29 May 2024 World leisure: news, training & property
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Health Club Management
2024 issue 1

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Leisure Management - Jamie Groves

HCM People

Jamie Groves

Denbighshire Leisure’s turnover has increased by 25 per cent since 2021, so the developments have paid for themselves and more

Groves says the Framework can transform facilities photo: Denbighshire Leisure
The Framework has seen £30m invested in Denbighshire photo: Denbighshire Leisure
Nova in Prestatyn has been turned into a leisure destination photo: Denbighshire Leisure
The Framework has had a national impact Photo: Denbighshire Leisure
A more commercial approach can help LA facilities thrive photo: Denbighshire Leisure

You won the Jan Spaticchia Award for the UK Leisure Framework recently, what is the framework and how did it come about?
In 2009, I’d been appointed head of leisure at Denbighshire County Council and the department was in a lot of difficulty. At the time it was considered one of the worst in Wales and we were struggling to afford the basics. I knew the only way forward was to think more commercially.

The idea for the UK Leisure Framework popped into my head while I was on holiday: a mechanism for local authorities which provides a turnkey solution to create facilities which then deliver a commercial return. Existing frameworks tended to be limited to construction, rather than geared to delivering a full leisure package.

The dual purpose was to help local authorities build sustainable facilities and to leverage investment into our cash-strapped department. In a local authority environment, trying to operate more commercially was an ambitious approach, but the Framework helped us completely transform our facilities and culture.

In 2019, Denbighshire Leisure launched as a company in its own right, and has continued to thrive, becoming recognised as an industry leader.

How does the process work?
Our partner, Alliance Leisure, manages and operates the framework and work with the local authority to determine the right solution and the feasibility, work out business cases, establish costs and how the investment will be paid back, assessing what type of facility would be commercially viable, while still delivering on the clients’ objectives.

Once the business case is approved, Alliance Leisure commissions more detailed planning and eventually manages the construction. It works with local authorities to establish business case targets, so we can support marketing, rebranding of the entire offer. Alliance goes beyond the concept and the build to ensure the clients achieve the agreed business case levels.

What results have you seen so far?
We've delivered 105 projects, with a total value of £136m. Projects valued at £500m are in development or at the pre-construction stage.

The Framework has seen approximately £30m invested in Denbighshire over the last decade and since its launch our company has grown from 250 to 750 people. Some of the leisure stock we’ve redeveloped had been on the cusp of closing.

Denbighshire Leisure delivered its SC2 waterpark, in Rhyl, through the Framework. An economic impact assessment of the investment found footfall through the town centre had increased by almost 300,000 visitors, so local businesses have benefitted and jobs have been created.

One major store in Rhyl, which was the biggest loss maker in the chain received a £1m investment as a consequence of the leisure development in the area and is now one of the busiest in the group.

Caravan parks also tell us they're full as a consequence of our investment. The developments have clearly delivered significant economic benefits to the town and surrounding businesses and helped generate confidence from the private sector to invest as well.

Our ageing theatre was costing close to £1m a year to run. With only 1,000 seats there’s a limit to how many acts you can attract because of the return. Using the Framework, we refurbished the theatre and developed the restaurant, which has now made the theatre commercially sustainable and enhanced the experience for audiences.

Further down the coast we transformed Nova, from a traditional pool into a multifaceted destination, with a Beach Hut restaurant and four Costa outlets. It has a new play structure, a pool, indoor restaurant and a premium health club. Nova went from a loss-making, ageing burden for the local authority to a profitable, seafront destination. The restaurant used to generate £20,000 a week and now generates £107,000 a week.

As a consequence of these investments, Denbighshire Leisure’s turnover has increased by 25 per cent since 2021, so the developments have paid for themselves and more.

Why do local authorities use the UK Leisure Framework rather than going solo?
Initially, there was some scepticism around the Framework – partly because I was only 30-years-old – but in light of its fantastic achievements, confidence in the process is now high. It delivers what it says – sustainable solutions and expertise from start to finish – and removes a lot of the risks.

Also, the leisure industry has suffered from a loss of expertise. As a non-statutory service, leisure has traditionally been passed around within local authorities, which sadly, over the last decade, has led to the loss of a lot of experienced senior people and experts in the field. The Framework offers professional leisure experts who help to plug this gap and sector specialists who make sure these facilities are the right fit and the right solution. These are passionate people who understand the current and future needs of the leisure offer.

How does it work financially?
Although the Framework receives a management and an administration fee, it is cost-effective for local authorities, because the expertise offered at the front end means concepts and outline designs can be generated without incurring the huge and in many cases abortive, fees which have traditionally been the norm. If the concepts are taken forward through the various stages, local authorities will pay for the services associated with project management and construction.

How did you feel about winning the UK Active award?
Truly honoured. I’m incredibly proud of the amazing work we’ve led on over the last 10 years and appreciate the hard work, determination and dedication of the whole Denbighshire team which has brought us to this point. It was a strong field, so it was great to receive recognition for the company and an endorsement that DLL and Alliance Leisure have been doing something right for the past 12 years.

We need to thank UK Active for recognising how the Framework has changed the industry. It’s been a challenge and we’ve come up against lots of scepticism along the way.

The award recognises that we’ve delivered something which is making a significant difference nationally and something which has created a legacy for many generations to come.

The UK Leisure Framework has been a game changer in terms of developing leisure stock across the UK and I really didn’t anticipate it being this successful and this is largely down to our development partner Alliance Leisure which has helped us deliver a successful framework beyond anyone’s expectation. My original aim was to create something which could generate some investment into the non-commercial areas of our business and now the Framework is influencing the entire leisure industry.

How do you predict local authority leisure will fare this year?
Local authorities are facing tough times and leisure being a non-statutory function in the eyes of local government it’s always been exposed to risk to some degree.

This risk has increased at a time when budgets are so stretched, LAs are struggling to deliver statutory functions. But we’re used to dealing with austerity measures in leisure and it is a very resilient industry.

Even though consumers have less money due to the cost of living increases, we haven’t seen a real impact on our membership or footfall numbers as yet, and the spend per head is still reasonably consistent. Controlling cost will be key for most operators, alongside maintaining solid relationships with local authorities to manage contract expectations.

Originally published in Health Club Management 2024 issue 1

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