KKP

Chiltern Leisure Centre: how co-location, synergy and sustainability is shaping the future of leisure facilities

David McHendry explains how KKP has helped shape a vision for a new kind of community facility and a new approach to sustainability.

 

Chiltern Pools had presented the then Chiltern District Council with a problem familiar to many local authorities across the UK. Built in 1965, the centre was showing its age, not only aesthetically but also structurally. Key parts of the building required urgent repair or replacement and it had become uneconomic to maintain and run over the long term.

Having previously delivered the Authority’s sports facilities strategy, KKP was appointed to assess the options in respect of a new community leisure centre hub project in Amersham to replace Chiltern Pools plus other older community buildings on the wider site. We delivered a detailed feasibility evaluation, outline costs and plans for a high-quality venue that would enhance usage and programme breadth, substantially improve income generation and reduce ongoing maintenance costs.

The new building will offer a wide range of sport, leisure and community facilities, including:

  • 8-lane 25m competition pool
  • teaching/diving pool
  • children’s splash pad
  • café
  • fitness suite/dance studios/spin studio
  • sports hall
  • squash courts
  • climbing wall and bouldering
  • spa zone and treatment rooms
  • clip ‘n’ climb kids zone
  • soft play and party rooms
  • library
  • community hall and meeting rooms
  • children’s pre-school provision.

On behalf of the Council, KKP then launched a full public consultation process. This included developing consultation materials, organising and attending numerous public and stakeholder meetings, utilising social media and conducting an online survey, all underpinned by extensive local publicity. This secured an excellent response rate of nearly 2,500 responses.

This demonstrated to local residents and users that it was possible to sensitively fit the range of co-located facilities included on the preferred site while ensuring that the integrity of adjacent open space and the needs of the many interested stakeholders were met. The result was strong support from elected members and the community for the proposed specification.

The Chiltern Lifestyle Centre project demonstrates the benefits of co-location and the synergy achieved by a complementary range of community-focused activities brought together under one roof. One key operational challenge was to ensure that key user groups would be able to benefit from a centralised catering offer and extensive ancillary facilities without losing their identity. This has been achieved within the new design.

The new facility will operate as a community hub accommodating a wide range of activities and users, from sports clubs, U3A programmes and community groups to diving and competition swimming, fitness and a spa offering. The balance of commercially focused and community activity will ensure that it operates at a healthy surplus.

KKP supported the Council to develop the scheme in more detail and test the various adjacencies and co-location advantages of/for various groups and activities. We also led on the consultation and negotiation with Fields in Trust and the Town Council in respect of the need to reconfigure the town’s protected open space to enable the development. The Lifestyle Centre, along with the improvements to the centres at Chesham and Chalfont St Peter, will significantly reduce CO2 emissions.

Working on this options appraisal/feasibility scheme was an exciting and testing project for the KKP team. It enabled us to demonstrate the breadth of our  expertise in concept development and testing, financial modelling and in the delivery of complex design requirements, extensive public consultation and innovative business solutions. Now being taken forward by the new Buckinghamshire Council, we can’t wait to see it welcome its first visitors towards the end of 2021.

 

David McHendry is managing director at KKP.

Contact David at david.mchendry@kkp.co.uk

 

 

April 2021

Open spaces assessment and strategy: the role of open space in planning new development

Chris MacFarlane explains how KKP has helped two local authorities assess the role of open space in the planning of new residential developments.

 

The open space assessment and strategy undertaken by KKP on behalf of the boroughs of Cheltenham and Tewkesbury was a large-scale project that recognised and demonstrated the importance of green space and recreational provision in the planning of major residential developments.

This project was a substantial joint commission on behalf of two adjacent local authorities and the study, along with the underpinning audit findings, were an important element of both councils’ local plans. The project was also an integral part of identifying and regulating their open space infrastructure.

The context of this open space assessment and strategy was a joint core strategy based upon the need to develop 20,000-plus new homes across the area, plus further homes in Gloucester. In addition to the preparation and justification of open spaces standards, the project incorporated specific work linked to the green spaces and recreational provision, as well as the social sustainability needs of major new settlements, including one comprising 5,000-plus dwellings on the border of the two authorities.

The assessment reports used information gathered from extensive local research, site assessments and consultation with a wide range of key agencies, parish councils and community representatives. Combined with exhaustive data analysis and GIS mapping, the reports provided analysis of demand based upon population distribution, planned growth and consultation findings to provide detail of provision across the area, its condition, distribution and overall quality.

