their Fun Palace happened and 85% felt connected to their community.  In 2015 our evaluation showed that Fun Palaces Makers come from all social groups and ethnic backgrounds, that our Makers reflect the demographic of the nation. We have also put together a dedicated Libraries Evaluation to celebrate the amazing 27% Fun Palaces that happened in libraries across the world in 2015.

We’re too new to have the full studies behind how this is happening, but anecdotally it appears we’re getting such inclusive engagement because we say yes to everyone. We welcome all-comers, big shiny venues and tiny local groups, individuals and corporations. We ask only that Fun Palaces be Free, Local, Innovative (doing something a venue or group wouldn’t usually do), Transformative (using a space differently, ideally more openly), and Engaging – we quite like it when they’re Easy too.

Because Fun Palaces can be so many different things, depending on who is running them, and where they happen, it can be easier to understand what Fun Palaces are not……

  • A Fun Palace is not a fete. If there must be bunting, then let it be radical bunting, created by and of the community, telling the story of that community. If there must be face-painting, then give the paints to the kids and let them paint the grownups, or better still, in the spirit of combining art and science, let them paint bones and veins, sinews and nerves on their skin as people did at Brixton Library’s Fun Palace. Let them learn through doing.
  • Fun Palaces are family-neutral. All too often, when we call something ‘family-friendly’, the teenagers back away, the 20-somethings head off, the elderly think it’s not for them, and parents push their kids forward but often don’t get involved themselves. Our idea of full participation is parents and kids making together, making alongside, it’s sixteen year olds and seventy year olds creating together as neighbours.
  • Fun Palaces are not an alternative to centrally-funded support for local communities and local government. They are a way to shine a light on the enthusiasm of communities for culture, an opportunity to shout even louder about the value of culture to all people and the social cohesion engendered when local people work together, create together, an object example of the value of locally-led engagement.
  • Fun Palaces are not about us and them. Unlike the usual cultural interaction, they are not about showing a piece of work and asking people to attend, responding only when we tell them they may. They are about interaction, welcoming participants.
  • We are not concerned with ‘excellence’ or ‘quality’. We believe that local people are a better judge of their community’s needs and wants than a central body, usually based hundreds of miles away. What’s more, we have noticed that people want to make a better Fun Palace a second time, a third time – they get it, they don’t need ‘excellence’ dictated to them.

Above all, Fun Palaces are about trusting the people to create what is right for where they live, for their own community. They are about handing over creative power, helping people become the new cultural leaders by letting them BE the new cultural leaders.  (And yes, we do have template risk assessment forms in our Toolkit, along with much more.)

Like Joan Littlewood, the visionary theatre director who first suggested the idea of a Fun Palace combining arts and sciences, we believe in the ‘genius in every person’ – and we think it’s time to let that genius fly.

Stella Duffy, Co-Director Fun Palaces


New Cultural Strategy

  In the next couple of months the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will be launching proposals for a new, far-reaching cultural strategy, the first in 50 years, that reflects the world today. We welcome the initiative and the Minister’s vision and ambition; as such Vice-Chair Polly Hamilton has recently co-ordinated a response on behalf of cCLOA.

Value of Culture

The cultural sector, including directly-delivered local government cultural services, has become increasingly adept at developing multiple revenue streams for its work and investment from the public sector has been shown to lever significant return, beyond its cultural and social benefits.   In addition, Arts Council England and Creative Industries Federation have evidenced the economic value of culture and the creative industries. 

Whilst in recent years there has rightly been an emphasis on the engagement of the private sector and individual philanthropy, there are significant challenges for smaller cultural organisations and those outside London and the main metropolitan centres.  These challenges are twofold:  the limited numbers of businesses and individuals with the means to invest, which means that those who can tend to be very selective and are often unwilling to develop philanthropic relationships with new partners; and the capacity of smaller organisations to pursue and maintain a meaningful relationship with prospective funders.

Meanwhile, more and more local government cultural services are developing new financial models and ways of working to create a more sustainable funding base.

