Harrogate: how council-owned leisure group is taking holistic approach

Harrogate Borough Council has set up a community health and wellbeing company, Brimhams Active, to run its gyms, leisure centres and community hubs. 


Harrogate Borough Council has set up a community health and wellbeing company, Brimhams Active, to run its gyms, leisure centres and community hubs. 

In addition to the universal offer normally associated with the sector, Brimhams Active focusses on people who were not the average gym users, taking a holistic approach to wellbeing. The council-owned company is getting the gyms and leisure centres to expand their offer, running everything from specialist rehab to falls prevention. 

More than just a leisure provider 

Brimhams Active was created in August 2021 when Harrogate Borough Council set up a company to run the sport and leisure service, which includes five pools, three community hubs, three leisure centres, the iconic Turkish baths and a children’s nursery which is grounded in the Hygge philosophy.  

With the mission to help people to ‘move more, live well and feel great’ the team work to the five ways to wellness with movement at the core and mindset, nutrition, connection and recovery as key elements to optimise overall health and wellbeing.

The aim is to create a new way of working whereby the leisure service becomes more integrated with health and care locally. Using public health data, health profiles and links with the hospital and other health care providers a targeted programme of support has been developed. The courses make use of both physical activity and social connections. 

They include: 

  • specialist exercise programmes for those rehabilitating after treatment for conditions such as cancer and stroke 
  • an adult weight management scheme 
  • exercise to develop strength and balance 
  • a falls prevention programme 
  • Tea and Talk sessions to allow carers and those taking part in rehab programmes to meet 
  • Water Wellbeing - a pool-based exercise programme
  • community cooking sessions using food destined for landfill from supermarkets  
  • organised walks.

The events, with the exception of the organised walks, are hosted at the leisure centres or community hubs, a number of which are benefitting from significant capital investment and decarbonisation funding.

‘It’s an exciting time’ 

Brimhams Active Health and Wellbeing Manager, Jo Armstrong, said:

It’s a really exciting time for us. We’re being really proactive in reaching out to people who would not normally use gyms and leisure centres. Our staff have been trained in having healthy conversations and making every contact count and the instructors have some basic cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing techniques.

“We can provide much more support to people and we link in with other services. So if someone is drinking to problematic levels we can refer them on to the substance misuse service or if they are struggling with their mental health we signpost them to counselling.

“Some of the specialist programmes we are developing are in response to gaps in provision or for follow-on care once NHS rehab has finished. We are working in a much more joined up way. 

“For example, at the moment we are discussing options with adult social care. We might use our facilities differently to offer opportunities for people to meet and socialise in our centres during our quieter periods. We have the flexibility to offer activities to suit those wishing to move more or simply engage in a social activity and connect with other people.

“We have a small gym in one of our community hubs so people can start using that if they want somewhere a little more private to start with and gain confidence with the equipment before using one of the bigger gyms. We also have a spa pool that has warmer water and is more private that we want to develop for more swim-based exercise programmes.” 

‘Support is helping me cope better’ 

One of those who has been helped is Andrea. She took part in Fit 4 Future, an exercise rehab programme for people who have been treated for cancer. She had undergone chemotherapy and radiotherapy for lung cancer, which had left her feel very tired and unable to do everyday activities.

The exercise sessions helped me enormously. My fitness levels and muscle strength increased and I felt more confident to do everyday things. The sessions are fun and enjoyable and this motivates me to keep attending. 

“I’ve also made lots of new friends – the social aspect of the sessions are just as important as the exercise itself. Although I won’t recover fully from my cancer, I can cope better with it and I’m sure the exercise plays a big part in this.” 

Ms Armstrong added: “It is great to see people making progress and using our facilities and services to improve their health and retain their independence. Leisure centres should be there for the whole population.” 

Contact details 

Jo Armstrong
Health and Wellbeing Manager
Brimhams Active 
joanne.armstrong@brimhamsactive.co.uk