In addition to producing evidence to inform the two local plans and linked supplementary planning documents, KKP produced a specific toolkit for the two authorities setting out exactly how best to utilise, interpret and translate the information provided to set local standards and inform Section 106 and CIL-based developer contributions. This is providing a basis for securing open space facilities through new housing development and informing negotiation with developers for contributions towards the provision of appropriate open space facilities and their long-term maintenance.

The Cheltenham and Tewkesbury project is just one of some 30 open spaces assessments and strategies produced by KKP over the last few years on behalf of clients ranging from London boroughs (including Wandsworth and Richmond-on-Thames), core cities (such as Liverpool) to highly rural districts (including Copeland) and authorities within or incorporating parts of England’s national parks.

 

Chris MacFarlane is a principal consultant with KKP.

 

Contact Chris at christopher.macfarlane@kkp.co.uk

Sport England’s Strategic Outcomes Planning Guidance: how KKP is using it to help local authorities develop better projects and deliver improved results

Andrew Fawkes explains the background to this process and how it can enable local authorities to plot a course for physical activity and sport through choppy waters.

 

Knight, Kavanagh and Page (KKP) has now delivered six Strategic Outcomes Planning Guidance (SOPG) diagnostic reports in the last year and is about to commence on a comparable equity impact assessment in Tameside and another, which will be considering the issues in a Welsh context, for Bridgend. Application of this guidance, and the associated research and consultation, is definitely helping these authorities to articulate the connections and contributions of sport and physical activity to their wider objectives.

The SOPG is essentially a four-step guide which enables the development of an effective case for investment in physical activity and sport. Its four headline themes are:

  • develop shared local strategic outcomes for your place
  • understand your community and your place
  • identify how the outcomes can be delivered sustainably
  • secure investment commitment to outcome delivery.

Sport England’s new 10-year strategy, Uniting the Movement, places tackling inequality (which has been exacerbated by the Covid pandemic) at the heart of its approach. This reinforces the need for local authorities to work collaboratively across their own key services and with external agencies to articulate a clear role for physical activity and sport in the delivery of broader local and corporate outcomes.

In the light of the financial and operational strain that Covid-19 continues to cause on health, mental health, adult social care and education services, the themes of sustainable recovery and local authority understanding of the positive mental and physical health impact of built leisure assets and related services to local communities are central to this work.

KKP’s role in the process is to assess, gauge and articulate the evidence presented by council staff, health professionals, community practitioners and local authority elected members with regard to the often significant public health challenges faced. Many councils are, for example, trying to work out how to tackle the often very significant gaps in healthy life expectancy between key local neighbourhoods.

Evidence gathered via consultation is supplemented by analysis of strategic documents, such as the authority’s local plan, health and wellbeing strategy or sport/leisure facilities strategy, to provide a rounded assessment of the point the council has reached on its journey along the SOPG path.

In terms of what ‘good’ looks like, we have found that the insight provided by external partners, such as housing associations, public health practitioners and social prescribers, often delivers the best insight into the extent to which a place either meets the requirements of the SOPG guidance or where there are gaps. Rossendale Connected is an excellent example of the type of community response to the pandemic that has provided telling insight to the SOPG process.

Not every local authority can approach the four-step process in a linear fashion, especially given the current volatile environment and the fact that they have essentially been in crisis mode over the past 12 months.

However, our diagnosis can, for example, confirm the findings of a pre-existing built facility strategy that clearly sets out where new-build leisure provision should be placed while at the same time pointing out that further insight is needed to help specify exactly what type of physical activity will be preferred by local residents as they emerge from a lengthy period of restrictions.

What makes KKP the best option for advising a local authority on the SOPG journey? A key strength is the emphasis placed on, and the effort applied to, the consultation phase. This is allied to the depth of experience and expertise within our team.

In addition, all our work emphasises the high value of interpersonal conversations with stakeholders and key officers. This is analysed alongside the collection and analysis of all available data to create a complete project picture. Presentation is then underpinned by illustrative and informative maps generated by our sector-leading GIS team.

There is little doubt that the SOPG process is having a positive impact by assisting local authorities to adopt a clear, strategic and sustainable approach to investment in sport and physical activity facilities and services.

 

Andrew Fawkes is a principal consultant at KKP.

