22 May 2018 Health Club Management Handbook
 

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Health Club Management Handbook - The year ahead

Industry insights

The year ahead


Will 2015 prove to be a turning point for the fitness and physical activity sector?

David Stalker, ukactive
Yoga and cycling microgyms will continue to pop up on even more high streets photo: www.shutterstock.com/ Alan Bailey
We’re not going to correct a generational slide to sedentary lifestyles overnight, but the message is getting out about being active every day photo: www.shutterstock.com/ altanaka
It’s not just about gyms: There’s a wider ecosystem working to get the world fit and healthy photo: www.shutterstock.com/Halfpoint

Every year the request from the HCM Handbook editor lands on my desk, calling on me to dust off the crystal ball and lend my thoughts on the year ahead. As regular as the seasons, it’s confirmation that another great year is coming to an end, and once more we can look ahead with optimism to the future of the sector.

Sector overview
So what do I think the future holds?The founding brands of the sector – those major private institutions on which the industry grew in the 1990s – will either have to rediscover a purpose as we have seen with Fitness First, or else drift off into irrelevance. Meanwhile the proliferation of specialists will continue to explode, with yoga hotting up on even more high streets, enterprising PTs going wherever they are needed, and indoor cycling studios charging fees previously only dreamed of by mainstream operators. This brings a highly personalised service that’s hard to match.

The entry to the market of Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct and the continued success of low-cost operators will keep the heat on any organisation unsure of its purpose and the value it provides to customers. Nonetheless, low-cost operators will reach a crucial point in their history in the UK, where the pressure of continuous growth will be joined by the imperative to retain or implode.

The public sector – spurred on by efficiency drives, enhanced service levels and greater competition – will thrive and drive growth. We will continue to see the growth of the major trusts and management contractors as more local authorities look to the financial comfort and stability that their economies of scale bring. Expect that to mean bad – or at least challenging – news for smaller trusts, who will find it hard to retain their contracts in a straight-out bidding war, with some opting for a peaceful life early by entering into alliances with one of the big boys to ward off their threat.

2015 will also be the year that wearable technology gets a fuel injection, with the release of the Apple Watch heralding the start of the next evolution in the fitness tracking market. Who remembers what happened to MP3 players and digital cameras when mobile phones started getting involved… Will Apple do the same to the competition in this market?

Strategically as a sector we will see the ongoing redefinition of who we are and what we stand for, driven by an understanding that physical health clubs, leisure centres and activity providers are now part of a wider ecosystem working to get the world fit and healthy. Embracing this position and understanding our role within it will enable us to dramatically redefine the value and impact of our sector, with a continued growth in its importance to all stakeholders as a result.

Health of the nation
Finally, I remain passionate about the role we can play in improving the health of the nation. That said, within the health community, stakeholders will get even harsher in their appraisals of what we offer: show them your evidence or they’ll show you the door, not only for health contracts but leisure contracts too.

Turning the tide of physical inactivity will take many years, if not decades, to achieve. Nevertheless, in just a single year since we called for a national ambition to tackle inactivity head-on – as a top tier public health priority – we have made remarkable progress. Local authorities have doubled their investment in both cash and in proportion to their other areas of expenditure. Public Health England has responded to the call for a national strategy with the publication of its new national framework Everybody Active, Every Day. Sport England has rebranded its ‘Get Healthy, Get Into Sport Fund’ as ‘Get Healthy, Get Active’, and has allocated greater levels of funding towards it. And organisations the length and breadth of the country have been engaged in trying to understand their role in turning the tide.

Expectation and integration
Yet we have so much still to do. Inactivity rates continue to rise; we’re not going to correct a generational slide to sedentary lifestyles overnight. But with increased investment comes increased expectation. Expectation that this investment will make a difference. Expectation that the physical activity sector can step up to the plate and improve health and wellbeing in a measurable way.

I believe the positive steps we’ve taken in the past 12 months have been inhibited by a lack of robust, clinically relevant and academically sound evidence to show the value and importance of what thousands of organisations are delivering every day of the week, in every community in the land. Can we take the next step in raising our game, evidencing our practice and living up to our potential as a key part of the emerging National Wellness Service that local authorities across the country are creating?

As I look to the year ahead, I expect to see even more integration: integration of physical activity services within wider public health services such as NHS Health Checks, smoking cessation and weight management; integration of public health outcomes within existing contracts, such as those for leisure services; greater integration between public health and adult social care, in pursuit of shared outcomes of healthy, independent later life; greater integration between Clinical Commissioning Groups and public health teams in local authorities; and even more integration of public health in wider policy settings such as transport, planning and education.

These are exciting times for anyone with a passion for improving the health of the nation by getting more people, more active, more often. That’s a cause that ukactive has been championing for over 25 years, and one we’ll continue to champion for ever more.

We hope you’ll continue to join us on that journey – as a member, partner, stakeholder or friend.


Originally published in Health Club Handbook 2015 issue 1

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