Case Study: Financial Good Practice

In Blackpool, the Council has purchased has a former guesthouse on behalf of the  LeftCoast (Creative People and Places partnership )with a view to redeveloping it through artist commissions.  LeftCoast has established a new CIC to re-establish the guesthouse as a boutique B&B.   As well as providing a bespoke service for visiting artists and performers playing local theatres, the B&B will serve the discerning cultural tourist.  Profits will be used to repay the loan and provide a sustainable programme of small-scale arts events, talent development and commissioning.

Social Impact of Culture 

The social impact of culture has been well-researched and much evidence is in the public domain already. 

In recognition of the vital role culture and leisure play in improving the health and wellbeing of local communities, cCLOA have published a series of case studies to highlight how culture can help to tackle unhealthy lifestyles, address the social determinants of health, offer cost effective approaches, bring creative solutions and engage communities, families and individuals in managing their well-being. 

Culture has a particularly important role to play in addressing social isolation and encouraging community cohesion.  ACE has recently produced an excellent study on the value of cultural engagement with older people.  Other examples include:

Case Studies: Social Impact

Creative People and Places, funded by Arts Council England, is a great example of the power of partnerships to unlock new resources and talent in support of a strategic approach to building arts engagement in places of low participation.  Successful partnerships have included representatives from the private, voluntary and public sectors, including unexpected partners such as a haulage firm, a rugby club, a housing association and a multinational leisure provider. Where local government has been involved, the role of the local authority has varied from delivery partner to guarantor to ‘co-commissioner’.  The scale of the funding available has enabled the CPP partnerships to have an influence at a local level, to draw in new resources (for example, from the private sector) and to take risks with a view to enabling long-term financial sustainability.  Over 21 partnerships are currently in place across England.

Time To Read is a partnership of 22 different library authorities in the North West. The purpose of the network is to develop the adult reading audience (16 years+) through sharing good practice and ideas and developing joint projects and promotional activities.  A part-time post co-ordinates the network and is managed by the Society of Chief Librarians NW.  The initiative recognises the importance of reading for pleasure as a means of improving literacy: poor literacy has a profound impact on educational achievement, employability, health and life expectancy. 

Dance for Parkinson’s Oxford City Council was the first regional Hub in 2013 to work in partnership with English National Ballet to deliver the Dance for Parkinson’s programme locally. Together both are committed to raising the public profile of Parkinson’s, giving access to, and advocating for the benefits of dance and cultural activities for people with Parkinson’s. (With a national remit ENB is currently delivering the programme across the UK with five regional Hub partners).  The Dance for Parkinson’s programme provides opportunities for people with Parkinson’s, their carers, friends and family members to engage in high quality artistic dance activity. Since the pilot in 2013, the Oxford programme has become well-established with currently between 25-30 participants weekly. In 2011, English National Ballet commissioned a mixed-methods research study to evidence impact, led by Dr. Sara Houston, University of Roehampton and Ashley McGill MSc. The research findings evidenced that the main benefits of dancing with Parkinson’s are in the mental activity it provides and in emotional and social health and well-being. Dancing is a good and challenging mental workout for people with Parkinson’s and allows some participants to cope better with symptoms and disability. It offers a positive environment where there is a community of support through dance, allowing participants to nurture positive attitudes to the future and a sense of independence.

My Cambridge is the first cross sector partnership to develop out of Cambridge Arts and Cultural Leaders and the new Cambridge City Council Arts Plan. The partnership proposition is that by supporting all children and young people, particularly those not engaged, to develop rich cultural lives, their life chances will be significantly improved, both in terms of education and employment, and their overall quality of life. Improving educational attainment and positive outcomes for children and young. People living in low income families are a key issue for Cambridge. The partnership focus is on greatly improved collaboration and alignment of existing resources, rather than simply looking for additional funds, and has brought together arts and cultural organisations, schools and youth service providers, local authorities, and businesses.  The Kite Teaching School Alliance and Norfolk and Norwich Festival Bridge have been instrumental in its development, working closely with the City Council arts team. 


  • Ensuring that other sectors are encouraged to embed cultural programmes within new Lottery-funded initiatives for neighbourhood development, health, education, employability etc. can ensure that at a local level other agencies and departments are incentivised to engage locally.  An example would be the recent Coastal Communities Fund which encouraged partnerships which included the heritage and arts sector.
  • Developing the EBacc to include Arts subjects would also ensure that we widen the talent pool for the creative industries as well as help to build young people’s creativity as a core skill which is transferable (and essential) to other sectors.