 

Rossendale Connected: http://rossendaleconnected.org/

NEWS RELEASE: KKP maintains ISO 9001 certification record

NEWS RELEASE

ISSUE DATE: 9 March 2021

KKP maintains ISO 9001 certification record
15 successive years of quality assurance for sport and leisure sector’s leading consultancy practice

 

KKP has confirmed its 15th successive year of ISO 9001 certification. Announcement of the award comes after a short, Covid 19-related delay in the award’s operations and represents an unbroken record of success for the sport and leisure sector’s longest-established consultancy practice.

The latest ISO 9001 certification reflects KKP’s commitment to excellence and the merits of the company’s associated support structures, with ISO assessors describing KKP’s project management process as “excellent… premier league standard”.

David McHendry, KKP managing director, commented: “We were delighted to receive confirmation of the latest certification. It reflects the high levels of effort put in by every member of our team. KKP has always put commitment to quality at the centre of its approach. Quality draws upon a wide range of skills and behaviours but we believe attitude, communication and a commitment to achieving the best for our clients are the foundations upon which it is built.”

McHendry continued: “KKP first acquired ISO 9001 quality certification for project management, systems and delivery in 2007. We have been successfully reassessed every year since. ISO drives continual review and improvement across all work areas, subjecting us to regular interrogation and oversight by expert external assessors. Ultimately, however, the quality of our operation is judged by our clients. This has been the basis of KKP’s approach for more than 30 years and it continues to drive what we do.”

This renewed ISO 9001 certification follows KKP’s Cyber Essentials accreditation in January this year. It is another aspect of the company’s commitment to offering the highest possible quality of service to clients.

Notes for editors

  • David McHendry and John Eady are available for interview. Please contact KKP via (0)161 764 7040 or email mail@kkp.co.uk
  • Full details of KKP, including its projects and clients, are available at www.kkp.co.uk
  • ISO is an independent, non-governmental international organisation with a membership of 165 national standards bodies.
  • ISO 9001 sets out the criteria for a quality management system and is the only standard in the family of quality management standards that can be certified. ISO 9001 is based on seven quality management principles: customer focus; leadership; engagement of people; process approach; improvement; evidence-based decision-making; and relationship management.
  • Cyber Essentials is a government-backed scheme to help organisations guard the organisation and their clients against cyber attacks.

NEWS RELEASE: Launch of FA/Football Foundation Local Football Facility Plan project “landmark for national grassroots game”

NEWS RELEASE

ISSUE DATE:  26 November 2020

Launch of FA/Football Foundation Local Football Facility Plan project “landmark for national grassroots game”
Two-year project delivers 300-plus reports identifying 5,000 community schemes

 

The Football Foundation announcement of its intent to start implementing the recommendations set out in its local football facility plans (LFFPs) which cover the whole of England represents a landmark for the  grassroots game, according to Knight, Kavanagh and Page (KKP), the consultancy practice that undertook the research and consultation, and wrote the plans upon which the project is based.

The announcement (made by the Football Foundation in association with the FA) on 19 November 2020 confirms their intent to react to and deliver the detailed programme of improvements to football facilities needed across every local authority area in England. The Football Foundation is now starting the task of working with local councils and other partners to put the proposals outlined in these plans into place.

David McHendry, KKP managing director, commented: “The announcement of the start of the implementation phase of the LFFP project represents the culmination of more than two years’ work by the team at KKP. Together the Football Foundation, the FA, the DCMS, the English Football League and the Premier League recognised the need for a concerted effort to improve grass pitches and increase the quantity and quality of artificial grass pitches and related facilities to sustain and develop football at community level. Commissioning KKP to prepare the report for each local authority area, delivering the extensive research, consultation, data collection and analysis required to underpin each report, was a reflection of the company’s expertise in this field and our experience producing playing pitch strategies. It was a major undertaking that KKP was pleased to be part of and we are delighted that implementation has begun.”

KKP delivered 318 local football facility plans, a process that involved contact with all the local authorities involved and more than 2,000 grassroots football clubs, along with a whole range of stakeholders and interested parties. More than 5,000 individual projects have been identified, including the improvement of grass pitches, installation of new football turf pitches, redeveloping club houses and building new small-sided football facilities.

Andrew Fawkes, KKP’s project manager for this assignment, commented: “KKP’s approach to preparing each plan was based on developing trusted relationships with the football partners, the crucial element of  club consultation, and the compilation of comprehensive reliable data. Assessing the outcome potential, quality and opportunity offered by each project was reliant on our consultants co-ordinating a wealth of site-specific knowledge. In addition numerous face-to-face and telephone interviews ensured the full engagement of all stakeholders, while KKP’s geographic information systems (GIS) team mapped demographic and participation data to underpin the process.”

