Toby KingsburyToby Kingsbury reflects on SLC’s recent experience of supporting Councils through their sport, physical activity and leisure procurements. In this blog he explores how operators are responding positively to new contract opportunities, despite the challenging market conditions.

We’re all aware of the unprecedented challenges faced by our sector over the last few years. The monumental double whammy of Covid and energy price hikes compounded by the most severe cost-of-living crisis in a generation. This has left many public leisure facilities in a perilous position. But there is hope…

Some councils are seizing the opportunity, to re-think and re-set the role of their ‘leisure’ service through the commissioning of new operating partnerships. The days of simply managing buildings are long gone. Councils see the opportunity to extend services beyond core facilities to have a deeper impact in their locality. With a strong focus on enabling a wider active environment, a more outward-facing approach is required from an operator partner. The market is responding positively, with some operators developing new internal strategies which reframe their role as community wellbeing partners rather than simply leisure providers.

SLC is currently supporting 8 authorities (a mix of core cities, unitary, borough and district councils), all at different stages of the commissioning cycle. Some are just starting the journey, some are in the midst of it and some have reached the end.

For our clients that have very recently reached the end of the procurement journey in Stevenage, Waverley and Bristol, the outcome has been hugely positive and they are extremely happy with the result.

So what are the three key ingredients for a successful procurement?

  1. All councils started their pre procurement planning early as part of an overall strategic approach to achieving wider strategic outcomes.
  2. All councils established a clear investment strategy with sufficient detail, commitment and investment to optimise interest from the market
  3. All councils invested in expert strategic advice to work collaboratively with their own teams and legal advisers, strengthening their understanding of current risk positions and market trends.

A new start in Stevenage…

In June 2021, Stevenage Borough Council commissioned SLC to support a major transformation programme for its leisure and cultural services. On 1st April 2023, they embarked on a new 10-year partnership with Everyone Active. Here’s what happened in between…

Developing the strategy

External view of Steveange Arts & Leisure CentreThe first step was to support the Council in creating a bold and ambitious new Vision and Strategic Outcomes for its leisure and cultural services. Informed by extensive stakeholder and community engagement, the new strategic approach is firmly rooted in tackling inactivity. It also matches the aspirations of a co-operative council, supporting a whole systems approach to improving public health and wellbeing.

The approach is framed within the context of a £1billion regeneration of Stevenage town centre, a key element of which is the development of a new Leisure and Community Hub facility. This will replace the Council’s ageing, separate wet and dry facilities, better meet the current and future needs of residents and support the wider placemaking agenda.

Exploring the optimal management model

Having identified a new Vision and Strategic Outcomes for the future services, the Council wished to explore and assess its options in terms of management models. SLC led senior officers and Members through a robust and transparent Management Options Appraisal exercise. This involved the assessment of options for the core leisure, cultural and golf facilities and also explored a wider scope of facilities and services. Ridlins Athletics Stadium, outdoor pitches and pavilions, Stevenage Museum and the Health and Wellbeing service, all of which are managed directly by the Council, were included in the review of options.

The result was a mixed economy of service providers; the athletics stadium and bookings for outdoor pitches and pavilions were included in the scope of a new management contract with an external operator partner. The museum and Health and Wellbeing service was retained in-house. Fairlands Valley Outdoor Activity Centre was removed from the scope of the contract in order to allow for more community-based management models to be explored.

Leisure and Cultural Procurement Process

SLC provided end-to-end support throughout the procurement process including:

  • Development of a robust procurement strategy, informed by market insight and setting an optimal balance of risk to ensure the opportunity was attractive to the operator market
  • Development of a services specification which reflected the new strategic approach including requirements for a new Active Communities Programme of outreach and engagement targeted at less active residents across the borough
  • Development of all tender documents including a separate Lot for the golf course. This included managing the contractual complexities associated with transitioning from old to new facilities, part way through the contract
  • Evaluation of all tenders including analysis and advice on financial submissions.


Following a comprehensive and robust tender process, the new 10-year Leisure Services and Active Communities Contract was won by Everyone Active.

