‘Recovery Planning for Aquatics – Key Considerations for Public Leisure Services’

28 May 2020


Summary Report

The Sport, Leisure and Culture Consultancy (SLC) facilitated an online Think Tank – Recovery Planning for Aquatics – Key Considerations for Public Leisure Services for Local Authority Clients, Sector Stakeholders and Public Sector Leisure Operators on 28 May 2020 from 3pm-4.30pm.

Facilitation was provided by Duncan Wood-Allum, Founder and Managing Director at SLC, supported by Judith Schrenk, SLC Research Consultant.

Key speakers / contributors were:

  • Richard Lamburn (Swim England, Head of Facilities)
  • David Walker (RoSPA, Leisure Safety Manager)
  • Peter Bundey (GLL, Exec Director – Deputy CEO)
  • Matt Hunt (Freedom Leisure, Operations Director)
  • Caroline Constantine (Right Directions, Company Director)
  • Ian Warren (Right Directions, Head of Health and Safety).

The delegates who attended were:

  • Mike Worsnop (Parkwood Leisure, Business Development Director)
  • Andy King (Link4Life, CEO)
  • Daniel Bradbury (Serco UK and Europe, Head of Business Development)
  • Stuart Lockwood (Oldham Community Leisure, Leisure Partnerships Manager)
  • Liz Slater (Plymouth City Council, Leisure Partnerships Manager)
  • Nicky Boothroyd (MCR Active, Facilities Contracts Manager)
  • Ian Harkins (GLL North (Manchester), Head of Service)
  • Lisa Bows (Sheffield City Council, Resources Manager)
  • Carly Clarke (London Borough of Newham, Commissioner (Leisure and Sport))
  • Geoff Caine (Stevenage Borough Council, Culture, Wellbeing and Leisure Services Manager)
  • Jamie Fenton (Peterborough City Council, Culture and Leisure Development Manager)
  • Christopher Fennell (Watford Borough Council, Head of Leisure & Environmental Services)
  • Martin Randall (Adur & Worthing Councils, Director for the Economy)
  • Andrew Wilesmith (Ipswich Borough Council, Operations Manager Sport and Leisure)
  • Michael Shepherd (Slough Borough Council, Leisure Development and Client Manager)
  • Ann Hill (Warwick District Council, Sports and Leisure Contracts Officer)
  • Stefania Horne (LB Hounslow Council, Head of Parks and Sport)
  • Denise A. Irving-Lang (Stockport Council, Active Stockport Manager – Culture & Leisure)
  • Julie Lewis (Stratford on Avon District Council, Head of Community & Operational Services)
  • Peter Ashworth (Stockport Council, Head of Culture and Leisure)
  • Vaughan Watson (North Hertfordshire District Council, Service Director – Place)
  • Andrzej Juraszek (Central Bedfordshire Council, Leisure Service Contracts Manager)
  • Louise Randall (North Hertfordshire District Council, Leisure Contract Manager)
  • Lynda Pincombe (South Somerset District Council, Specialist – Strategic Planning)
  • John Wileman (Nottingham City Council, Head of Sport, Leisure and Business Management)
  • Diccon Loy (Participation Sport Ltd, Director and Founder)
  • Duncan Anderson (South Downs Leisure, Chief Executive)
  • Andrew Snelling (Sheffield City Trust, Chief Executive)
  • Andrew Pearson (Sport England, Capital Investment Manager)
  • Kate Cusack (Everyone Active, Contract Manager (Wythenshawe Forum))
  • Mike Baden (Impulse Leisure, Chief Executive)
  • Emma Waring (SLC, Associate).


Key themes explored in the session were:

  1. Key considerations for Leisure Partners:
      • What specialist advice should clients and their leisure operating partner be following in terms of safe management of swimming pools? What are the operational and potential financial implications of this advice?
      • What should clients be asking from their leisure operating partner as part of their recovery planning and proposals?
      • How are leisure operators approaching planning for staff and customer health and safety and remobilisation considerations?
      • How should communication to customers and staff be managed?
  1. Key risks and how to mitigate them
  2. Scenario planning – sharing approaches and best practice
  3. Managing the financial risks of recovery.



Swim England’s Richard Lamburn, RoSPA’s David Walker GLL’s Peter Bundey, Freedom Leisure’s Matt Hunt, Right Directions Caz Constantine and Ian Warren shared their approaches to planning recovery and some of the key challenges in reopening swimming pools in SLC’s session ‘Recovery Planning  for Aquatics– Key Considerations for Public Leisure Services’.