Robert Sullivan, interim chief executive of the Football Foundation, commented: “After two years of hard work, every local authority has an agreed list of specific pitches and clubhouses to build or improve in their area. These local football facility plans are the road map to a transformation in how every player enjoys our national game. Our next challenge is to work together – as a team at the local and national level – to secure the necessary funding and deliver these projects.”

For further details and interviews please contact KKP via (0)161 764 7040 or email mail@kkp.co.uk

 Notes for editors

  • Further detail of KKP’s work on playing pitch strategies and in all aspects of the fields of sport, leisure and planning is available via the KKP website at www.kkp.co.uk
  • Full details of the Football Foundation’s Local Football Facility Plan project is available at the Football Foundation’s website: https://footballfoundation.org.uk/local-plans
  • The Sport England document Playing Pitch Strategy Guidance: An Approach to Developing and Delivering a Playing Pitch Strategy, which was written by KKP on behalf of Sport England, is available via the Sport England website at: www.sportengland.org/facilities-and-planning
  • KKP was founded in 1990 and is the longest-established sport and leisure consultancy currently operating in the UK.

Year Zero: what future for sport?

John Eady of KKP considers some options that might be considered based upon the calendar of challenges that 2020 has brought. With professional sport in crisis, what does the future hold for grass roots sport and is it time to look again at the role of community clubs?

 

Sporting headlines tend towards the cataclysmic at the best of times but recently the usual references to crisis, chaos and disaster have been less easy to dismiss. Many clubs, leagues and entire sports are staring over the financial precipice and facing unprecedented circumstances.

There is no doubting the scale of the challenge. The English Football League (EFL) is talking about further losses of £200m without a return of supporters through the gates. Premiership Rugby and rugby’s second tier, the RFU Championship, are questioning whether they can survive much longer in their current form. Hopes for a support package for sport from the DCMS seem to be edging further into the long grass the lengthier discussions become.

But most of the ‘sport in crisis’ headlines, and a proportion of the pleas for central government support, are about the plight of professional sport. For all the economic impact assessments of the professional sports sector, it is hard to justify government bail-outs for leagues that have rewarded themselves handsomely for their multi-billion-pound broadcasting contracts or clubs that commit to spend 120% of their turnover on player wages. In the context of large-scale support for professional sport, we are surely obliged to ask what we are actually getting for our money. If the professional leagues collapsed, we might wonder, what difference would it make to the grassroots?

There are no easy answers. A great many professional clubs do have strong bonds with their communities. The loss of long-established clubs such as Bury FC and Macclesfield Town has had an impact, not least on local supply chains and retailers. KKP’s work on the EFL’s report Measuring the Impact of EFL Clubs in the Community, published in January 2020, demonstrated the scale of these connections, particularly through their club community organisations (CCO); 41 million person-hours of participation in sport and physical activity is not to be dismissed lightly. But CCOs are, technically at least, independent. Could they continue without the support of and relationship with the clubs they work with so closely? It would seem unlikely.

While football gets the lion’s share of attention and investment, professional rugby has been building a comparable financial model. For all its successes, professional rugby has been on the cusp of a financial crisis for as long as it has existed. Being brutally honest, I can’t get too exercised about the Championship losing its RFU funding. Taking rugby’s second tier out of the (RFU underpinned) professional player-based equation and allocating the funds released to other areas of the game was being considered when I first evaluated the financial implications of Rugby’s World Class Programme two decades ago.

At community level, rugby union’s club-focused structure has been one of the game’s strengths for generations but the willingness to accept the trickle-down of professionalism has put it under strain. The Covid-19 crisis may have at least one beneficial effect in that it may compel all clubs below the Premiership to address the fundamental issue of how and where money is spent. Over the last 15 years KKP has worked with dozens of rugby clubs that have invested heavily to recruit and pay players that can move them up a couple of divisions. The notion of putting the existence of your club at risk in order to secure its place at a slightly higher level of recreational rugby has always seemed to be a pointless exercise, now more than ever.

This has evolved to a degree where player recruitment has, for many clubs, become more important than player development. It has led to the ‘products’ of their own investment of time, effort and other resources in mini and junior structures hitting a first XV glass ceiling whereby the opportunity afforded to home-grown players is limited. It has also, in many clubs, shifted the focus of their executive committees and key volunteers onto an annual drive to raise funds which are simply channelled into the pockets of nomadic players who will, for an extra £10 per game, be playing elsewhere the following season. A number of clubs have invested in paying players at levels that have led to them incurring significant debt, to the point where selling off parts of their grounds for housing and other development has been the only way to stave off terminal financial crises.

