We need to shift the elephant in the room – and fast!

The phrase ‘elephant in the room’ sprang to mind when I attended Elevate 2023, the leading trade show in the UK focused on fitness, sport, and physical activity.

I’ve been in post as GM Active’s Head of Business Operations and Company Secretary for around 15 months now and as an industry I’ve heard lots of talk about how we need to transform our focus and terminology to reflect the much sought-after sector shift towards what we generally call ‘health’.

Our Pivot to Active Wellbeing project is well underway, and we continue to talk about connecting with health as part of the solution for the future of leisure (although it’s broadly accepted we need to stop using this word in favour of health, wellbeing and/or wellness).

This ‘pivot’ will enable the use of public sector leisure to support health with the offers available at 99 GM Active centres, or out in our communities utilising our coalition of 3,500 staff.

However, in those 15 months there’s only been a handful of occasions when ‘leisure’ and ‘health’ have been in the same room. The exceptions to this state of affairs have been our Prehab4Cancer model, and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) Falls Collaborative – where we’ve talked about strength and balance programmes that public sector leisure can provide as part of a falls prevention solution.

Elephant Quote


New to my role, I attended my first Elevate conference last year when the notion of ‘pivot’ was starting to gain momentum with lots of conversations taking place about connecting with health.

Twelve months later, a less ‘green’ version of Jon Keating was invited to lead a couple of panel discussions as part of Elevate 2023. I enjoyed the experience, the audience had certainly swelled and the noise around ‘pivot’ and connecting with health had grown significantly.

And here’s the elephant in the room – quite literally. Yes, ‘leisure’ was there; but where was ‘health’?

In fact, one of my panel members declared she was leaving London and heading straight back to Manchester to participate in another panel session at a health conference. I couldn’t help thinking why these events are not connected.

‘Pivot’ simply cannot happen without health partners being in the room. The whole ecosystem around Greater Manchester has taken almost a decade to evolve, so if we are to make an impact and a difference these connections need to be developed and amplified at the earliest opportunity.

I maybe seeing this simplistically, but it seems logical to me that an event focused on community health, preventing long-term health conditions, and supporting the NHS should be connected with the public sector leisure and fitness sector.

We need to broker these new relationships and partnerships. We need people in the same space and not one event happening in London whilst the other takes place in Manchester.

I really enjoyed this year’s Elevate and found time to discuss with Elevate Director Lucy Findlay what I saw as the next steps required and for ‘pivot’ to actually be realised.

On arrival at the Excel centre, I did have a wry smile to myself. Opposite the Elevate conference on the other side of the hall was a conference dedicated to renewable energ, one of our sector’s biggest challenges right now. Unsustainable energy costs are a reason for a number site closures (including in Greater Manchester). Is this another example of more connections being required?

But back to the pivot. Everyone in the room was clearly on board with the notion pivoting for the purpose of both preventative and curative solutions that our sector can (and already is on a small scale) able to provide. But we’re preaching to the converted, the majority of the event is from the same sector. I strongly believe in order to change the dial we need ‘health’ in the room.

Whilst I’m not an event organiser, and as the only employee of GM Active, I cannot put my head above the parapet to organise such an event.

But I do call on those who can challenge the status quo to look for collaborative event opportunities. My boss, GM Active Andy King, has said much the same in a recent LinkedIn post and many seem to agree. But the clock is already ticking.

I’ve benefitted hugely in relation to personal development, education and making connections at many national events over the last 15 months but I do wonder if they could be even more beneficial by having the right collaborations and connections.

My fear is without this that any conference in 2024 will see the same audience agreeing the same principles but with no tangible progress or actions taking place.

This is not a criticism, but rather my observations of improving future events, and ensuring the right relationships and partnerships can continue to grow. We need to shift the elephant – and fast!

From tiny acorns grow mighty oak trees!

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