Economic Impact of Culture

Culture has a particularly important role to play in developing economic growth, place identity and distinctiveness.  As places increasingly compete for visitors, retail and private sector investment, culture has been an important way to improve the public realm through quality design, architecture, public art and the conservation of historic buildings.  Festivals and events also have value in developing skills and talent, encouraging civic pride, building visitor numbers and town centre footfall.  The Creative Industries Federation have recently highlighted that the Creative Industries are outstripping most other sectors in terms of their contribution to the nation’s GDP. 

Challenges and Opportunities for Economic Growth and Place-making

Places of disadvantage or beyond the Core Cities often suffer from low social capital as well as constrained levels of leadership within the cultural sector.  Where cultural capital is limited, those who work locally need access to networks of people and organisations who can help to raise aspirations, develop quality standards, provide critical friendship and help to  ‘shoulder the burden’ of transformation.  There is sometimes limited understanding of the role and value of culture in economic growth and place-making, and a great deal of time can be spent educating Elected Members and non-cultural-professionals on the value of the creative and cultural industries. 

The engagement of all parts of local government in the place-making process is important, as is engagement from the voluntary sector, and crucially, the private sector.  Often it is local government which leads the way and provides an example for others to follow. 

Case Studies:

Folkestone, through its Creative Foundation, initiated and supported by the philanthropist Roger de Haan, has transformed the fortunes of the town through an asset-development programme which has enabled a sustainable annual revenue base for a range of arts activities, including the acclaimed Folkestone Triennial.  The work of the Foundation has contributed to the physical regeneration of the town centre and a reinvigoration of the town’s visitor economy.

The ‘Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle’ brings together 4 leading venues across Leeds and Wakefield:   Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Hepworth Gallery, Leeds Art Gallery and the Henry Moore Study Centre.  The initiative is supported by Leeds City Council, Wakefield MBC and Welcome to Yorkshire.  It successfully builds on the distinctive artistic heritage of Leeds and Wakefield as a way to encourage more visitors to these important venues. 

Blackpool is in the process of reimagining its extraordinary entertainment and seaside heritage to build its significance as a world leader in popular culture.  This includes the creation of a new museum to tell the Blackpool story and the story of British popular culture, the reimagining of the Illuminations and reinvented festivals such as Showzam!, building on the developments at the iconic Tower and Winter Gardens.  This provides a shared vision with which to engage the town’s creative industries, tourist attractions and cultural organisations with a view to stimulating growth in the visitor economy.   Integral to these programmes is engagement with local communities to contribute to harnessing local talent, developing skills and strengthening resilience.

HLF Townscape Heritage has been a great way for Heritage Lottery Fund and local government to jointly encourage engagement from the private sector in the improvement of the public realm. Townscape Heritage schemes help to reverse the decline of our best-loved historic townscapes. Local, regional and national organisations work together to repair buildings in conservation areas and bring them back to life.  Schemes don’t just help to create attractive, vibrant places that people want to live, work, visit and invest in. They also inspire communities to find out more about their townscape heritage, and give local people the chance to learn new skills. The predecessor of this grant programme is Townscape Heritage Initiative.  There are many great examples across England of successful TH programmes, including Blackpool, Bedford and Keighley.


How Government Can Assist

  • The responsibility to proactively assist, support and invest in quality, (non-patronising) partnerships with people and organisations in places of disadvantage should be a core condition of government funding to national organisations, particularly major players such as Royal Opera House, V&A, Tate, etc.  This could also be scalable for Major Partner Museums and National Portfolio Organisations. 
  • The creation of a national mentoring scheme, to match cultural leaders in areas of disadvantage or beyond the Core Cities with key players in all major cultural organisations (or even better, within the wider creative industries).  This would help to address the deficits in networks and capacity faced by those working in places which are less well-served by public investment. 
  • Increased awareness and understanding of the role and value of culture in BIS, DCLG, DoH and other government departments would help to facilitate more joined-up working at a local level.  Where Central Government leads, local government tends to follow, and a stronger steer about the importance of culture would help drive improvement and investment at a local level. 

