Leisure's sustainable future

The leisure sector must move out of restraining silos and place greater focus on data transparency, collaboration and estate rationalisation to ensure it has a sustainable future and prevent public spaces from disappearing – according to leading voices at a recent industry roundtable.

The event, held in Nottingham and hosted by modular swimming pool manufacturer Myrtha Pools, saw attendees from national governing body Swim England, framework provider Pagabo, construction, property and development firm Wates and more discuss an aging UK leisure stock. Current figures from Swim England put an estimated 1,500 public pools in England as over 40 years old, with a significant number having closed since 2010 – leading the call for greater emphasis on techniques that could revitalise the leisure sector’s future, including modern methods of construction (MMC).

Innocenzo Pochini, technical director at Myrtha Pools, said: “Integration is the missing link – of engineers, architects and the wider supply chain. What we are experiencing right now is an industry crisis, which always brings innovation to the fore, but we need a closer focus on information management, and co-operative working, if we are to change leisure’s future.

Leisure's future

Richard Lamburn, head of facilities at Swim England, said: “COVID-19 of course, exacerbated some of the issues already prevalent in swimming, but the investment in capital stock is still not there, and we have an aging set of facilities, that will lead to significant loss for the industry if action isn’t taken.

Where we sit today, with a lot of pools over 30 years old, half have never had a refurbishment. We’ve worked hard this year to encourage M&E innovation in the industry – capital interventions that can help drive energy improvements and offset some of the huge running cost of heating a pool. That led to the £60m+ in funding awarded from The Budget this year, but it’s not enough to transform the industry in its entirety and save public spaces from going under.

The application of data was well cited within conversation, with David Minton, founder of market intelligence firm Leisure DB, calling for sporting and local authorities to be more open to ‘information sharing’, so that the government can make informed budgeting decisions. David said: “The main problem is we don’t know enough about demand. The arts and culture industry has been driving this type of data for years, but its only really in the past ten years or so that local gyms, swimming clubs and associations have been not just gathering, but asking for more data from their users. Not only the profile of individuals attending, but also the times of day, hours they attend, classes and much more.

This data is invaluable when it comes to The Budget and other funding decisions and is one of the key drivers in ensuring the leisure sector receives greater funding in the future. If government officials can see the economic benefit and social value being driven, it’s a win-win.

Estate rationalisation was also a key topic emerging from roundtable, with Adam Brumfitt, regional delivery manager at Pagabo, pointing to combined civic office and leisure offerings in the Midlands, which are maximising public space and driving significant social value to communities.

The example was further broadened by Teo Bunyan, pre-construction manager at Wates, and John Morgan, director at Leonard Design Architects, who pointed to Bingham Arena Leisure Centre and Jubilee Community Hall, as well as collective spa and leisure offerings. Having opened in March this year, the space in Bingham offers a 25m pool, teaching facilities and exercise studios, alongside public amenities such as a café and hall. Meanwhile SwimSpa was evidenced as a way of social interaction and wellbeing coming together under one roof.

Teo said: “Co-location of facilities are changing the dynamic and allowing much more synergy between developers and clients in the use of public spaces.” John added: “It’s a much more macro way of thinking – authorities can leave a gas guzzling pool and replace it with a more efficient offering. The solution won’t be right for everyone, and refurbishment still has its place, but it is something that could be cyclical and gets adopted across the country.

Passivhaus render

A final point was noted the application of Passivhaus principles, with two leisure centres, Blairgowrie Recreation Centre in Scotland, and Spelthorne Leisure Centre in Staines, currently in development under the design model, which utilises a combination of energy efficiency and clean energy generation to offset usage. Steve Peet, associate at structural engineering firm Engenuiti, said: “Innovation has fast forwarded the leisure market, particularly with Passivhaus, which we’re already seeing crop up in leisure and education in particular across the UK.

It has opened up more conversations for data and information exchange, as well as pool filtration and MEP improvements – it’s bringing people together and getting that all important early collaboration happening much faster between architects, contractors, engineers and clients.

It also saves some of the examples we’ve seen where clients change their mind halfway through a build and try to strip back or add in low carbon schemes mid-project – it doesn’t work and just leads to timelines slipping, budgets wasted and frustration all round.

But Katherine Morton, regional design lead at main contractor Stepnell, added that greater education is needed among local authorities on the product lifecycle for principles like Passivhaus, for it to be widely adopted. Katherine said: “It’s [Passivhaus] the first thing to go because of cost. It begins as ‘nice to haves’, but our conversations with clients are really showing that more awareness is needed from a long term perspective – it might cost you more now, but it will pay off in the long-run, and all stakeholders need to be involved in the conversation from the offset for this to happen effectively.

The roundtable also included perspectives from property and construction consultancies Gleeds and EDGE, pool installers Barr + Wray, structural engineers Hexa Consulting, mechanical engineers Prism Offsite Manufacturing, and sustainability consultancy Sustainable Wellness.

For more information on Myrtha Pools and the solutions it provides, visit: https://www.myrthapools.com/en/dealers/myrtha-pools-uk/