We may find that the Covid crisis goes some way to clarifying or redefining the relationship between the professional elite and the grassroots of sport. For all the excellent work of EFL club community organisations, the world of professional football is ruthlessly competitive. Rugby’s steps along that road have already prompted some to wonder whether the loss of the connection between a club and cohorts of local players coming from juniors through to the first team is a price worth paying.

With financial challenges arriving with ever greater frequency, we may start to place a higher value on the role of the community-focused club, the kind of set-up that runs dozens of teams, from minis and juniors aged six or less to under-19s, women’s teams, and three or four men’s teams, all with coaches, assistants and helpers. Clubs with their own facilities, a strong and broad membership base, and deep roots in their locality have a much better chance of surviving current (and future) challenges, whatever their sport might be. In such circumstances, which level of league each of your (many) teams is playing in and whether your first team is one league above or two below your local rivals may not prove to be quite as important. With a bit of luck it will revert to being a matter for discussion in the bar and of local bragging rights rather than a huge commitment of club finances.

Just as empty stadia are requiring the elite end of the sporting spectrum to reassess its relationship with its paying spectators, the prospect of even less money (and, in the case of rugby and many other sports, less NGB staff-led professional support) finding its way from the elite to the grass roots may prompt re-evaluation of all the relationships in the game. Professional sport set up to maximise the commercial returns for owners, administrators and players is fine, but that is business based on sport. Government initiatives, NGB energies and available financial support should be primarily focused on clubs that are set up to enrich their communities rather than remote investors.

There are, as always, no easy answers and the question of what sport is for will prompt a different response from everyone asked. However, the reaction to the question of what kind of sport we should be actively seeking to encourage may prove to be clearer.

 

John Eady is chief executive of KKP.

 

Measuring the Impact of EFL Clubs in the Community

KKP produced the report Measuring the Impact of EFL Clubs in the Community on behalf of the EFL. The report, published in January 2020, demonstrated the scale of the connections between professional clubs and their local communities, particularly through the work their club community organisations.

Download the full report via the EFL website via the link above [pdf].

 

 November 2020

Questions of sport: is it time to come up with some answers?

 

There is no doubt that the post-lockdown environment will be a challenging landscape for much of the sport and leisure sector but is sport suffering from being largely overlooked in the rush for re-emergence? With so many difficult questions on the table, has the sector got any answers?

 

With schools reopening, traffic building and people (albeit gradually) returning to work in greater numbers, it feels as if the UK is starting to emerge into a post-lockdown landscape. The Covid-19 emergency has been (and still is) a steep learning curve for everyone, not least those in the sport and leisure sector who have had to face hitherto unimagined challenges and deal with new realities.

In the short term at least these include an acceptance that not all leisure centres are going to reopen and that sports spaces (in particular sports halls) have been annexed to enable the development and (hopefully short-term) presentation of a feasible fitness offer. In addition to this, school sports facilities may be unavailable for an extended period. At the same time the Government’s newly published strategy for countering a national obesity crisis barely mentions physical activity; and leisure operators (of all hues) need their direct debit customers to return to the gym as quickly as possible.

The Covid crisis also created a perfect storm for social objectives, or rather for missing them. It can reasonably be argued that the Government’s post-lockdown focus for sport and leisure has been health and fitness and helping the commercial sector stay viable rather than creating opportunities for ordinary people to rediscover and build on experiences of exercise and activity. If we are being completely honest about the sector, this argument was not a difficult one to make even prior to the lockdown in March.

Keeping operators on their toes is no doubt important but the emphasis on commercial viability has meant that sport has been squeezed out. Sports halls full of gym equipment and exercise stations, for example, have taken up the space used by badminton, netball and basketball, leaving players with restricted access at best and often no court option at all. What impact will this have on participation?

Sport is already feeling the pinch as national governing bodies contemplate trying to make ends meet after having income streams cut to a trickle. Many were, in response to Sport England’s (pre-Covid) demands, working hard to improve the proportion of their income derived from individual and club memberships; the lockdown has had a brutal impact on the strides that some were making in this regard. Development programmes and the staff that deliver them have, almost inevitably, borne the brunt.

