Lonsdale and Gayton Swimming Pools, Derby
Lonsdale Swimming and Sport Trust limited are a company limited by guarantee. The trust was created to take over the management of Lonsdale Pool in 2007.
The trustees are volunteers. The majority were originally recruited from a swimming club who used the pool.
The pool is managed by Lonsdale Swimming and Sports Trading limited, an associated company of the trust.
- Lonsdale pool had been owned and managed by Derby University. In 2000 it appeared the University might sell the site. Derby Phoenix Swimming Club, who had used the pool, campaigned to save it and it was built into the local Derby Council plan as a Community Facility.
- As a condition of developing the land around the pool, the council imposed a section 106 requirement on the developers to support the running costs of the pool for 18years. The maximum payment was £87,000 in February 2006 and is index linked, so was approximately £100,000 in 2014.
The developers did not want to run the pool, but were willing to allow the volunteers to do so.
- The trustees brought a set of professional skills to the pool management and a dedication – which has resulted in the pool services being developed to generate more income.
- The trust has since successfully bid to run another local authority pool in Derby, Gayton pool, which is next to a school. It bid for this in 2010.
1. Description before transfer
Lonsdale pool had been owned and managed by Derby University. Derby Phoenix and Spondon Masters competitive swimming clubs used the pool. It is 25m long with a top depth of 3.25m.
Gayton Swimming Pool opened on January 4th 2011 and has always been managed by Lonsdale Swimming and Sport Trust ltd. It is used for a wide variety of lessons, courses and leisure sessions by local clubs, schools, private hirers and the public – it is open every day.
2. The catalyst for a transfer
In 2002 it appeared that Derby University might sell the site the pool occupied, although the University never actually said they would close the pool. Derby Phoenix swimming club, who used the pool for 17 hours per week, campaigned for the pool to be built into the local authority structure plan as a community facility. It would have been difficult for the club to find an alternative venue.
3. The process of asset transfer for Lonsdale Pool
When the university sold the site to developers in 2006 a condition of the planning consent was a section 106 requirement to maintain the pool for 18 years. This means the developers pay a contribution towards running costs of approximately £100,000 per year in 2014, which has been index linked from February 2006 and will continue up to 2025.
A group of volunteers from the Derby Phoenix swimming club formed themselves into a trust in 2006 - The Lonsdale Swimming and Sports Trust Limited. All the trustees and directors were, and remain, volunteers. The pools are run mostly by paid staff.
To operate the two pools there are now three different companies. The Lonsdale Swimming and Sports Trust Limited is a registered charity and limited by guarantee. Two other companies limited by guarantee run one of the other pools each; Lonsdale and Gayton. The only member of the companies running the pools is the trust. So although the companies are not owned by the Trust any profits are remitted up to the Trust for charitable purposes.
The director of the trust, Ian Cotter, who was also one of the two original trustees, was a member of the Derby Phoenix swimming club. He is an environmental consultant and has run his own business since 2007. His professional expertise has been particularly useful in understanding the technicalities of building systems, heating, lighting and electronics and being able to understand running a swimming pool. In this respect his knowledge complements that of the paid pool manager. He has continued in this role and retired several years ago, running his own business for a while, but winding it down to spend more time on the pool. He presently spends at least 3 days a week on pool related work. The other trustees were professional people.
Ian was a committee member in the swimming club with responsibility for Swim 21, the ASA quality system. Another trustee was the Chairman of Derby Phoenix swimming club. Others volunteers were external to the club, but some were associated through relatives; for example, a solicitor. One of the trustees was not involved in swimming, but a partner at a Chartered Accountants firm. This expertise was also helpful at the early development of the trust. Ian had some business contacts through networking for his then employer that helped recruit volunteers. The trustees decided that the pool operation was too big to be undertaken by the club alone as failure would probably mean the club being lost as well. Ian remained a club committee member for some years after the formation of the trust.
Present trustees include; an architect, who is helping with the project to develop a new pool; a former senior financial officer from Boots, who contributes to financial planning; a former head coach from the swimming club; a former member of the Amateur Swimming Association, and one of the current Regional Directors of the ASA. Thus the trustees, both at the instigation of the trust, and new members since 2007, bring a considerable range of professional skills.
4. The role of volunteers after transfer
There were 5 Trustees in 2007 and there are 6 now with only two of those being from the original 5. So volunteers continue as trustees, although there has been a turnover of people in these roles.
Overall there are 23 volunteers currently, mainly professional people. The pool publicity materials and web site are volunteer operated. Most of the other volunteers are involved with the new pool project.
5. Changes in the pool – post transfer
Both pools are open 70 – 80 hours per week. The combined turnover is about £500,000.
There are currently 40 paid staff covering both pools, working as pool managers, swimming instructors and lifeguards. They all have contracts with the individual operating companies. Many are students on casual contracts (though mainly with regular hours if they are reliable). Many work for other centres as well. The staff equate to about 13 full-time equivalents. As well as managers, lifeguards and teachers there are part time administrators; mainly for lessons; and a small finance team.
All staff who wished to join the pool from the one managed by Derby University did so on the basis of a new contract but with a continuous employment date carried forward from the University who supplied all the necessary data under TUPE if they were salaried. Most staff were on casual hours and not well paid. The only staff member who had transferred under University conditions was the pool Supervisor (Manager) who left voluntarily after a month. The replacement manager was taken on at a significantly higher salary. The trust took the view that they would pay staff slightly above the market rate to ensure they attracted good staff.
