Alliance Leisure celebrates its 20th birthday

This month, Alliance Leisure celebrates its 20th birthday. Here, Founder and CEO, Sarah Watts reflects on the company’s journey to becoming one of the UK’s leading leisure development specialists.

How did ALS get started?

Alliance Leisure Services was created after I realised that the there was a huge need for private sector investment into public sector facilities to enable them to compete with the newly emerging private sector health and fitness facilities.  It was at a time, when public sector stock had received little or no investment, so just couldn’t compete, provision was outdated and focused on sport rather than wellness and activity concepts. To bring such a concept to market, I partnered with somebody who had incredible experience in the financial sector and together we created a solution that addressed this market need.

Who was your first development contract with and what was the scope of works?

Hull City Council. In early 2000 Hull City Council decided to sell the telephone exchange which served Kingston Upon Hull. Part of the sale value, approximately £1 million was earmarked for the development of three community gyms but, at the last minute, the resource was reallocated. Life Fitness, the supplier who had been appointed to kit out the promised gyms were understandably disappointed and contacted me, having heard about our finance model.

Alliance Leisure Services provided the initial investment to create the three community gyms, supplied by Life Fitness, and this marked the start of a valued two year relationship, where Alliance Leisure Services worked exclusively with Life Fitness, providing a funding solution to local authorities looking to create or upgrade workout spaces. After this period, Alliance Leisure Services became independent, recognising that many clients preferred to make their own equipment choices. The rest, as they say, is history!

What challenges did you face in these early days and how did you overcome them?

Our finance product started to lose its appeal because it was unable to compete against a newly created Public Loan fund (PWLB) which offered incredibly low interest rates.

In response to these changes in market conditions, we began to position the company more as a development partner, helping local authorities present strong cases for leisure investment based on the far-reaching community benefits in terms of social engagement, cohesion, health and wellbeing.

We also focused on the potential to turn money pits into income generators, using a model which mitigated risk and created financial sustainability.

Have there been any ‘game changers’ or ‘Eureka moments’ in the ALS history

Being appointed as Leisure Development Partner by Denbighshire District Council on the UK Leisure Framework in 2017 has been hugely transformative. Of course, if we did not deliver great value and great service, the Framework would be of no value, but what it has enabled is for clients to appoint us to projects seamlessly. This speeds up the process, allowing clients to benefit from revenue increases much more quickly.

Are there any developments you are most proud of? If so, what makes them special?

Pendle Spa. This was a game changer for us. Back in 2006 we were commissioned by Pendle Leisure Trust to develop a public-sector spa facility in Nelson, an area of high deprivation. Such a project had never been undertaken before and was viewed by many as high risk. The project was an overwhelming success. The leisure industry and local authority interest around this project really helped to put Alliance Leisure Services on the map and enabled us to showcase what could be achieved by stepping outside of the box.

More recently, the development of SC2 in Rhyl. The £17 million visitor attraction opened in April 2019 and is expected to attract more than 350,000 visitors per annum.

Also, the success of our client support services, now rebranded TA6. In 2009 we appointed Paul Woodford to drive this side of the business. Woody has built an incredible team of talent to help leisure operators maximise revenue opportunities. Originally introduced to support our development clients, TA6 now also provides its services independently of Alliance Leisure Services.

What has been the most challenging/toughest part of the ALS story and how did you overcome this?

Balancing running a business and being a mum. This is a challenge for any working mum and my own experience has helped me to become a better manager. It is hugely important to me that the team feel supported both at work and at home. Alliance Leisure Services adopts a very flexible approach to work, allowing individuals to manage their own diaries to fulfil personal and work commitments. I have always found that if you give a little you get more in return. Most of our senior team have been with us for over a decade and I like to think this is because they regard us as a fair and flexible employer.

Can you give an indication of the investment value in build projects ALS has delivered to date?

£175 million

How many people does ALS employ today?