Discussions with regard to emergency funding from central government for local authority sports facilities have illustrated the point. While arts advocates have secured input of £1.25 billion, sport is still trying to negotiate a lesser package to support the future of provision and facilities across the local authority sector. There seems to be an ongoing and implicit assumption at all levels of governance that the arts deserves its subsidy but that sport should be expected to survive with substantially less (or no subsidy at all) in a commercial environment.

Apparently sport is able to trade its way out of difficulty while the arts (which if we are being honest, also has a very well-developed commercial capacity) needs to be supported as part of the nation’s cultural wellbeing.

 

To be an advocate for sport is all too often to be treated as an annexe to public health – another area in which Government changes are creating substantial uncertainty.

 

While the arts is articulately lauded (often from within) for its contribution to the health and wealth of the nation, sport (and associated physical activity) often has its role in creating and building lives, communities and economies taken for granted. To be an advocate for sport is all too often to be treated as an annexe to public health – another area in which Government changes are creating substantial uncertainty.

Some of the new realities have been harsh. A key lesson of the recalibration of public services during the coronavirus emergency and post-lockdown re-emergence is that there is little interest in the low-profit user. Re-engaging with and bringing back the monthly direct debit customer is being seen (justifiably from a commercial perspective) as the route to salvation of the leisure sector. While entirely understandable, this would be slightly more palatable if (pre- or post-Covid 19) there was a concurrent drive to install a decent ‘leisure card’ offer to give the low-waged and disadvantaged a realistic option to take part.

The current focus is on return on investment to enable operators to survive the commercial shock of Covid-19 and to help local authorities mitigate their losses. Recognition of, and the implications for, the social return on investment have largely been missing.

But this should come as no surprise; it is where we have been for the last 15 years at least. The original rationale for swimming pools (‘public baths’) was to enable people living in poverty to have a wash. Our parks and open spaces were laid out to allow those living and working in cramped, congested conditions to get some fresh air and a little exercise during their rare moments of leisure. Despite this history, more recent attitudes to public services and public health have seen the concept of social investment relegated to lip service, platitudes hidden away in the footnotes of commercial contracts.

Emergence from lockdown is a critical moment for sport. Facility-dependent sports are under huge pressure. Badminton, netball and basketball need access to sports halls and courts to continue. With any form of social distancing required, gymnastics will struggle to get sufficient numbers into its dedicated facilities to make them viable. England Athletics has nine sets of guidance on its website.

Rugby and cricket may suffer slightly less trauma given that there is some money within the sport and many clubs own their own facilities. That said, the swingeing cuts to the field development workforce in rugby betray a limited corporate appreciation of just how significant the interaction between in situ development staff and people at various levels in clubs (not just those sat on executive committees) is in respect of the stimulation and maintenance of not only junior and women’s rugby but also the adult 15-a-side game. Swimming too, is in many environments, only on the radar for its role in generating potential pools revenue via swimming lessons.

 

The coronavirus emergency has put the spotlight on the leisure sector and many operators and local authorities have found themselves exposed, not only financially but also in terms of their priorities and motivations.

 

The coronavirus emergency has put the spotlight on the leisure sector and many operators and local authorities have found themselves exposed, not only financially but also in terms of their priorities and motivations. Perhaps the biggest exposure has been the limited extent of the management information upon which relationships between councils and contractors are based.

Extensive and detailed financial and commercial data is available but, when it comes to social return on investment or data relating to areas of deprivation, access from people accommodated by housing associations or post-operative interventions, information is almost always sparse. Is this because it is unavailable or difficult to produce; or simply because there is insufficient interest in the answers? While prominent in national strategy statements, is there sufficient local focus on driving opportunity for such groups – groups for whom sports and leisure provision might be of primary importance. How else can we hold contractors to account on their behalf? It’s a good question.

Covid-19 has prompted plenty of questions and the emergence of the sport and leisure sector into a post-lockdown environment will pose many more. In the near future the sector needs to be prepared to come up with some answers. By April 2021 will we have considered responses to questions such as these:

  • Are we (and when) going to start better serving the key groups for which sport and physical activity is an essential component in improving physical and mental health and wellbeing?
  • Are we going to commit to accommodating sport in its purest form and indoor sport in particular?
  • Is the short-term cannibalisation of sports halls on the altar of group fitness likely to follow the trajectory of squash courts? Will Covid-19 accelerate the processes already in train to ‘convert’ sports halls into further fitness rooms, studios, ten-pin bowling centres, soft play spaces and clip ’n’ climb venues?
  • If the sport user is to be evicted from the leisure centre is the schools sector sufficiently keen, able and responsive to provide the sport-specific venues that are already in high demand?
  • Should we set a national target to get local authority sport and leisure venues to a position where they all levy realistic cost-recovery charges for access to facilities with real properly subsidised rates for (agreed) priority groups?

