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Community Health: One for all

LiveWire and Warrington Borough Council’s neighbourhood hubs, which integrate health and fitness services, have boosted participation in physically inactive local populations. We talked to LiveWire’s Kevin Forester to find out why these hubs are so successful

Published in Sports Management 2019 issue 3
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Livewire’s hubs utilise Technogym equipment
Livewire’s hubs utilise Technogym equipment

Physical activity levels have been declining for some time. There are 11.3 million people in England who are classed as physically inactive, and as a result, inactivity is now the fourth largest cause of death and disability in the UK. Clearly, changes are needed to the ways we deliver fitness offerings.

Committed to supporting these changes is leisure organisation LiveWire. In partnership with the local authority commissioner, Warrington Borough Council, Livewire has developed neighbourhood hubs, which integrate medical and health services with fitness and leisure, making it easier for people in these communities to access services they need to lead a healthy lifestyle.

The barriers to participation mean the people who stand to benefit most are also those most likely to miss out. Transport, budget and a lack of support can keep already disenfranchised populations away from healthy living services and for this reason, Warrington’s neighbourhood hubs are located in the region’s most deprived areas.

LiveWire’s hubs aim to massively increase participation in local leisure and fitness services. Could this be a blueprint for the rest of the UK to follow?

“LiveWire’s vision has always been to prevent rather than cure, by facilitating collaboration between the health and leisure sectors,” says Kevin Forester, LiveWire’s commercial manager. “In 2012, Warrington Borough Council took the decision to outsource three separate services – leisure, library and some NHS lifestyle services – to help take forward their strategic aspirations around co-locating key community services based on local needs. LiveWire now operates 15 sites, including three neighbourhood hubs.”

LiveWire’s approach has produced some impressive statistics. Over the past three years, almost 10 million people have engaged with LiveWire’s services, with 40,000 people accessing group exercise, 2,000 people getting back into exercise and weight loss members losing a combined 453 stone in total. Forester explains why it works.

“Accessibility is a real barrier to participation,” he says. “The LiveWire hubs make it easier – and more enjoyable – for people to access fitness, health services and support. Our advisors help people to move between services, and there are clear pathways, so they can access a joined-up journey, which moves them towards improved health.”

“Advisors are also on hand to provide education and specialist advice on topics such as as smoking cessation or healthy weight programmes. We can then help people develop sustainable healthy habits.”

LiveWire’s integrated approach is about breaking down barriers, educating people with correct advice, and boosting mental and physical fitness through a combination of leisure facilities. At a time when cut-backs are threatening traditional community services, this cohesive approach ensures residents don’t miss out.

Improving quality of life
LiveWire currently operates 15 sites as part of its management agreement with Warrington Borough Council. This comprises 12 libraries, three traditional leisure sites and three integrated neighbourhood hubs.

LiveWire’s flagship hub, Orford Jubilee, opened in May 2012. The Orford area, together with several surrounding wards was ranked amongst the most deprived 10 per cent in England. The links between deprivation, poor health and reduced life expectancy are well documented. Orford was chosen for its potential to directly impact quality of life.

“Orford is a prime example of a deprived area,” says Forester. “This community was really not accessing any leisure services, for various reasons including public transport, local environment and finances.”

The new Orford hub has already tripled the footfall of the old leisure site, and total visitor numbers are up from 200,000 to 1.2 million per year. The venue has indoor and outdoor leisure facilities, including an 8-lane competition pool, skateboard park, and floodlit sports pitches, plus a gym and fitness centre, a library, three GP surgeries, conferencing facilities, and a dedicated Lifestyles team.

Despite such immense success, the LiveWire team could see even more ways to improve on the model.

“We learned some valuable lessons from Orford,” says Forester, “which we carried forward to our next neighbourhood hub site in Great Sankey. We didn’t feel Orford was quite as integrated as it could have been, so we made sure Great Sankey had clear pathways for access right through the facility.”

The plan worked – Forester says Great Sankey is a great example of how truly integrated services can improve the lives of local people: “We developed innovative ways to make everything more accessible at Great Sankey. The hub is a great place to come for a day out; families can bring their kids, and people can hang out for a bite to eat or to sit with a book after a workout.”

Great Sankey is a developing area with a fast-growing population. But it also has a large ageing population, so LiveWire developed Great Sankey’s hub to meet dementia-friendly guidelines, through design, signage, way-finding, services and timetabling. Thanks to this, Great Sankey is set to become the first public building in England to achieve the Gold Accreditation Certificate for Dementia Design.

The building is connected to a secondary school, proving that the same facilities can cater for the needs of both the younger and older members of the community.

“Our hubs are an innovative response to a very real social demand, and we hope other areas will be inspired to follow in our footsteps,” says Forester. “This is not about numbers and memberships. It’s about creating inviting, welcoming places to come and get healthier, with access to expert staff, a variety of services, and specialist programmes.”

Specifying kit for Community hubs

Since 2012, LiveWire has partnered with Technogym for leisure kit, wellness technology and interactive fitness services.

LiveWire’s leisure facilities utilise Technogym’s SKILL line, as well as Kinesis One for movement-based training. These are complemented by Excite Unity Cardio and a full range of strength equipment, to offer members an excellent training experience, whatever their goals.

“The kit looks good, and it’s accessible to anyone who might use our facilities,” says Forester. “Technogym’s kit and tech helps set us apart.”

Technogym also developed bespoke training packages, to help LiveWire promote the benefits of group training.

“We gave Technogym the challenge of helping us develop ‘fast classes’ suitable for our integrated neighbourhood hubs,” says Forester, “and they responded with enthusiasm. In fact, our Technogym training solutions were key to the successful launch of Great Sankey.”

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