30 people and growing

Is Brexit impacting your business? If so, how?

Not yet. Alliance Leisure Services continues to enjoy year on year growth. That’s not to say that I don’t foresee challenges ahead. A withdrawal from the EU could have a significant impact on the UK labour market and the cost of build materials. Time will tell.

What are your ambitions for the future of ALS?

To continue to work with local authorities to deliver inspiring, innovative activity hubs which truly engage the communities they serve. Quality leisure provision, although still not mandatory, can have such a huge impact on a community from an economic, health and social perspective and we are working to evidence the ROI on our development projects based on much wider objectives than pure finance.

I also want to maintain year on year financial growth, creating a stable, challenging and fulfilling environment for our team.

Are leisure operators today more or less likely to be investing in their leisure stock than those managing facilities 10 or 20 years ago?

More likely. Our estimated turnover for this current financial year is around 10 times the turnover of just 9 years ago. This reflects the market’s general acceptance of a need to reimagine community leisure provision and a recognition of the far reaching ROI well placed investment can deliver

How bright is the future for our sector moving forwards?

The future is looking positive. The recent Leisure Database State of The Industry Report is quoting a record sector value of £5bn, plus growth in membership, number of facilities and market penetration.

The budget gym sector continues to drive investment in the public sector. Leisure centres are having to compete for members against high quality, affordable, private sector providers which is forcing leisure centre to create new and unique revenue generating opportunities. As a result, we are developing more and more family entertainment hubs which employ technological innovations to stimulate and motivate all ages to be more physically active.

The government agenda is also, finally, recognising the important role leisure facilities can play in the health and wellbeing of the nation. As the national health strategy moves closer to ‘prevention rather than cure’, local authorities will be under pressure to provide fit for purpose facilities capable to work on collaboration with health care service providers.

If you could go back and give advice to yourself as you started on this journey, what would it be?

Tricky one. I have made plenty of mistakes but the learning from each of them have contributed to placing Alliance Leisure Services where it is today so I’m not sure I would want to skip any of them. Everything happens for a reason and challenging times make us stronger. It’s been an incredible journey. I guess, if anything I would say ‘be brave and believe in yourself.’

In a nutshell, what has been the secret of ALS’s success?

Building an amazing team. I feel incredibly fortunate to have cultivated such a dedicated, hard-working team of individuals. Ultimately, we sell concepts and turn them into reality. This takes skill, passion and total belief that we can deliver what we promise.

On a daily basis the team inspire me. I am incredibly proud of all of them.

What will the leisure centre of tomorrow look like and how far away is tomorrow?

Traditional sports such as badminton, volleyball and basketball will be decanted to education and community sports clubs. This will leave leisure centres to  evolve more into family entertainment hubs. Co-located services such as cinemas and libraries will become totally integrated with a range of physical activity facilities from swimming pools to fitness spaces, from adventure parks to climbing zones.

Any plans to retire?!

Not yet. This is a truly exciting time to be involved in leisure development and I’m not getting off the bus just yet.

Haverhill Leisure Centre Transformation Punches Above its Weight

Abbeycroft Leisure, working in Partnership with Alliance Leisure, has achieved an incredible leisure centre makeover in Suffolk. The seven month transformation project has seen a tired and under-used facility reworked into a modern activity hub, all within the existing footprint, all within a budget of £1.5 million, provided by West Suffolk Council.

“The images speak for themselves”, says Tom Fairey, Senior Business Development Manager and project lead at Alliance Leisure. “Working closely with Abbeycroft Leisure and West Suffolk Council we have created a vibrant, modern environment which caters for the whole community and stands out as one of the county’s leading leisure destinations.”

Forming part of West Suffolk Council’s Indoor Sports Facility Strategy, 2015-2031, the investment has been provided to create a resilient, healthy and active community whilst also providing opportunities for economic growth. The project was managed by Alliance Leisure and procured through the UK Leisure Framework.