Answers on a postcard please; to be posted en route to your local leisure centre… but make it quick.

 

John Eady

The remobilisation of leisure and the quest for a new old normal

During lockdown KKP has been working with local authorities across England to help them and their operators prepare for the reopening of facilities and the remobilisation of sport and leisure services. David McHendry considers some of the operational and financial challenges of a new leisure environment.

 

 

The announcement that leisure facilities will be able to reopen in July marks a significant point in the sport and leisure sector’s reawakening from the Covid-19 lockdown. It is another small indication that life for many people is slowly beginning to return to normal, even if it is going to be a new normal.

Through lockdown KKP has been working with a significant number of local authorities (25-plus at the last count) to prepare for reopening and the working environment beyond. Exploring the process of remobilisation has revealed some real challenges for the sector, not least the implications for the contractual arrangements between councils and operators, but it has highlighted plenty of opportunities too. While a return to where we were in February 2020 seems likely to be some way off, a new normal is possible and, depending on the decisions we make and the support that is available, new systems and modes of operation would appear likely to emerge to build on the lessons of lockdown.

Whatever the long-term future might hold, the immediate challenges for local authorities are going to be operational. Social distancing and bio-hygiene will be part of everyone’s everyday experience for the foreseeable future and this has significant ongoing implications for leisure providers. All buildings will have to be risk assessed. Equipment will have to be cleaned and appropriately spaced, particularly in gyms. Entry and exit routes to all parts of any building will have to be assessed and redesigned. Circulation areas within buildings, including reception and corridors, will need to be carefully managed.

Operators will be looking to protect – and councils will be expecting operators to protect – their main income sources: health and fitness, and swimming lessons. Activity space will be at a premium and will have to be allocated and reallocated in line with demand and the financial realities of income generation. However well planned and managed these spaces are, reduced capacity is likely to have a significant impact on income and each facility’s ability to serve its membership.

Ultimately in the short to medium term facilities will cost more to run and generate less income. This in turn will have significant implications for the viability of the operating contracts under which they are managed. While the Government’s job retention scheme has provided some help over the period of lockdown, the requirements of social distancing will mean that an income will be well below pre-February 2020 contract operating levels. With public procurement notices from Government suggesting that these contracts be temporarily set aside owing to the exceptional circumstances, new arrangements have to be agreed. Solutions will need to be collaborative, amicable and mutually acceptable. With no two buildings the same and each requiring its own Covid risk assessment, local authorities and operators will need to explore and agree the financial implications of opening each individual venue.

KKP’s experience of working with councils and operators over the past few months suggests that, in the most part, these agreements are being approached in a positive and collaborative way. However, moving from lockdown to remobilisation will be an even more challenging – and costly – process and the move from remobilisation to new operational conventions will be accompanied by its own challenges.

Looming over all the remobilisation discussions is the very real threat of rationalisation of services and facilities. The combination of the parlous state of local authority funding, the demands of responding to Covid operating procedures and the (thus far) absence of central government support for the sector means that the closure of facilities and the loss of services remains a real possibility.

Charting a course towards the new normal will be about meeting the expectations of everyone who wishes to get back to their old sport and exercise routines, along with everything that is part of that experience: the activity, the environments, the communities and friendships. The New World will, for a while at least, have to encase this with bookings, restricted (planned) access and more regimented usage timetables. The next period of time will be about being adaptable and creative with each change to the regulations and each step along the path that leads to being able to operate and use facilities in the manner to which we had, prior to March this year, become accustomed.

But the old normal, if it comes, will need to be different. It cannot simply be about a return to health and fitness, and swimming lessons driving financial returns. The sport and leisure sector needs to be driving social objectives. The Covid crisis has exposed so many shortcomings in our society, not least those involving health, physical activity and access to opportunities for both. These are the real objectives. The challenge for the sector is to look beyond the buildings to make sure that our facilities and our operators are meeting the needs of everyone in our communities, not just those who choose, or are able, to pay to come through the door.

The sport and leisure sector will need a new relationship with the concept and structures of public health. It will need to embrace, explore and exploit its online offer and the opportunities of remote access. Building on the lessons of lockdown, the sector needs to extend its offer into areas such as housing associations, care homes, schools, temples and mosques to develop connections with, and opportunities for, client groups that might otherwise have little interest in what our facilities might have to offer.

