Serco Leisure is one of the UK’s leading providers of leisure services, managing gyms and swimming pools from Bangor in Northern Ireland to the Channel Island of Jersey. It also manages cycle hire schemes in London and Edinburgh.
For those that don’t know, Serco Leisure are the people who manage facilities such as the iconic Stoke Mandeville Stadium, world-renowned national sports centres Bisham Abbey and Lilleshall, together with over 60 community leisure facilities on behalf of local authority and leisure trust clients.
Like all leisure operators, its day-to-day work has taken a back seat since the coronavirus hit, and now the company, its facilities and its employees find themselves part of the battle against COVID-19.
A key element of the battle against COVID-19 are the centres set up to get key workers tested and back into the workforce. Serco teams, from across the wider Serco Group including the Leisure business, now manage the site facilities at COVID-19 Test Centres in various UK locations, including Chessington, Nottingham, Belfast. Plymouth, Birmingham, Londonderry and Doncaster. Working closely in partnership with the Department of Health and Social Care, Serco will have set up and be operating 15 facilities by the end of April 2020.
One example of how the company has utilised teams from across its business can be found in Nottingham, where the test centre has benefitted from colleagues coming from Serco Leisure’s Mansfield contract and from the National Water Sports Centre, which is managed by the operator.
In Northern Ireland, Chris Kelly, General Manager at Serco Leisure’s Bangor Aurora site was one of those who has taken on a new role. He’s currently a COVID Regional Site Manager Northern Ireland, part of a team of people who have set up centres in three locations in the country: Derry, Belfast and Craigavon.
“I was really pleased to be asked to do this. I’m working with people I know already from across the Ards & North Down contract, which is great, but I’m also working with teams from other organisations. This project has all been about our ability to adapt quickly to different ways of working and be flexible in the way we work. Being part of the senior team at a huge centre like the Aurora, with all the challenges that brings, provided me with many of the skills needed for a project like this, but it’s still been a learning curve.
“I’m looking forward to the day we open our sites again, but this is what I do now so I’m putting everything I’ve got into it.”
Serco Leisure employees have also been seconded directly into Serco teams supporting the NHS, providing vital support services at hospitals backing up the heroic efforts of the clinical teams. A newly employed leisure assistant at Serco leisure’s huge Basingstoke sports and fitness complex, the Aquadrome was one of those who volunteered to become a Ward Host at Southampton Hospital. Harvey Read’s just 22 and had never lived away from the family home, but with his mum Sharon being in a high risk group, he knew that working at the hospital could put her in danger, so he found alternative temporary accommodation.
“I really wanted to help out in some way. Seeing the news everyday and hearing about how hard the nurses and other staff were working, I knew this was something I wanted to be involved in. The teams at the hospital have been so welcoming and it’s been humbling working alongside these people.”
Kieron Pascoe usually a lifeguard at Serco Leisure’s Tadley Heath & Fitness facility is also working at Southampton Hospital as a Ward Host.
“I put my name forward as I didn’t want to be stuck in the house doing nothing. I wanted to help. I’m not going to lie, I was a bit nervous on my first day, but the NHS team explained everything clearly and put my mind at ease. We’ve got all the PPE we need, and while I don’t go into the COVID ward, I am preparing food and drinks for people in there, so it feels like I’m really helping those patients.”
Delivering medicines to those in need
In West Lancashire, where Serco Leisure manages a number of facilities on behalf of the local Leisure Community Trust for the local authority client, one of its sites, Burscough Racquet and Fitness Centre has been repurposed into a food supplies hub. Contract Manager for the region Mark Snaylam has been tasked with setting up and organising the hub. In addition, the leisure team are supporting the NHS in distributing medicines to the shielded residents across West Lancashire from local pharmacies. This is a 7 day a week service and is helping those most in need to stay healthy.
“We’ve got 24 Serco Leisure employees who have volunteered to make essential deliveries to people in the area who had run out of vital medicines. The team worked the recent Easter bank holiday as well as providing an out of hours service.”
One of the volunteers delivering these medical supplies is Ann Gibson, who along with husband John has worked at Burscough for over 20 years.
“The first delivery we did was a little nerve wracking. The person we took the medicine to was showing symptoms of the virus, and even though we were wearing all the provided PPE it was difficult not to be a little concerned. We’d been given excellent training on exactly what we needed to do, but I was still nervous.
“However, when you meet people, who may have been isolating for months, and they’re so grateful, so thankful that they haven’t been forgotten, it just makes you feel humbled. It makes you feel proud to be helping out in some way. They often want to have a chat, as they might not have spoken to someone for days. We obey the distancing guidelines, but I’m happy to chat when I can. They’re such lovely people.
“The system set up to manage the whole process is brilliant, so well organised and a credit to the council and the pharmacies we’re working with.
“With John and I having worked at Burscough for so long, it’s been difficult not getting that social interaction. It’s a small facility but it’s a very friendly one, where people feel part of something. I can’t wait to get back in there when we re-open, but until then we’ll carry on doing what we can to help people in the area.”
The MD’s view
Serco Leisure’s Managing Director is Simon Bailey.
“Our teams have stepped up in the fight against COVID-19. Working with colleagues from across the wider Serco Group and with support from various external stakeholders, we’ve been part of some important projects in the battle against this pandemic. From the repurposing of the accommodation and meeting room blocks at the Stoke Mandeville Stadium into a care centre for vulnerable citizens to multiple test centre projects, plus the individuals who are supporting in hospitals and community hubs. The way my teams have adapted, got stuck in and gone out of their way to help is something I’m very proud of.
“In terms of the future for Serco Leisure and the industry as a whole, the next six months are going to be critical. It’s very difficult to predict when gyms and swimming pools will allowed to open again but, working with my senior management colleagues, we’re developing our re-opening plans. When we’re given the green light, we need to be ready to mobilise quickly to get our sites safely up and running. I’m confident we’ll be up to the task.
“How we adapt, once open, to customers potential new expectations, reassuring them that gyms and pools are safe places to visit, winning back ex-members who have become accustomed to home workouts, or doing more outdoors, these and many other challenges will be the ones we face.
“Before the shutdown, our teams had adapted quickly to new guidelines around hygiene and social distancing. It seems clear that this way of operating at leisure facilities will become the new normal for the foreseeable future. I’m confident my teams will be ready to again adapt to whatever new processes are put in place to ensure the safety and enjoyment of the people using our facilities.”