Tom Fairey, continues: “It is incredible what has been achieved through a reallocation of space across two floors of the 3,097 square foot building. We retained 2-courts in the sports hall and the rest of the space – equivalent to 3 courts, has been remodelled to create a vibrant XHeight Adventure Climbing facility and soft play zone like nothing else available locally. The community was lacking a facility where families could enjoy time together. This development has successfully addressed this issue.”

The development works have also incorporated the Self Centre Health and Wellbeing facility. This area is served by its own, dedicated waiting space and houses three studios, used mainly for holistic classes such as Pilates and Yoga, plus 5 therapy rooms. The facility’s main occupier is Allied Health Professionals (Suffolk) who are the NHS commissioned provider of MSK physiotherapy services. In addition to enhancing the community wellness offer, this provides a rental opportunity for Abbeycroft Leisure, creating a consistent, new, revenue stream.

The gym has been relocated, extended and kitted out with Matrix Fitness equipment plus a large, new studio space has been created which can be separated into two by a central, sliding wall. Space previously dedicated to two under-used squash courts has been reallocated to house a dedicated group cycle studio and modern ‘hot desk’ office space for staff.

Male and female changing rooms have been completely renovated to create a modern ‘changing village’ and a Paddy and Scott café has been incorporated to create a social hub where families and individuals can enjoy a wide selection of quality food and beverages.

Speaking of the development, Warren Smyth, CEO Abbeycroft Leisure, says: “The leisure centre has been completely remodelled to reflect the needs of our modern day community. Since the development completed in January, we have attracted a 32% increase in footfall and revenue is up 16 per cent for the first quarter. We are also seeing uptake from a much wider demographic.

“Based on our experience, I would encourage any Local Authority with an ageing leisure stock to explore opportunities. Tired facilities with a disconnect to the community are a huge drain on already limited resource but we have proved, even with limited capital investment, it is possible to create a sustainable environment which reengages the community and delivers economic, health and social benefits.

“In these times of austerity, we need to look for creative ways to better serve our communities and, working with Alliance Leisure and West Suffolk Council, this is exactly what we have done here.”

tmactive Larkfield project nominated for Community Leisure UK Awards 2019

We are delighted to hear that tmactive are finalists in the Community Leisure UK Awards 2019.  Nominated in the Capital Investment category for the recent Development Project at Larkfield Leisure Centre delivered in partnership with Alliance Leisure, the Community Leisure UK awards aim to recognise, showcase and honour the extraordinary impact of public leisure and cultural services throughout England, Scotland and Wales.

The £1 million redevelopment project was funded entirely by tmactive, with a further £200,000 provided by Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council for replacement gym equipment.

The two phased project took 9 months to complete and included building two new group exercise studios and Kent’s first Immersive Spin Studio, providing local people with over 150 group exercises classes to choose from each week.

During Phase 2 of the project, the Gym was extended and redesigned to include brand new market-leading Technogym cardiovascular and resistance equipment which incorporates new Unity screens, providing touch ID, personalization, exercise programming and customer contact software. In addition, a brand new dedicated Functional Training Area was added, complete with the UK’s largest 12 station Outrace Rig that offers scheduled group HIIT and HIIT Circuit classes.

Martin Guyton, tmactive’s Chief Executive is extremely pleased to be nominated for the award: “This was the largest single investment we have made into one our centres since we took over the management from the Borough Council five years ago. Our customers told us they wanted more exercise classes as well as a bigger and better gym, and that’s what we delivered.”

We wish tmactive luck for the award!

Alliance Leisure Service Appoints Business Development Manager to Drive Growth

Alliance Leisure Services (ALS) drives growth in the North with the promotion of Tom Gardner to the Business Development team. With seven years’ experience within ALS, Tom has led the National Impact Sales Team whilst acting as a Strategic Partnership Manager to clients across the UK.