From 1 April 2023, Everyone Active will manage Stevenage Swimming Centre, Stevenage Arts and Leisure Centre, Fairlands Valley Aqua Park, Ridlins Athletics Stadium and Stevenage Golf Conference Centre. They will also take on the bookings for the Council’s outdoor pitches and pavilions.

In addition to this, Everyone Active will work with the Council and wider stakeholders to design and deliver a new Active Communities Programme. This new outreach programme will deliver activities outside of the core facilities within community settings, parks and open spaces to enable residents to be more active in local places.

“We have worked with SLC for a number of years on a range of different projects which was highly beneficial as it ultimately led to a successful procurement process. SLC bring market intelligence and unrivalled insight into the cutting edge of leisure services delivery and the procurement process, which is far more complex than we expected. SLC helped enormously with supporting Members and senior officers through the process.

The outcome for us is magnificent, more than we expected, and has ensured that Stevenage has future-proofed our leisure offer with the ability to flex and change as our customer demand changes and as the town develops in the future. We could not have achieved this without the support of Toby and the wider team at SLC.”

Geoff Caine – Culture, Wellbeing and Leisure Services Manager            


Investment plans secure a new deal for Waverley…

Waverley Borough Council in Surrey, commissioned SLC in March 2022 to support the procurement of a new operating contract for its leisure facilities in Cranleigh, Godalming, Haslemere and Farnham. The existing contract with Places Leisure ends in June 2023 after a period of 25 years.

The Council has a strong track record in facility investment, delivered through its partnership with Places Leisure. SLC team members have supported the Council with its last two procurement cycles.

Most recently, SLC had previously assisted the Council to develop the next phase of its investment strategy. This resulted in a commitment from Members to replace Cranleigh Leisure Centre and enhance Farnham and Godalming Leisure Centres. With the investment strategy in place, SLC provided  support throughout the procurement process, across each the following staged workstreams.

External of Godalming Leisure CentrePre-Procurement Support

SLC guided the Council through the development of a fresh set of Strategic Objectives which will direct the future delivery of the services. Whilst the Council have committed to significant investment in its core facilities, they recognise the challenge created by the rural nature of the district and travel distances to these facilities for many communities. A strong desire therefore emerged to extend the scope of services to include a new programme of outreach activities, to be delivered by the operator, within local community settings, parks and open spaces.

Framed within and directed by the new strategic approach, SLC worked closely with officers and Members to develop the procurement strategy. Understanding the balance of risk share and the likely affordability of the new contract is critical to a successful procurement and this has become much more complex due to Covid and the current energy crisis.

SLC drafted all tender documents including a new Services Specification, Selection Questionnaire, Invitation to Tender and Risk Allocation Matrix and supported legal colleagues to develop the draft contract using the Sport England template. Despite the tight programme, all documents were developed on time enabling the Council to stay on track and critically, to protect the time available for bidders to work up their tender submissions.

Tender Stages

SLC supported the Council throughout the various tender stages, supporting with clarification questions, evaluating tender submissions and facilitating dialogue meetings with bidders.


Following a comprehensive and robust tender process, the new 10-year Active Communities Leisure Management Contract was won by Everyone Active.

From 1 July 2023, Everyone Active will manage Haslemere Leisure Centre, Godalming Leisure Centre, Farnham Leisure Centre and Cranleigh Leisure Centre (with the new Cranleigh Leisure Centre planned to open in 2026).

The new operator will support the delivery of the planned investment projects including the development of the new replacement facility in Cranleigh and extended and improved facilities at Farnham and Godalming Leisure Centres.

Everyone Active will also be required to design and deliver a new Active Communities Programme of outreach, in partnership with the Council and stakeholder partners.

“Toby, and the SLC team, supported Waverley Borough Council through our recent Leisure Management Contract procurement. Throughout the process, the team used their wealth of experience to provide professional, timely and considered advice. Toby’s calm and measured approach provided expertise and assurance to ensure successful delivery of the complex tender on time. I happily recommend SLC to work on any leisure procurement or strategy projects that are looking for a highly competent consultancy with a professional and calm approach.”