Richard Lamburn – Swim England

SwimEngland is developing guidelines for a safe reopening of aquatic facilities in cooperation with other sector bodies. The document was developed in consultation with key players in the sector, such as UKactive and Sport England, is out for consultation and will be scientifically approved before being published. It will take into consideration good practice seen in other countries and support organisations in providing a safe environment for staff and customers when reopening facilities.

The document includes key guiding principles on facility reopening, including the implementation of appropriate facility audits and information on the transmission risks of COVID-19 in pool water. SwimEngland’s guidelines touch upon concerns and challenges around air supply in indoor facilities, building on the latest (cautiously optimistic) research suggesting that humidity and heat decrease the risk of transmission. Guidelines established will be applied to specific activities in the water, such as swimming lessons. The document will help promote the social value that lies within a swimming offer. SwimEngland aim for this guidance to uphold highest standards of safety while being feasible for organisations to deliver. The guidelines will be followed by a customer guidance document.

The point was made by Swim England that transmission of the virus in pool water is deemed unlikely in recent studies. The difficulties for pools lie in managing facilities to adhere to social distancing regulations. This can be especially challenging for changing room areas and the entrance and exit areas to pool sites.


David Walker – The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA)

David Walker from RoSPA urged the sector not to waste the time during lockdown, but rather use it to increase resilience by focussing on key operational challenges associated with the reopening of facilities. Organisations will have to review their workplace guidelines in the light of the COVID-19 crisis. The workforce will have to be consulted on any changes to their guidelines – this consultation process will be critical in ensuring a safe environment. A number of organisations are restructuring their workforce (e.g. splitting the workforce in half and rotating shifts) to increase resilience within a business or organisation.

The resilience of an organisation will be key in the difficult times ahead – not only during reopening of sites, but also to be prepared for a potential second wave of the virus. RoSPA made the point that businesses and organisations should take the potential of a second wave into account when making operational changes, such as reducing staff numbers and the potential impact of staff becoming infected and reducing capacity. It is especially important for aquatic facilities to ensure health and safety of staff, such as lifeguards and cleaners in pool areas.

David Walker recommended looking to other countries, such as Australia or New Zealand, to learn from present good practice in safely reopening facilities. Cross-sector considerations are also core in planning the recovery phase and beyond.


Peter Bundey – GLL

Peter Bundey from GLL complimented the sector for coming together in a productive way in the face of the COVID-19 crisis and the closure of facilities. With UKactive on the forefront, the cooperation enabled coordinated planning of the recovery and reopening periods and development of coherent guidance. The guidelines that sector leaders developed cooperatively fed into government guidance, for instance on developing the workforce to increase resilience within an organisation.

GLL suggest a controlled and phased approach to reopening facilities, as public sector services are hugely complex and therefore particularly challenging to reopen. The COVID-19 crisis will have long lasting impact on the sector as a whole, with Councils having to support their leisure operators through this crisis and customer behaviour changing. The recovery of the sector will move from the challenges of restarting (opening up facilities), to reshaping (questions of how to shape businesses and workforces) to building resilience (making sure the business is in a place to deal with crisis and challenges). It will be key in the recovery of the sector to send a clear message of the importance of sport and physical activity for public health.

GLL are taking a phased approach. The first phase, reopening, will be the provision of a minimum viable offer to customers to increase income and generate participation. This will most likely be undertaken from July and the offer can include health and fitness and swimming pools. The second phase will be transition from the minimum viable to a widened offer, still adhering to social distancing. This phase is likely to be undertaken in September to December 2020 and may include bringing back swimming lessons and courses. The second phase will be followed by the ‘Programme 2021’, an ideal programme developed by GLL. This looks at what GLL are working towards, including reviewing facilities that now seem unlikely to ever open again.

Peter Bundey named some of the key challenges in reopening identified by GLL;  ensuring the financial viability of the offer, ensuring the support from Council partners, and presenting an offer that is relevant to customers, as their needs will have changed through this crisis. Customers will most likely have high standards of hygiene and value the social aspect of sport and physical activity. Another key challenge in reopening swimming pools identified by GLL is ensuring social distancing measures are adhered to at pool sites. The real issue here lies around group sessions and areas like showers and changing rooms. The financial viability will be another difficulty in reopening swimming pools, as swimming was, in the main a subsidised activity even before the COVID-19 crisis. It will be challenging for operators to ensure customers have adequate access to facilities, with reduced capacities and potentially opening hours due to lower staff levels and maintenance costs.


