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


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

Joint strategy offers vision of new future for cricket in Wales

The launch of a new national competition makes this a big summer for cricket, and for Welsh cricket in particular. Paul Ashton evaluates KKP’s work on the first joint strategy for the future of the game in Wales.


In March 2019 KKP was jointly commissioned by Glamorgan County Cricket Club (GCCC) and Cricket Wales (the national governing body for cricket in Wales) to develop a cricket strategy for Wales that would link both the community and the professional game.

The purpose was to identify the facility needs for the game of cricket across Wales, providing a structure that would enable both organisations to identify and deliver their strategic aims and objectives, enable cricket to thrive across Wales, and enhance the experience of players (at all levels), spectators and volunteers. This first-ever joint strategy between Cricket Wales and GCCC also needed to encompass the essential elements of the overarching ECB Inspiring Generations Strategy (2020-24), which are:

  • growing and nurturing the core
  • inspiring through elite teams
  • making cricket accessible
  • engaging children and young people
  • transforming women’s and girls’ cricket
  • supporting communities.

Cricket Wales and GCCC were keen that the strategy helped to identify opportunities and priorities for future investment, including the role of the ECB as a key partner – anticipating that the ECB would be making increased facilities investment available to reflect the growth of the short-format game and the launch of its brand new competition, The Hundred, in summer 2020.

As well as helping plan and identify priorities for developing infrastructure fit for purpose for the future of cricket, the strategy addressed other key challenges and opportunities facing cricket in Wales, including:

  • Wales hosting a franchise in The Hundred competition
  • growth opportunity related to new markets and audiences, including female participation
  • talent development
  • collaborative opportunity, including options to work more collaboratively with other sports
  • the planning process in Wales and, in particular options to consider community asset transfer.

With these parameters and expectations agreed, KKP set to work to prepare a facilities strategy to meet the needs of cricket across Wales. The starting point was application of the principles of the Sport England Playing Pitch Strategy guidance, a document drafted by KKP and published by Sport England in 2013. KKP began its work on behalf of Cricket Wales and GCCC by contacting all national and regional cricket stakeholders to start to produce a needs assessment evidence base. This was informed by extensive in-situ consultation with local and regional leagues, officials and grounds associations, area cricket boards and Sport Wales, alongside a wide range of other interested parties.

KKP’s national cricket club survey was completed by 149 of the 185 clubs affiliated to Cricket Wales. This meant that 81% of the nation’s community cricket clubs took the opportunity to engage with the consultation process, inform the resulting evidence base and shape the future of their game.

Cricket Wales’s area managers were integrally involved in strategy development. They are closely connected to local cricket and its development, so their role in the review and verification of information collected was vital. The data was then stored and analysed within a bespoke database created by the KKP data analysis team specifically for this project.

The focus on face-to-face meetings, information gathering and data verification enabled the project group to gain a clear picture and a deep understanding of the present state of the game across Wales and the range of issues that will need to be considered and addressed to shape its future. The team worked collaboratively to develop a set of recommendations and identify a network of key sites for cricket that will underpin development of the game in specific growth areas while also supporting the work and activity of local cricket clubs.

To assist the delivery of the strategy recommendations and any future planning requirements, KKP used data collected during the project to develop an online interactive map. This enables Cricket Wales and GCCC to plan and prioritise actions at a national, regional and local authority level. It will also serve as an essential post-project tool to monitor implementation of future actions and developments.

With the summer of 2020 set to be the summer of The Hundred, cricket fans in Wales and the south west of England will soon be as familiar with the achievements of the Welsh Fire as they have been with Glamorgan. The Cricket Wales and Glamorgan CCC joint strategy should ensure that they have plenty to look forward to in the years to come.

Paul Ashton is a senior consultant with KKP.
Contact Paul at paul.ashton@kkp.co.uk

March 2020

Caird Park: the value of ambition

David McHendry explains how Dundee’s new regional performance centre can trace its roots back to an ambitious bid for a national project and why investment in good research rarely fails to pay off.


The opening of the new Caird Park regional performance centre in January 2020 brought a first-class facility to Dundee but, from a facility development perspective, it also served to illustrate the value of ambition and a long-term approach to sports provision.

Caird Park represents a significant investment by sportscotland and Dundee City Council. The £32-million scheme is now home to a full-size artificial indoor pitch, an outdoor 3G pitch that meets Fifa and World Rugby international standards, an eight-court sports hall, a sports science suite, health club and meeting spaces. These sit alongside an indoor athletics centre, an outdoor athletics track and floodlit outdoor velodrome. As well as providing a venue for Dundee United’s academy, Caird Park also serves as a community sports hub that is home to eight community sports clubs.

Caird Park was not a KKP project but the development of a major sports venue in Dundee has its roots in a different project that we had worked on some years previously.

In 2012 sportscotland and the Scottish Football Association invited bids from partner cities to host the Scottish National Performance Centre. KKP led Dundee City Council’s team and put together a strong bid based on the development of an unused part of Camperdown Country Park; this would have hosted the performance centre and hotel. Reaching the final bid stage of the process represented a significant achievement and also generated a great deal of positive feedback, not only from sportscotland and the SFA but also from the local and regional stakeholder organisations that had been part of the bid preparation.

However, the need for the national football team to be close to a major airport always had Dundee on the back foot. The Oriam at Herriot Watt University now fits the bill for sportscotland and the SFA’s needs.

KKP’s involvement with the project came to an end at the bid stage but the scheme had served to illustrate the potential for high-quality sports facilities in Dundee. Although the bid had been focused on a national performance centre, the process of developing the bid helped to make a case for a regional football development centre when the time came. A change of scale also raised the possibility of a change of location and offered the possibility of co-locating with the existing facilities in Caird Park, creating a large sports hub closer to the centre of the city.

In the context of a bid for a national performance centre, a regional football centre might seem like something of a runners-up prize but, a few years on from that first KKP-led project, the Caird Park scheme represents an excellent outcome for the city. The Caird Park development has generated significant inward investment  brought significant investment in the City offer and created a high quality, accessible, comprehensive home for sport in the region.

Caird Park demonstrates that, the time, energy and expertise invested in making a properly researched and well-prepared bid is seldom wasted. Any opportunity to undertake an in-depth assessment of facilities, demand and potential is an opportunity that should be grasped.

Caird Park also serves as a reminder of the value of ambition. If Dundee was always an unlikely venue for Scotland’s national performance centre, it was a bid that fitted in with the city’s determination to rediscover and reinvigorate itself as a city of opportunity and culture. The city is now the host to the V&A Dundee, the first design museum in Scotland and the first Victoria and Albert Museum site outside London, illustrating what can be achieved with a strong vision and a determined, strategic approach.

In the end the national performance centre did not come to Dundee but it could not see any reason why it shouldn’t. By having the confidence to bid, the city demonstrated its ambition and created an opportunity to reimagine its approach to sports provision.

At KKP our experience tells that asking the right questions is the starting point for a successful project. With Caird Park and the scheme that laid the foundations for its development Dundee demonstrated that, rather than “Why?”, the first question should always be: “Why not?”


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

27 February 2020