Oldham Community Leisure was formed as an industrial and provident society in 2002. Its partnership with Oldham Council is successfully delivering on a range of community outcomes. The leisure trust delivers health interventions and services as well as running leisure centres and sports facilities.
Oldham Community Leisure (OCL) formed as an industrial and provident society and moved out from Oldham Council in 2002. During the initial 10-year contract it was supported by a subsidy of around £1.7 million a year. When the contract was up for renewal in 2012, Oldham Council was looking for invest-to-save options in order to deliver a fit-for-purpose portfolio of facilities and services.
The council opted to invest £23 million of capital into building two new facilities to replace four that were outdated and operationally inefficient. Much of that capital investment was to be repaid through a significant reduction in future subsidy payments, from about £1.7 million a year to an average of less than £400,000. OCL remained keen to bid for the new contract. To meet the council’s priority of providing attractive, efficient and financially sustainable public facilities, its business plan included a streamlined delivery model and a focus on maximising community engagement and participation.
Impact and outcomes
The partnership is achieving record attendances in most areas, including overall admissions and membership. Critical to this success has been Oldham Council’s recognition that investment was key to raising participation levels, increasing efficiency and subsequently reducing the operational subsidy.
By opting for a contract specification which separated the design and build elements from the operation and management elements, Oldham was more likely to receive tender submissions from charitable trusts. OCL provided a financially competitive bid that was equally strong in terms of wider social impact and community benefit. This commitment to community-based provision was key to securing the contract. As a charitable trust, OCL can balance commercial viability and efficiency with community and social outcomes. It is actively involved in collaboration and partnerships to improve the health, wellbeing and activity levels of local residents.
OCL is a single-contract operator, meaning that decisions are made locally, purely to benefit the Oldham community and economy. Surpluses are reinvested into initiatives which benefit local people. To date, it has secured over £2 million in external funding for capital investments into facilities and the delivery of health interventions and services, such as programmes/interventions on healthy cooking, long-term conditions, drug and alcohol dependency and childhood obesity.
Neil Consterdine, Oldham Council’s Head of Service for Public Health, Youth and Leisure, said: “As a leisure trust, OCL supports the council’s and Oldham’s wider outcomes around delivery of the health and wellbeing agenda and corporate priorities. This is also supported through the delivery of a performance framework that is monitored by the council. The trust has a position on the Health and Wellbeing Board and the borough’s Leadership Board.”
Looking to the future
Future priorities are based on partnership and mutual benefit, with the ambition of a healthier Oldham population. Examples of this work include:
- Oldham Council recently ran a health project focused on the wellbeing of its own workforce, delivered in partnership with OCL
- OCL is supporting the local priority of reducing worklessness, for example by hosting engagement sessions in leisure centres for unemployed people, providing an opportunity to encourage people to become more active and improve their physical and mental wellbeing
- OCL is progressing partnership work to support several of Oldham Council’s community centres to make them more resilient, efficient and ready for asset transfer into their own independent organisation.
Key learning points
- Separating the design and build components of a contract from the operation and management components increases the likelihood of bids from charitable trusts, meaning a focus on community and social outcomes, rather than profit generation.
- The criteria for assessing tenders in a procurement process is critical. If the driver is to achieve the lowest price, the outcome will be a ‘caretaker’ operator with little interest in community outcomes. Ask prospective operators how they plan to engage priority community groups in activities and services.
- Contracts for leisure services should allow for a modest profit to be made. The trust model is based on cross-subsidy: surpluses provide financial resilience and the ability to re-invest in facilities, services and activities.
- Local councillors sit on the trust board, strengthening the partnership and the alignment of objectives and outcomes.
Oldham Community Leisure
Head of Service – Public Health, Youth and Leisure