Tamsin McLeod – Leisure Services Manager


A leisure procurement done in Bristol fashion..

Bristol City Council engaged SLC to support it with the procurement of an operator for its new Active Communities and Leisure Services Management Contract in August 2021. The Council had extended its existing management contact arrangements with Everyone Active until April 2024 to allow for the market to recover further following the impacts of Covid-19.

Over the previous 3 years, the Council had been reviewing the strategic role of sport and physical activity in the City and the role of local facility provision in meeting needs. SLC supported the Council with the development of its Sport and Physical Activity Strategy shaped through a diagnostic process using Sport England’s Strategic Outcomes Planning Guidance. The strategy focuses on a partnership approach across the City in tackling inactivity amongst communities.

SLC also supported the Council in developing a comprehensive city-wide Leisure Investment Strategy which considered the role of the City’s built facility provision in meeting local need, now and in the future. This identified a number of opportunities for enhancing the city’s facilities through investment. Following a public consultation exercise, this was secured in February 2022.

SLC provided end-to-end support for the procurement process for a new leisure management contract, informed by the strategy work previously undertaken with the Council.

Setting the procurement strategy

With a new Sport and Physical Activity Strategy in place and a draft Leisure Investment Strategy out for public consultation, the Council had a strong foundation upon which to build its procurement strategy. SLC supported the Council’s project team and procurement board in considering other key areas of its procurement approach including how best to achieve the outcomes and objectives identified within those strategies.

In the context of a changed market, emerging from Covid and feeling the effects of the energy crisis, careful deliberation on the balance of risk within the contract formed a significant element of the procurement strategy. The strategy also needed to identify the best way of incorporating the Council’s proposed capital investment within the process to maximise the financial and non-financial benefits. An approach was designed which allowed bidders the opportunity to apply their experience and expertise in delivering investment, balanced by the Council’s priorities and within set parameters.

SLC prepared drafts of all of the Council procurement documents, building on the procurement strategy approved by Members in February 2022. Support was also provided to legal colleagues for the drafting of the contract based on the Sport England template.

SLC supported the Council through the tender process, including providing advice on clarifications, facilitating negotiation meetings and providing moderation for the evaluation of tender submissions.


The new 15-year contract was won by Everyone Active who will manage Horfield Leisure Centre, Easton Leisure Centre, Bristol South Swimming Pool, Henbury Leisure Centre and St Pauls Community Sports Academy under the new contract from 1 April 2024.

The new contract will also include delivery of more than £8m Council investment and £4.7m of SLM investment in the facilities over the first 3 years of the contract. This encompasses a range of facility enhancements and decarbonisation measures across the portfolio.

In addition to improvements to the facility, the contract has a strong social value focus and includes provision of a Civic Partnership Manager to work with other organisations to support increased physical activity outside of the facilities within localities.

The outcome of the procurement exercise exceeded the Council’s requirements and expectations both financially and in terms of anticipated social value and outcomes.

“Thanks to SLC we have now successfully completed our leisure facilities investment and procurement exercise.  SLC have reliably provided expert knowledge and support throughout this complicated process, which has resulted in the award of a new 15 year contract and a multi-million pound investment package across five of our sites!”

 Guy Fishbourne – Sport and Physical Activity Development Manager


Final thoughts…

All three of these procurement projects were undertaken amidst unprecedented challenges to our sector. Sluggish recovery following the Covid-19 pandemic, a volatile energy market and spiralling inflation had created huge uncertainty within a previously stable market.

Despite this, all three resulted in a hugely positive outcome for the local authority. But this is by no means a blueprint for the future! Not all councils will see such positive results. Not all will start early and take the opportunity to stop and think differently about how they want their service to be delivered and for whom. Not all will develop a clear strategy for investment and unfortunately not all will adopt a balanced approach to risk share. But for those that do, there is definitely hope…!


Toby Kingsbury