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Agenda item


To review the performance of Leisure Services, with an emphasis on service delivery across leisure facilities and community delivery, performance in key areas and recovery of the service following the COVID-19 pandemic.  The report provides an update on performance for the 2021/22 financial year compared to the 2019/20 financial year, the last full year ahead of the Covid outbreak.


Ms Lisa Arnold, Head of Community and Wellbeing Services, presented the Leisure Services Annual Report. The report detailed the work undertaken in 2021/2022, Covid recovery, key performance indicators and future plans.


Mr Michael Dulku, Leisure Facilities Manager, informed the Committee that overall attendance at leisure facilities had returned to 74% of its pre-Covid levels, ahead of the national average of 64%. This had been as a result of a strong return to swimming pools, in part due to the investment at Palatine Road. The recovery had been more varied in gyms and exercise classes, with 72% of pre-Covid levels which was below the national average. This had been attributed to the break during Covid where many people had ceased exercise activity and were therefore unlikely to return to exercise at the same intensity as pre-Covid. It was hoped that an offer of lower intensity classes would assist in addressing this issue.


The challenges faced by the service were also outlined by Mr Dulku. This included the need for further investment in maintenance and facilities, rising energy costs and a national shortage of swimming pool cleaning chemicals. A further issue identified was the retention of staff, a number of whom had left during the pandemic. In order to address this consideration was being given to developing a professional career pathway to improve employee’s personal development with the Council.


Work was also underway to increase customer engagement to determine what residents wanted from their leisure facilities following Covid. This was being achieved through a target survey and face-to-face meetings.


Greater automation was highlighted for the future of the services as footfall at facilities increased. Mr Dulku explained that this would allow online bookings and access to facilities without going to a reception desk. Making access to exercise easier and quicker.


Ms Laura Ivinson, Active Communities Service Manager, provided an overview of the work being undertaken by Active Communities following Covid. She reported that during Covid the service had focussed on outreach into the community to determine what activities people wanted delivered. Following the re-opening of services post-Covid activity had increased, with Ms Ivinson highlighting that Learn2Swim had returned to pre-Covid levels and school swimming had fully opened. It was also noted that Learn2Swim sessions were now exclusive for those taking part, instead of having part of the pool for public swimming. This meant that more children could access the programme in each session.


Health referrals were also raised as an issue, with numbers being slower to recover due to a decline in the number of GPs. However the service recognised that this was an important area work and further consideration would be undertaken into how to increase the number of referrals where possible.


Engagement was taking place with schools encouraging walking to schools and the use of bikes. A programme of summer holiday activities had also been organised including a package for those with Special Educational Needs and Disability.


The Committee queried how Leisure Services’ Gym offer compared with private providers in Blackpool. In response, Mr Dulku explained that private gyms had a specific market targeting the 15% of people who were already active. Leisure Services however looked to encourage activity in the remaining 85% who were less active. Therefore competition with private providers was not sought and the focus was on engaging people to become more active.


Maintenance and investment in facilities was also discussed, with Ms Arnold informing the Committee that this mainly concerned the replacement of aging equipment. Procurement of equipment needed a sixteen week lead in and the Council sought to ensure that new equipment was also carbon friendly to meet climate emergency targets. This meant that procurement was a lengthy process. Limited resources also meant that the Council needed to prioritise which equipment would be replaced and what maintenance would take place.


The cleaning of Stanley Park Lake to allow its use for leisure activities was also raised. Ms Arnold reported that a working group had been established to look at what would need to be undertaken before dredging could take place and identify any challenges that could arise. It was also noted that the funding for the project needed to be identified.


The ongoing cost of living crisis was also raised as a significant challenge facing Leisure Services. Due to rising household bills the Committee recognised that residents could be less able to pay for leisure activities. Ms Arnold informed the Committee that the service was aware of this challenge, but time would be needed to understand its impact on the Council’s leisure offer.


Opportunities for older and younger residents in non-traditional sports were discussed by the Committee, with Ms Ivinson explaining that the youth games had been held recently that had involved young people from across Lancashire. The high ropes at the Leisure Centre were also noted as a non-traditional leisure opportunity that had proved popular. Ms Ivinson also informed the Committee that sport camps had been organised during the summer holidays in conjunction with local sports clubs and other providers.


Looking to the future Ms Arnold explained to the Committee that the service aimed to encourage people to become more active. This was a refocus from previously aiming to compete with the private sector. This included seeking to embed leisure and healthy living across the Council as well as the community. Opportunities were also being sought with the NHS and other partners to co-locate services at leisure facilities.


The Committee also asked if more free outdoor equipment could be provided to encourage people to use and exercise. Ms Arnold confirmed that the Council was looking at a variety of ways, such as community engagement, to encourage greater use of outdoor facilities and parks.

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