Linking leisure and health for long term gains

We love helping our clients to achieve their objectives, especially when that means transforming their facilities to deliver real impact to the health and wellbeing of local communities.

Abbeycroft Leisure is one such partner. Over the years, we’ve worked with the team to redevelop a number of the West Suffolk Council-owned leisure centres that they manage. True hubs for health and wellbeing, these centres now deliver modern leisure and fitness facilities the community wants along with the health programmes that people need, in partnership with NHS services.

“Our ethos is making a difference. That means supporting people to make a positive difference to their health and wellbeing. For some people that’s a gym membership and classes, for others it’s being able to watch their kids swim or having a chat in our café,” says Warren Smyth, Abbeycroft’s CEO.

Formed in 2004, the not-for-profit social enterprise manages facilities in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire on behalf of West Suffolk Council and Babergh District Council.

The ‘Self Centre’ at Haverhill Leisure Centre.

Abbeycroft has a dedicated health and wellbeing team and together with its local authority and health partners, is delivering programmes and services to improve the quality of life of local people. Examples include a cancer support programme to help keep male cancer patients active throughout their cancer journey, falls prevention programmes, cardiac rehabilitation and many more.

“One of the reasons we’ve been able to integrate with health is because of the excellent relationships we have with our local authority partners. They believe in what we are doing, are actively involved in the conversations we have with our health partners and are willing to invest in the facilities,” explains Smyth.

West Suffolk Council funded the £1.5m redevelopment of Haverhill Leisure Centre in 2019. We remodelled the venue to reflect the needs of the community with new health and fitness facilities in addition to the Self Centre Health and Wellbeing facility, which houses three studios offering holistic classes as well as five therapy rooms. The centre’s main occupier is Allied Health Professionals (Suffolk), an NHS commissioned provider of MSK physiotherapy services.

The council followed this with the £1.8m redevelopment of Newmarket Leisure Centre, which

The sensory room at Newmarket Leisure Centre.

we delivered in 2020 with a range of new facilities including a sensory room for those with learning difficulties, developmental disabilities or sensory processing impairments.

Most recently, the council funded the £2m upgrade of Brandon Leisure Centre which opened in 2021. Another one of our projects, Brandon Leisure and Health Hub includes a host of modern fitness facilities in addition to dedicated office space and clinic rooms for community healthcare professionals such as district nurses and physiotherapists.

Services now delivered at the centre include midwifery, mental health, paediatric speech and language, diabetic eye screening, abdominal aortic aneurysm screening and a specialist Parkinson’s clinic to name but a few.

“We made a conscious decision to align ourselves with systems partners and are active in a number of networks which bring

The dedicated clinic room at Brandon Leisure Centre.

together leaders in health, care, housing, employment etc to impact health and wellbeing outcomes for local people.”

Abbeycroft has proved itself a viable health delivery partner, but it’s taken a lot of work, says Smyth.

“We’ve spent a long time building relationships, learning from our health colleagues and how leisure can be integrated into health pathways. We don’t open conversations with how much money we need. Instead, we talk about how we can use our facilities and workforce to support them. The approach has held us in good stead.”

The impact of Abbeycroft’s approach is perhaps best summed up by its users, such as Marie Shepherd, a customer of Brandon Leisure and Health Hub. She says:

“I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and lupus and was referred to Abbeycroft, which has been an absolute game-changer for me. I would never have stepped foot in a gym before that referral, but working with the team at Brandon, who are so knowledgeable, has made a massive improvement in my symptoms and my quality of life.”

Improving the health and wellbeing of the nation is a key focus of government in addition to addressing health inequalities, as outlined in its recent Levelling Up White Paper. Building relationships with health delivery partners and investing in fit-for-purpose facilities which meet both the leisure and health needs of local people is the only way we can realistically address the public health challenges of our time and build a healthier future.

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