Alternative Funding Sources

  • Encouraging local government to embed culture within wider Government initiatives, where appropriate, such as Local Enterprise Partnerships, Enterprise Action Zones, Business Improvement Districts would help to drive growth, particularly in areas where culture and the creative industries have a strong role to play. 

Role of culture in representing the UK to the rest of the world

The British Council, Visit Britain, Arts Council England and many others have set out the case for the role and value of culture in representing the UK abroad.  Cultural exchanges and exports are often a precursor to trade, and an important part of future inward investment, both in terms of finance and knowledge, to the UK.  

Case Study:

The Blackpool Dance Festival has become one of the world’s most prestigious annual dance tournaments attracting in excess of 20,000 competitors & spectators from 60+ countries over the 9 day festival.  Over the past 20 years Ballroom dancing has been a fast growing business in China and formed part of the governments drive for citizens to lead a heathier lifestyle, with over 50 million people now registered as ballroom dancers with official Chinese bodies. The rise in popularity has also seen an increase in participants at the Blackpool Festival who now regularly visiting from the Asia Pacific region to compete each year.  The expansion into China, in collaboration with International Special Attractions, will allow more people from across the globe to compete in the world renowned event but will  also raise the profile of our own Festival held each May, providing an invaluable opportunity to introduce Blackpool across East Asia.  It has also created a new revenue stream for Blackpool Entertainments Company who runs the Winter Gardens (and the Blackpool Dance Festival) on behalf of Blackpool Council.

Polly Hamilton, Head of Culture, Heritage, Libraries and Arts Services in Blackpool & cCLOA Executive Member

Concerns regarding the English Baccalaureate


As a body cCLOA takes a strategic view and recognises the positive aspects of the English Baccalaureate with the country needing to compete in a global economy.  However, we are most concerned that if these changes are not well managed, they could prevent many young people from reaching their potential and also have far reaching negative health impacts.  To that end we have written to Nick Gibb, Minister of State at the Department for Education to bring the following points to his attention.

Taking part in the arts and physical activity helps to develop well balanced young people with increased levels of confidence and enhanced interpersonal skills.  Creative industries, in addition to sport and leisure are also expanding employment sectors in their own right and we need to encourage skill development of young people within this sector which will generate further growth.

There is a wealth of evidence of the social, economic and health benefits of PE and the Arts, but perhaps the hardest hitting is taken from a report by a national sports charity StreetGames in a report called the Inactivity Time Bomb (2014). They found that physical inactivity among today’s 11-25 year-olds will cost the UK economy £53.3 billion over their life-times.  Additionally, the 2012 Health Survey England reported only 21% of boys and 16% of girls aged five to fifteen met the Chief Medical Officer guidelines of 60 minutes of physical activity per day. The Chief Medical Officer has also warned that soaring obesity levels are currently the cause of one in ten deaths in England.

Furthermore the impact of culture on social justice, wellbeing and life chances is compellingly set out by the research findings of the Cultural Learning Alliance, whose report, Key Research Findings: The Case for Cultural Learning (2011), found that:-

  1. Learning through the arts and culture improves attainment in all subjects.
  2. Participation in structured arts activities increases cognitive abilities.
  3. Students from low-income families who take part in arts activities at school are three times more likely to get a degree.
  4. The employability of students who study arts subjects is higher and they are more likely to stay in employment.
  5. Students who engage in arts subjects at school are twice as likely to volunteer and 20% more likely to vote as young adults.

We also know that one in four people experience mental health problems each year and such issues are growing in young people. Regular physical activity and involvement in the arts are arguably the best ways to prevent and manage mental health conditions.

What is needed is for schools to lay down the foundations of healthy active lifestyles so this becomes the norm for future families. This will not only stimulate economic growth, but protect the country from spiralling health costs.

We have invited the Minister to meet with our Executive Committee, to talk through how the possible impact from the English Baccalaureate can be mitigated and will keep you posted on the response!

cCLOA Vice-Chairs Polly Hamilton and Ian Brooke