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Salt Ayre Leisure Centre – a real success story

James Foley, Commercial Director at Alliance Leisure, explains how, in partnership with Lancaster City Council, Alliance Leisure turned a failing leisure centre into a thriving physical activity hub.

Looking at Salt Ayre Leisure Centre now, it’s hard to believe that just two years ago the facility was facing many questions around its long term viability. The local community had largely turned its back on the centre and the tired, aged building was costing the local authority significant sums to maintain with a large subsidy in excess of half a million pounds a year. The situation was unsustainable and significant changes were required if the centre was to survive.

The team at Lancaster City Council, were determined to find a way to re-invigorate the site to encourage more of the community to participate in physical activity.

Alliance Leisure working with the Council as part of a newly secured 10-year development partnership agreement, was invited to discuss the possible regeneration of the leisure centre. Just one week after appointment, Alliance Leisure began scoping a development project to create a vibrant sport and physical activity hub which would inspire the whole community and increase engagement.

A phased approach to the development was adopted, with the final element of the project – a luxury spa – marking its completion and opening in October 2017. 

Today the centre is a hive of physical activity. Alliance Leisure led the project from concept stage to delivery working with specialist leisure contractor, Createability, and architects Bignell, Shacklady, Ewing as interior designers. 

The facility now hosts an impressive array of new activities including; a Les Mills immersive cycling experience, the Trip™; Europe’s first outdoor Flight Tower; an 80 station gym – equipped by principle supplier, Precor, adventure play area, XHeight climbing wall, barista-style café and spa.

As the first phase of the project was handed over early in 2017, Alliance Leisure and the council approached  the ukactive Research Institute to evaluate the economic and social impact of the £5 million investment. The findings have exceeded all expectations. 

Since the redevelopment, visits to the centre have increased by 72 per cent with the average number of visits a month, per person, increasing from 4 to 10. Gym attendance has increased by 83 per cent, and fitness class attendance by 83 per cent. The new Les Mill Immersive experience is attracting more than 5,000 visits alone. In addition, the classes on the gym floor are proving really popular with all ages. The new Queenax™ rig is attracting more than 800 class participants a week. In addition, the new adventure facilities, including XHeight and the Flight Tower, have generated more than 10,000 visits.

There has also been a shift in user demographics. Female usage has increased by 172 per cent, now representing 58 per cent of the membership, and the average age of members has fallen from 43.7 years to 37.9 years. 

It is also encouraging to report that the centre is now attracting visitors from further afield with people travelling by almost a kilometre further away to use the new facilities. 

Investing in physical spaces that inspire participation is vital, but the value in dedicating resource to ongoing staff training and centre promotion should not be underestimated. Alliance Leisure has also entered into a client support partnership with Lancaster City Council to provide support across a number of core functions including marketing, staff training and sales services to ensure the continued operational and financial success of the project.  

Salt Ayre is a real success story. Based on current usage levels and revenue generation, the centre is projected to be in a revenue-neutral position in less than three years. 

This project proves that if we create vibrant, inspiring spaces we can encourage participation at scale, across a wide range of demographic groups, adding fuel to ukactive’s appeal to government for a £1 billion investment in leisure stock. A more active community is a healthier community. Moving forwards, our leisure centres can play a central role in a preventative healthcare strategy. This is the only sustainable solution to the healthcare crisis across the UK.

If you would like to read more about the Salt Ayre Leisure Centre project or view a photo gallery, visit www.allianceleisure.co.uk/saltayre.

For more information on this project or to arrange an informal consultation with Alliance Leisure, please contact the office on 01278 444944. You can also follow Alliance Leisure on Twitter @allianceleisure.