Matt Hunt – Freedom Leisure

Matt Hunt from Freedom Leisure emphasised that it will be key for operators to work closely with local authority partners to ensure the delivery of services will be in line with their expectations. Approaches need to be tailored to the local authorities’ needs, which makes communication between the partners important. This should be done with the most recent guidelines on health and safety in mind.

Within an organisation, Freedom Leisure stressed the importance of providing staff and customers with clear guidance. Freedom Leisure have produced a customer and staff guidance action plan which they are willing to share with sector colleagues. The staff guidance is laying out the expectations in terms of safety of each member of staff and measures taken to minimise the risks of transmission. Clear guidelines will help businesses and organisations ensure trust, both in customers and staff, which will be key in reopening and recovery.

Matt Hunt explained that simple measures to minimise risks can be taken in centres and sites, for instance taking group exercise classes outside. These programme adjustments can help a smooth reopening greatly but have to be done in accordance with up-to-date government guidelines. Freedom Leisure have developed an Action Plan for each of their sites, based on learning from other businesses and sectors.

Freedom Leisure see the biggest challenges for businesses and organisations in ensuring social distancing in centres and fulfilling cleaning requirements – particularly with reduced staff levels. Matt Hunt remarked that operators should consider keeping smaller spaces, such as dry changing rooms, closed until restrictions are lifted. These challenges can best be faced through a cautious approach, forecasting a significant reduction in income, and making staffing levels dependent on revenue. Such measures allow an operator’s forecasting to provide the Council with information on what their future offer will look like, both in terms of costs and service.


Caroline Constantine – Right Directions

Health and safety advisers Right Directions highlighted there was atmosphere of fear, both being experienced by customers and leisure staff and that this can best be mitigated by being proactive now and taking sensible measures through changes to operational practices. Right Directions have developed a 50 pages action plan and risk assessments for their clients and developed an opening checklist that is available free of charge. They will also be holding regular public training sessions for leisure staff on safety measures in light of COVID-19 and recovery. Right Direction’s eleven free clinics are available on their YouTube page.

Caroline Constantine recommended to approach changing guidelines rationally – not all internal guidelines in businesses and organisations need to be re-written. Making the right reasonable changes will allow operators and Councils to focus on other challenges faced when reopening facilities. Right Directions have also advised Sport England to undertake one-day assessments of centres (Quest Assessments), which will be undertaken most likely from September 2020. Quality assessments in terms of safety have to be coherent throughout the sector to create equally safe environments.

Right Directions recommend establishing a member of staff greeting customers coming back to centres at the entrance to increase customer confidence. Making cleaning measures of contact points visible for customers can also help increase trust levels. Confidence levels in staff can be increased by bringing them in before the reopening and familiarising them with any new measures taken by their organisations and ensuring training takes place.

Right Directions also pointed out the opportunity of engaging present and potential customers in outdoor activities that can appeal to a much wider audience, as the UK are likely to be staying at home through the summer months.


Other questions/ points raised during the session

  • The sector has to be prepared for a potential second wave, the recovery phase may not be a straight line.
  • The industry has an obligation to handle the reopening and recovery well, as the reputation of the sector is at stake and confidence needs to be maintained.
  • There is a challenge in ensuring the balance of access. Harder-to-reach groups or disability sports may be very challenging to cater for during recovery.
    • The idea of specific slots for groups with needs for special assistance, similar to the model adapted by many supermarkets, was suggested.
    • SwimEngland are doing a calculation of ‘true cost of a swim’ to secure support from government for provision of swimming, which can be used in rebuilding the offer.
    • There is a moral question around access to the facilities for the shielded population and elderly citizens that needs to be addressed.
  • There is an opportunity to showcase the social value of swimming and the wider health benefits of programmes, that, for instance, open swimming to disability groups.
  • The recovery from this crisis presents a good opportunity to have conversations about the positive health impacts of swimming.
  • There is a question around how to manage customer expectations when reopening is allowed.
  • It will most likely be more expensive to reopen facilities than costs occurring in lockdown – how will the sector cope with that?
  • There is a question around regulating third parties, such as elite squads, using facilities safely with a greater requirement for them to take greater responsibility for their safety and that of staff and other users.


SLC would like to thank;

  • Richard Lamburn (Swim England, Head of Facilities)
  • David Walker (RoSPA, Leisure Safety Manager)
  • Peter Bundey (GLL, Exec Director – Deputy CEO)
  • Matt Hunt (Freedom Leisure, Operations Director)
  • Caroline Constantine (Right Directions, Company Director)
  • Ian Warren (Right Directions, Head of Health and Safety)

For their contributions to a very informative session.

To view a recording of the session, please email help@slc.uk.com and you will be sent a link which will be available for the next 5 days.