Post transfer the Lonsdale pool greatly increased its swimming lessons for children; as none had been operated by pool staff on behalf of the University; to approximately 600 children per week now. This contributed considerable income. Before transfer the pool had sessions for university staff and students, and would hire the pool out to other groups – such as the swimming club and private lesson providers.
Costs have been reduced – especially as the specialist contributions made by volunteers would be expensive if professionals had to be employed. Ian estimates he has contributed 8-10,000 hours since he started as a volunteer. He continues to contribute about 3 days a week.
The trust successfully bid competitively for a contract to operate the Gayton pool, which was newly opened in 2011 to replace an old facility. It is essentially a school facility, as it is adjacent to a school.
Ian has continued to recruit new trustees to take specialist functions. These include a project manager, a quantity surveyor, a previous leisure centre manager from an adjacent authority, an ex-banker and finance director of a company; as well as other volunteers working on the web site, marketing, publicity and volunteer management. The aim is to recruit volunteers to do as many of the specialist roles as possible, although it is accepted that if the volunteers can’t do something professionals will need to be used. The balance between volunteers and professionals is a challenge as sometimes more professional expertise might help the pool run more effectively and generate more income, but this has to be balanced against the cost of paying for it.
Since 2007 the trust has not received any direct support from the local authority apart from the statutory 80% rates reduction.
The major challenge is that the section 106 support for the Lonsdale pool expires in 2025 so the trust is working with the City Council to build a new facility. It aims to build this before Lonsdale Pool closes, and thus provide continuity of swimming provision [see East Midlands Business Link 23/3/15]. The new facility will need a different financial model as it will no longer have the subsidy provided by the section 106 agreement although it would be able to have the financial advantages provide by trust status. This challenge of developing something new is a motivation to the volunteers and different to that of maintaining a stable facility.
The volunteers are mainly involved with the new pool project. Ian is the only executive volunteer with regular contact with the managers and staff. The staff are self-sufficient and run things without many issues but investments, staffing and budgetary control do need regular input. One volunteer is an accountant who has overseen the set-up of the financial systems and budgets both for the new pool and the running of the existing pools and thus excellent management accounts are examined every month by the Trustees. The accounting and budgeting is the key stone of the operations. There is a paid finance team of 2 with one a qualified accountant working a total of 16 hours a week so the normal processes are driven by paid staff. A new pool project team of 9 has been built up over the past few years with most of the skills that a client looking to procure and run a building project would need. Three of this team are trustees.
There are fall- back cover arrangements for some volunteers but they are mostly of a holding nature until a replacement can be found. There are no formal deputy arrangements. They could be covered by paid consultants but the funds would not last long.
Volunteers put in the effort they are able to and are motivated by a dedication to the cause, so do what is necessary. There is an expectation that a decision will be taken over the new pool before too long and if it proves non-viable some volunteers may resign. The future of the Trust running existing pools may then be in jeopardy as the long term future would probably be unsustainable.
6. Future plans
The long-term aim is to achieve economic sustainability and also sustainability of volunteers. Ideally a board of trustees would meet once a month, visit the pool once in a while and add strategic direction. A professional management team would run the pool almost entirely with some direction from the trustees. The strategic level and budgets would be with the trustees and the operational side with the professionals. That’s not how the pool is managed at present.
The Lonsdale pool is still owned by the site developers: there are conflicting views of what happens when the Section 106 requirement runs out or is replaced with a new pool in terms of the ownership of the site.
The expectation is that a new facility will be sustainable in the long-term on a financial level and will allow for the executive role to be taken over by a General Manager. Projected business plans show it can operate at better than break even on a consistent basis and would be able to support the extra staff costs.
7. The additional contribution of volunteers
- The trustees bring a wide range of specialist skills.
- The volunteers bring a commitment to the pool. They feel connected to it.The volunteers also feel a connection with the long-term paid staff. There is a shared affiliation between many of the staff and the Derby Phoenix Club. Many staff were club members, supporters, coaches, parents and as such have an interest in trying to ensure that the Club is able to continue and thrive. The Derby Phoenix club would probably close if the Lonsdale pool closed as this is the location of most water time. Recruitment of new staff is from the club where possible.
- The trust could not afford to employ paid staff to develop the new pool project: it is a labour of love! The volunteers bring multiple skills and mutual support processes from mainly retired professionals who have been in business.
8. Important success factors
- The availability of a core of volunteers with considerable skills, experience and confidence from the swimming club members. A considerable pool of social capital.
- The support of the local authority in incorporating the Derby University pool provision into its plan for community provision when closure was a possibility.
- The application of a section 106 planning application on the site developers which has provided a subsidy for the pool running costs.
- The leadership of the trust Chairman who has been continually involved and has been able to recruit new trustees by targeting people with specific skills. He had his own business for a while, but retired to allow more time for the pool.
- The feeling of community, with the continuation of the competitive club swimming as the underlying reason for volunteers being involved. This has provided a driver.
9. Development of the new pool
- There is a funding plan in place but until there is an agreed site to build on the trust can’t test the plan. It is highly unlikely that anyone will financially support the existing Lonsdale pool that only covers 70% of its costs. Partnerships have been considered but probably with business expansion funds. The important factor for the trust is long term sustainability. If the trust could find a partner who would pay them to operate the service they want to see then it would be examined. The trust is aiming to be able to support local swimming and sport financially in the future. It does not currently get any grant funding direct from the local authority
- The Lonsdale pool is not directly funded by the local authority so it is unaffected by budget cuts. The trust do not expect the local authority to provide any revenue funding for a new pool.
Lonsdale steps up search to keep Derby swimming: East Midlands Business Link 23/3/15
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