To coincide with the publication of Willmott Dixon’s research, Brilliant Buildings: creating a leisure legacy, the firm’s leisure specialist Nick Mennell discusses how councils are leading the way on improving facilities. Article sponsored by Willmott Dixon.
Our leisure centre sector is more buoyant and diverse than ever, and we have local authorities to thank for that.
Twenty years ago, a leisure centre could be one of two things: an up-market private gym with pool and sauna, or a functional municipal facility. Not anymore.
High-end gym-and-swim solutions no longer dominate. Local authorities changed that with a bold vision for how their new or rejuvenated facilities will serve communities, create better well-being, and generate more revenue. No longer functional municipal facilities, we are seeing a new era in which leisure centres are community hubs with a wide range of activities and services such as libraries, toddler play areas, tenpin bowling and health facilities.
The investment in leisure by councils is inspiring other sectors to change their leisure landscape. Hotel chains are putting exercise facilities and equipment at the centre of their appeal, while universities are using state-of-the-art leisure to attract students. Local authorities have shown what’s possible, and others are following.
The public is ready for this change. According to Allegra Strategies’ Project Fitness UK 2018 report, health and leisure is the UK’s fastest growing leisure sector, valued at £5.1bn with a forecast growth of 8% a year. Between 2013 and 2018, says the report, membership of private centres rose from 4.7 million to 4.9 million and of public sector clubs from 3.2 million to 3.3 million. Since this equates to just 17% of the active population, there’s room for growth.
The funding question
For local authorities, the interest is twofold – revenue generation from the centres, and less tangible benefits including improved community health and cohesion. Funding remains a challenge in a financially constrained environment, but good leisure generates bigger revenue streams including funding for other front-line services, as well as encouraging a fitter and more active community.
What makes the new era especially exciting is technology. People have better ways to exercise and get health advice thanks to a raft of apps that cover everything from weight loss to yoga and HIIT. These technologies, including use of Bluetooth beacons to emit and collect data, help centres to optimise what they can offer their users.
This in turn is driving the market for better facilities, meaning a ‘win-win’ for councils investing in their leisure provision. The future has never been brighter.
Source: Local Government Chronicle