More than 300 delegates flocked to this year’s packed Quest NBS conference in Kenilworth.
Opening the event, Sport England’s property director, Charles Johnston, gave an update on the Towards An Active Nation strategy, reminding operators that it’s no longer just about how many participate in physical activity, but the impact that has.
He said the 25 per cent of the population that’s still inactive represents a real opportunity to impact agendas far wider than sport and fitness, and encouraged facility managers and sport development teams to look at urban design and how it can be replicated in communities to provide a naturally active environment.
Going for gold
Mark England OBE, chef de mission Team GB for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, congratulated the audience on being the wheels behind Team GB’s successes and gave a potted history of his career, saying he ‘started out in your world’ and that delegates should never underestimate the difference they’re making.
England explained the difficulties of attempting to replicate Rio’s successes at the next Olympic Games in Tokyo, but said Team GB would be shooting to win more medals at six consecutive games; a feat never achieved before. He said the power of Olympic sport and Team GB to inspire and unite the nation should not be overlooked, particularly in light of Brexit, and that he hoped GB would again be the best supported team, not just in the UK.
Quest director Caroline Constantine gave an annual update on Quest, which has seen 115 new facilities and teams join in the last year. Common failures still occur with fixed electrical testing, emergency light tests and lifts and hoists service records, and Constantine urged operators to put more time into ensuring statutory requirements were met. However, she congratulated the industry on its continuing improvement in many modules within Quest generally and explained how standards overall are also improving, with many sites moving from Good to Very Good.
Highlighting programming and increased participation as the most popular modules, Constantine encouraged delegates to use Quest as a continuing improvement tool, by picking different modules for each assessment.
Delegates were introduced to the RD Dash, Right Directions’ online platform, hosted by the DataHub, which will host all Quest assessments to give industry true insight into how the sector is performing at the click of a button.
Leisure-net’s Mike Hill gave an update on Sport England’s National Benchmarking Service (NBS), alongside Sheffield Hallam University’s Professor Simon Shibli, which showed how the sector has been consistently delivering at a profit for four years.
Breakout sessions then saw Right Directions’ Gill Twell and Leisure-net’s Dave Monkhouse explain how both Quest and NBS can be used to help operators deliver a great customer experience, while other sessions discussed exercise referral and workforce development.
Learning from failure
Former MP, Andy Reed, delivered the after-lunch session, based on a book called The Black Box Approach by Matthew Syed, which discusses how to approach failure and turn it into an experiment from which to learn.
Reed claimed that if our sector’s aim is to get the nation active then we are failing, but that, because we are afraid to admit failure, we’re less likely to learn from mistakes. He said we need to change the mindset of people making the decisions, so we can accept we’re failing and challenge ourselves when things go wrong, seeing these as opportunities to grow. But, he said, you need to take everyone along; this must be a culture change – failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be. He also pointed out the importance of appetite for risk, saying if we’re going to target harder-to-reach communities, we’re going to fail at times, and recommended that delegates dive into areas of Quest where they aren’t performing so well and embrace it.
Steve McFayden from the Alzheimer’s Association gave a fascinating insight into the different conditions that fall under the umbrella of dementia, explaining that each person will have a unique set of circumstances. He said the little pockets of good practice he had witnessed needed to be expanded across the country and more must be done to understand the challenges that these individuals, who number around 1 million in the UK, face in in trying living more active lives.
“Dementia is not a natural part of ageing,” he said. “It’s a disease of the brain and can affect people in their 30s and 40s, as well as the older generation. Ultimately, if we can get things right for people with dementia we will naturally be supporting others with long-term health conditions as well.”
100 day challenge
Chris Perks, Sport England’s executive director local delivery, talked about his 12 years as a PE teacher 20 years ago, and admitted he’d probably put thousands of kids off being active as he ‘didn’t get it’ – having been good at school sport himself.
Having recently bumped into two ex colleagues, he was shocked to see the stark differences in the facilities they were representing within the same town; one a vibrant sports club, actively encouraging people to move more, and the other in a location where the facilities weren’t great.
“There was stuff going on, but it wasn’t a vibrant environment for being active,” he said. “It’s an area of deprivation and poverty, but not an area of low ambition – they know the value of being active, but having money to heat their home and feed their family are more ‘here and now’ issues than sport. But sport does have a role to play.”
Perks claimed one of the challenges is to understand local context, and advised delegates not to confuse leadership and behaviours with seniority. He said: “People like you are in there, demonstrating leadership, challenging what’s going on and making a difference. Many years ago it was easy to engage with communities because you could simply ask ‘Jeff’ the youth development worker. There was a network of council employees in and around towns, so intelligence was real. But cutbacks mean we’re no longer as connected as we need to be.”
Changing the system is about leadership, he said, and seeing people from all parts of the system working together and showing strong leadership is what will be enabling and facilitating. He encouraged delegates to get their local communities in a room with those delivering services and set a 100-day challenge to make positive changes.
Drowning detection technology
Afternoon breakout sessions included results from Right Directions’ accident management platform (STITCH) with insight into drowning detection technology, as well as advice on targeting under-represented groups and promoting effective inclusive delivery, leadership and good practice for disabled people and those with health conditions.
Who’s going to come?
To close the day, Inverclyde Leisure’s operations manager, Andrew Hetherington, paired up with Alliance Leisure’s managing director, Paul Cluett, to highlight how investment in their centres has moved away from traditional leisure to engage deeper into into the local communities.
Cluett urged operators not to think about ‘what they want in their centres’ but ‘why they want it’ and ‘who’s going to come’, and showcased the redevelopments, which included soft play, climbing, food and beverage, party rooms and upgraded reception areas, noting the massive impact they have had on visitor numbers, as well as income and NPS scores.