The new role sees Gardner move seamlessly from ALS’s client support division, TA6, to business development, where he will help support and grow ALS’s portfolio of public sector partners with a view to regenerating leisure provision in the North of the UK. The varied role will see him work with ALS clients to deliver business planning, feasibility studies as well as the design, build and delivery of leisure facilities.

James Foley, Commercial Director of Alliance, said: “We are delighted to welcome Tom to the Business Development team to help drive our activity in the region. Tom has considerable experience of the client support side of the business, so moving into business development is a natural next step for him and will help us accelerate our growth in the North of England and Scotland.”

Tom Gardner comments: “I am hugely grateful for the opportunities that working for such a progressive company as Alliance has provided me. I have fulfilled a variety of roles, thoroughly enjoying each challenge and look forward to developing further in the Business Development team. This is an exciting avenue for me. I am hugely passionate about our sector, improving the health of our nation and being able to assist in the development of leisure provision is, for me, something to be proud of.”

Haverhill Transformation Completed

Alliance Leisure have successfully completed a £1.5m transformation of Haverhill Leisure Centre for West Suffolk Council and Abbeycroft Leisure.  The project has already been hailed a huge success, delivered on time and within budget via the UK Leisure Framework.

New users of all ages packed out the new facilities on opening weekend. The centre remained open to the public throughout the 7 month build project which included:

  • XHeight Adventure Climbing
  • Soft Play
  • Indoor Parkour
  • new enlarged Gym
  • Studios
  • Changing Rooms
  • Paddy & Scott’s café
  • Self-Centre Health & Wellbeing facility, including 3 x Studios and 7 x Treatment Rooms
  • New Reception & circulation areas
  • New Sports Hall floor for the local school!


Watch this space for more photos of this outstanding development, and the full story…

Play Hub and Cycle Studio Opens in Carmarthenshire

In a bid to get more children and adults more active, Carmarthenshire County Council has invested almost half a million pounds to reinvigorate its leisure provision and create new inspiring spaces for all age groups.

Obesity is a huge problem in Wales . According to the National Survey of Wales (2016-2017), 59 per cent of adults are overweight and 23 per cent are obese. The Child Measurement Programme also reports 26 per cent of reception aged children are obese compared to 22 per cent in England.

Councillor Peter Hughes-Griffiths, Executive Board Member for Leisure, says: “We need to get the population of Wales moving. To do this we must provide inspiring, accessible and diverse activity spaces. Earlier this year, we engaged Alliance Leisure to evaluate the current offer at Carmarthen Leisure Centre and to provide advice and guidance on what could be done to encourage more of the local population to visit. Alliance Leisure has extensive experience of injecting new life into tired leisure facilities and we were excited to explore what could be achieved in Carmarthen. When we saw the plans and  worked through the financials, we knew this was a project that we had to get underway.”

In August 2018 works began on transforming the under-utilised gymnastics hall into an inspiring, 3-tier, 210 square metre children’s play area and café.

The new environment has been supplied by industry experts, Play Revolution, and is designed to encourage children aged 0 to 12 years to climb, hide and slide their way around a matrix of visually stimulating features including tunnels, stepping stones, rope bridges and slides. The area also incorporates a dedicated area for 0-3 year olds. The play space is supported by a new café and lounge area where parents can gather to supervise their children whilst enjoying a range of high quality snacks and beverages.

Carl Daniels, Senior Actif Sport and Leisure Manager, says: “Before the development the gymnastics hall welcomed around £4,000 profit per year.  In our first month of opening, the new play area is proving to be on target to generate circa £80k income in play centre.

It’s not just the youngsters who have been treated to new facilities. The development has also created a new spin studio. Located in Carmarthen Leisure Centres it’s kitted out with 30 top of the range IC7 Life Fitness spin bikes, this 85 square metre facility has been  equipped with state of the art audio and lighting systems to create a stimulating ride like nothing else on offer in the local area.

