Change is not easy to achieve. It takes time, it takes patience, and, above all, it needs buy-in from those who will make the difference.
Those words very much sum up our Pivot to Active Wellbeing and its current status, writes Jon Keating, GM Active Head of Business Operations and Company Secretary.
If you’re late to the party, a quick synopsis: at the beginning of 2023 we began our Pivot to Active Wellbeing project across Greater Manchester, but in truth our ‘pivot’ began well before then.
Ultimately, the ‘pivot’ is about a shift of focus for public sector leisure, it’s about reimagining what’s possible to enable our facilities, our services, our people to collectively become a trusted partner with others across the system to deliver physical activities to benefit population health for all.
I’ve already written about the need to move the elephant in the room in order to achieve a coming together of our own sector and colleagues in healthcare, a challenge championed by Dr Kristen Hollands of our Active Academic Partnership with Salford University, who provides a compelling argument that ‘team science’ can resolve the pivot’s echo chambers.
Here at GM Active, a collective of 12 leisure trusts across Greater Manchester that manage the majority of publicly owned leisure and physical activity assets on behalf of the 10 local authorities, the first impact has been to revise our vision.
Simply put, we exist to ‘collectively improve the health of the population across Greater Manchester’.
We must say thanks to all 10 local authorities, Sport England and GM Moving for the resources that allows this project to come to fruition.
Over 10 months, we’ve worked with consultancy partner SLC to work out the next stage of our adventure and we thank them for all the outputs agreed and received. We’re now into a space where Sport England, GM Moving and GM Active can decide on our next steps with this section of the project.
Energy benchmarking, facility designs (new and retrofit options), collaboration opportunities and much more are all now within our grasp to shape decisions and guide future strategic direction.
But what’s really clear is that our work with another pivot partner, Future Fit, to educate and upskill our workforce must be a long-term commitment.
Future Fit’s partnership manifests itself as our Transformational Leaders Programme (TLP), a training programme to develop our leadership skills and capabilities in order to achieve our vision.
What has become abundantly clear is the need for the full coalition of our collective’s 3,500 staff – and wider partners – across GM to understand, support and commit to the vision too.
I’m reminded of the famous quote about a cleaner at NASA: “What’s your job?” I’m helping to put a man on the moon!”
That mindset is what we need from everyone within our collective – to live and breathe that they are ‘helping to improve population health across Greater Manchester’ regardless of their role or title.
We have created and launched a digital induction, which is our first step in making that happen. In addition, our Aspiring Managers programme for shift supervisors, duty managers and those at site level are really important to help bring those changes within our centres and local place-based teams.
Our people are clearly at the heart of our vision.
University of Salford continue to work with us, to build the academic research and rigour we need to support the reimagining of our services. This section of the project for us is known as the Active Academic Partnership or AAP.
Arguably, none of what we are proposing here is particularly new. We’ve talked for years about the wonder drug that is physical activity and movement (even more so post-pandemic and its relevance not only to physical health, but to mental health too), but in reality, we’re trying to accelerate that shift, and redefine our purpose.
We need to stop using the word ‘leisure’ and move to ‘health’, ‘wellness’ and ‘wellbeing’ to become that trusted partner to the preventative health landscape. We need to encourage everyone to move more by listening to our communities, breaking down inequalities and ensuring we don’t take a field of dreams (build it and they will come) approach, but co-design programmes and services with and for the community.
Our reimagining of what our sector can achieve is nicely summarised in two bullet points and both are within our gift:
We have some strong case studies that University of Salford continue to look at in greater depth:
These give us essential insight of how to achieve successful programmes and services, providing clinical data and evidence along the way.
The word data popped up for the first time there. Data and insight is key to our pivot programme; hence our Digital Working Group has been reshaped and renamed recently to become our Data and Insight Group – a small and subtle change but important, nonetheless.
We know from AAP, and some of the other research already conducted, that the idea of our vision is broadly well accepted by our workforce coalition. However, there are some distinctive concerns around capacity and capability of our workforce.
Once again, it comes back to our people. Our investment in our people becomes a vital facilitator in making the vision a reality.
Our journey is still in its infancy, but our project partners SLC, Future Fit and University of Salford help us to learn and evolve. Our changes may be small and subtle for now, but we know the bigger changes and further work lay just around the corner.
We know that by reimagining our sector’s offer, purpose and language we can – and will – be in a strong place to be a trusted partner for preventative health and show we can support with curative services too.
I’ll finish with some key words that become more prevalent to us every day. Data, insight, people, partnerships, co-design, community, inclusive, equity and more besides.
This is evolution not revolution, but evolution takes time. But by building our library of resources and evidence we hope to accelerate that evolution and the reimagining public sector leisure services across Greater Manchester.