Gareth Kirk is NI Regional Director of Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) which operates all of Belfast City Council owned leisure centres and swimming pools.
It is almost impossible these days to walk down the street without seeing a gym or an advert for one. The fitness industry is responding to a growing demand for high-quality, accessible gyms, swimming pools and leisure centres. A growing number of people have a regular paid- for gym membership and are proactive about maintaining their physical health through regular activity.
A recent report by industry experts Leisure DB on the state of the fitness industry shows that it is stronger than ever before with increases in members, gyms creating greater market value. Belfast is demonstrating huge growth in this sector, both in private sector and publicly owned and operated gyms. Public sector gyms are stabilising and recording growth for the first time in three years, which is being attributed to an increase in the use of new technologies that we have invested heavily in at GLL. Things like customer self-service stations and the removal of cash environments.
GLL runs 14 of the Belfast City Council owned leisure centres, seven of which have their own swimming pools. As the operator, our job is to fulfil the aspirations set out in the Belfast Agenda to get more people, more active, more often and to create leisure centres of excellence, where the most modern gym facilities are offered at a price point that is affordable for everyone.
Since we took over the operation of Belfast city’s leisure facilities, we have seen a continuous increase in membership rates by 7% year on year which is above the average rate of growth found in our GB counterparts. In addition, there has been a 24% increase in people taking up swimming lessons in the city, compared to an average of 11% in GB. Factors that have helped make this a success include ensuring the price of an adult swim is right (at £3.50 we are cheaper than the UK average and NI average). This is set to grow with six new pools due to open in the city over the next year.
This is indicative of a huge level of investment. Our partner, Belfast City Council is rolling out a major leisure transformation programme worth £105 million that will regenerate the leisure estate and make Belfast one of the best served cities in terms of leisure facilities. The ambitious Leisure Transformation Programme is a city-wide investment, on a scale you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else. It consolidates a huge leisure portfolio, ensuring the estate remains fit for purpose for the many generations of Belfast citizens who wish to enjoy it.
The first leisure centre to complete and open under this leisure transformation programme was Olympia in 2017. This investment has not been in vain, with Olympia recently being recognised as the best leisure centre and spa in Northern Ireland and Wales by ukactive.
The next three centres to follow in this leisure transformation programme will be Lisnasharragh (formerly the Robinson Centre) - to be completed in the autumn of this year, and then both Brook and Andersonstown in 2020.
The driving force behind this investment is to get more people using local leisure centres and we are already greatly encouraged by early results we are seeing across Belfast.