Carl Daniels, Senior Actif Sport and Leisure Manager adds: “The new cycle studio is awesome and out shines any other facility in the area. The community has fully embraced the experience. We have had to significantly expand the provision to meet demand, but with such high quality non-instructed/virtual classes through the Myride® system we can increase class numbers without a significant increase in costs.”

The development works completed this month and were managed through the UK Leisure Framework, owned and operated by Denbighshire District County Council with Alliance Leisure as lead contractor.

Julia Goddard, Senior Business Development Manager and project lead at Alliance Leisure concludes: “This project has given the leisure centre a new lease of life and made leisure services available to new audiences who were otherwise disengaged. The play area in particular adds a whole new dimension to the offering. In addition to providing a safe, secure space for children to play and explore, it also offers an attractive space for people to meet and socialise.”


South Somerset District Council has appointed leisure development specialists, Alliance Leisure, to work with multi award-winning architecture and building consultancy practice, AHR, to build a brand-new leisure and community facility in Chard’s Town Centre.  The new leisure and community facilities will be at the heart of the Chard Regeneration project.

Julia Goddard, Senior Business development Manager at Alliance Leisure, said: “Over the next few months we will work closely with architects AHR to produce outline plans for the overall development. We will also create full design plans for the new leisure centre, aiming for submission by July 2019. Once planning permissions are granted, works will start on the demolition of the factories and warehouses.”

Karle Burford, director at AHR, said “We are thrilled to be working with the Council on the proposals to bring forward a mixed-use community scheme, redeveloping the historic Boden Mill site that includes the former ACI factory site.

Our shared vision to instil the historic nature of the town within the design is integral to the project, and we look forward to harmonising the old with the new. The first phase of the scheme will be designing the brand-new leisure centre, with modern facilities for families to enjoy for years to come.”

The new leisure centre will offer a diverse array of facilities to meet the health and wellbeing needs of the community. These are likely to include: a 25 metre swimming pool; a gym; group exercise studios; an adventure play area; changing rooms and a café.

Councillor Jo Roundell Greene, portfolio holder for the Chard Regeneration Scheme and Deputy Leader of South Somerset District Council, said: “Feedback from a series of public consultations has revealed that people want the development to include: a leisure centre with swimming pool; more places to eat and socialise; improved leisure opportunities for young people; green open spaces and opportunities for small, independent retailers to thrive.  We are working with Alliance Leisure to help plan and build this vision.

Alex Parmley the Chief Executive Officer at South Somerset District Council said “Alliance Leisure has years of experience delivering modern leisure developments in tune with community needs. Our new partnership, through the Leisure Framework, will ensure we deliver a mix of facilities and services which offer the local population most value both now and in the future.”

The Boden Mill itself will be redeveloped into a culture and public sector hub with a library, satellite museum, with the police, council and other local service providers who are also likely to be housed in the new facility. Conversion of the upper floors will create a number of residential units for rent or purchase.

All surrounding areas will be landscaped to create an attractive public realm that can be used for social gatherings, public art and community events. The nearby Holyrood Lace Mill will also transformed into a residential development offering a much needed housing solution.

The works will be carried out in phases starting with the new leisure centre and will complete at the end of 2020, subject to planning approval in summer 2019.


At our development at Haverhill Leisure Centre our partners at the Etec Group welcomed a work experience placement, Arthur Pickton.

Arthur had been given the opportunity to complete 40 hours of work experience at the Haverhill Leisure Centre refurbishment site in Suffolk.  He is a Level 3 student studying Construction and the Built Environment at The Milburn Campus, West Suffolk College in Bury St Edmunds and has plans to pursue a career in site management, and has been working alongside Site Manager, Steve Koeck.  Steve says, ‘I can honestly say it is a pleasure to have a young person who is keen to learn and so positive.

Arthur has also been spending time with other staff, learning how the trades work, helping him to gain vital knowledge about how an efficient and effective site runs.