The Covid emergency of 2020 has been – and remains – a frightening and sobering period for our communities and nations but those in the sport and leisure sector are optimistic by nature. Some constructive aspects of the lockdown experience may be emerging. A national emphasis on the very clear connection between physical activity and health was arguably one of lockdown’s earliest achievements. The profile of walking and cycling has grown. Huge numbers of people have discovered or rediscovered a connection to their locality and realised the importance of their own open spaces; not every walk or ride needs to begin with a car journey. Among the greatest benefits has been the support, assistance and friendship found within and among communities, with so many people responding to adversity with an offer of help to their neighbours, local groups and charities.

Significant opportunities have emerged but there are still so many significant challenges to be overcome. It’s a big ask, so let’s have a Big Ask. As a sector, we should not allow the struggle to return to normality to obscure the responsibility we have to think about the longer term. Our challenge is not just to cope with the new normal and hope for a return to the former status quo. We need to be building on the opportunities that have emerged from the challenges of the last few months to create a vision of a better way of working and a better way of serving and supporting our communities. A new old normal should be our goal.

 

David McHendry is managing director at KKP.
Contact David at david.mchendry@kkp.co.uk

July 2020

NEWS RELEASE: Sport and leisure sector responding to challenges of post-lockdown remobilisation

NEWS RELEASE

ISSUE DATE: 16 July 2020


Sport and leisure sector responding to challenges of post-lockdown remobilisation
Contract agreements central to reopening process, according to KKP

 

The sport and leisure sector is well placed to respond to the challenges of opening local leisure facilities after the Government announced that facilities will be able to reopen later this month, according to KKP, one of the UK’s leading leisure consultancies.

However, KKP chief executive John Eady has warned that negotiating contract agreements between local councils and facility operators for the new trading environment will be central to a successful reopening. KKP has been working with 25 local authorities during lockdown to broker agreements with the operators who are contracted to manage their sport and leisure facilities.

“The government’s announcement that leisure facilities will be able to reopen this month is very welcome news,” Eady said. “The restrictions on access and activities required to keep staff and visitors safe are necessary and sensible but will affect the balance between running costs and income upon which agreements between local councils and facility operators are based.

“In recent months KKP has been working with local authorities on the governance of remobilisation; exploring how operators can reopen and manage local facilities safely, and what the financial implications of opening with restricted usage will be. Discussions between councils and operators have generally been constructive with a clear focus on collaboration and mutually acceptable outcomes that will serve the best interests of facility users and local communities in the long term.”

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport announced on 9 July that outdoor pools can reopen to the public from 11 July followed by indoor gyms, pools and leisure centres on 25 July.

  

Notes for editors

  • John Eady is available for interview. Please contact KKP via (0)161 764 7040 or by email at mail@kkp.co.uk
  • KKP is a leading UK-based national and international practice operating from offices in Manchester. Founded in 1990, KKP is now a major multi-disciplinary consultancy offering specialist advice and impartial, objective and creative consultancy support to a wide portfolio of clients.
  • The DCMS announcement regarding the reopening of leisure facilities can be found online at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-announces-gyms-and-pools-to-reopen-safely

KKP and coronavirus: taking care but fully operational

First and foremost, we hope that our clients, colleagues, families and friends are all well and physically unaffected by this virus.

Taking into account the latest Government advice with regard to the coronavirus/Covid-19 outbreak, this is just a brief note to reassure our clients about the fact that KKP’s services remain fully operational.

We are continuing to service existing projects as normal and are committed to meeting pre-agreed deadlines.

We have implemented changes to current working practices and will, for at least the next few weeks, operate with a mix of staff working from home while others work from the office. All colleagues have full access to project files and will continue to deliver projects as required. We can all be contacted in the normal way.

In line with Government guidelines our working practices are under constant review. At present, in situations where it is not possible or is inadvisable to attend meetings in person we are facilitating conference calls, virtual meetings and presentations to suit and encouraging a ‘business as normal’ approach to ensure that project impetus is not lost and that clients’ needs are met throughout this period.

However long the restrictions associated with Covid-19 are in place, it is our intention to be here to assist you to develop plans, get processes moving and maintain current project impetus. If you have any queries about current assignments, or if you have a project or short-term requirement that might need our support, please get in touch.

If you have any queries about any of the above, please feel free to contact me.

 

Dave McHendry, managing director, KKP

Contact Dave on david.mchendry@kkp.co.uk

KNIGHT KAVANAGH & PAGE