Arthur says, ‘Steve and several sub-contractors I have worked with during my placement have made me feel very welcome, supported me with tasks and learning in the best way possible and for that I am overwhelmed with the outcome of my work experience at Etec.’

Arthur is keen to learn more and plans to extend his work experience beyond the 40 hour requirement for his course. He is a real credit to both himself and West Suffolk College.


Work has completed at Batley Sports Centre, in Kirklees, creating a 12,000 sq.ft. physical activity and adventure hub to engage youngsters and families of all ages.

Charitable trust Kirklees Active Leisure (KAL) has invested £1.5 million in the project, delivered by Alliance Leisure under the UK Leisure Framework. The investment has been committed to create a sustainable physical activity hub which will appeal to a wider section of the local community.

The new facility results from a reconfiguration of the existing site with two indoor courts transformed into a vibrant play and activity zone, utilising the latest technological innovations designed to motivate and engage tech savvy youngsters.

The site has become the first public sector facility to offer TAG active®, a ground-breaking, ‘trainers on’ adventure facility. KAL have named the TAG active® facility ‘  X’ which sits under their ‘Days Out’ brand designed to create awareness of the family attractions available to those within Kirklees and the surrounding West Yorkshire area.

Players must use physical movement, speed, agility and strategy to locate and reach hidden transponder boxes. Once found, the box is ‘Tagged’ using an electronic chip imprinted in a wristband. Each time a player tags a box, points are awarded.

Electronic scoreboards keep a real-time track of how individuals are performing, with music and mood lighting to enhance the atmosphere and create an exciting, stimulating environment which encourages mental and physical prowess.

TAG active® caters for youngsters, with statistics recorded at other centres showing the highest engagement by 11-14 year olds. This facility will be complemented by an Adventure Play zone for toddlers through to seven years old.

The redevelopment of Batley Tennis Centre is part of KAL’s mission to provide engaging, accessible recreation facilities and services which respond to the ever evolving needs of a very diverse community. Batley Tennis Centre is one of 13 leisure sites managed by KAL on behalf of Kirklees Council. Since the formation of the Trust in 2002, more than £20 million has been invested by KAL and Kirklees Council with every surplus pound reinvested into leisure provision.

Barry Turnbull, Business Development at KAL, says: “KAL is absolutely committed to developing and sustaining healthier, happier and fitter communities. The indoor adventure area means we have something new to offer the younger generation. A place where families can come together to enjoy physical activity. Encouraging physical literacy at an early age is absolutely vital if we are to address the growing inactivity crisis. Youngsters need to be provided with spaces which enthuse and encourage movement. This investment has been committed to achieve just that.”

James Foley, Commercial Director at Alliance, says: “This site is a great example of a council stepping up to the plate when it comes to engaging the latest innovations to encourage an active community. The Adventure Play zone and TAG X will completely transform the facility, bringing vibrancy, sensorial stimulation and an opportunity for youngsters to test their mental and physical skills in a unique fun, safe and exciting environment.”

Batley Sports and Tennis Centre continues to offer tennis across four outdoor and two indoor courts. Facilities are also supported by changing facilities, a café and seating area.

Tim Harvey, regional director at ISG, which is delivering the construction project on behalf of Alliance Leisure, adds: “Our partners at Alliance Leisure have consistently demonstrated their expertise driving increased footfall to leisure facilities, by redesigning and upgrading leisure provision at existing sites. This is key to making centres more attractive and therefore better utilised by the local communities they serve.”


Alliance Leisure are proud to be sponsoring Tennis Scotland in 2018.  As part of the sponsorship members of the Alliance team attended Wimbledon and got the chance to see our British stars in action.  It was unfortunate that Andy Murray had to withdraw from the tournament but the team got to see Jamie Murray get close to retaining his doubles title, losing in the final to Alexander Peya and Nicole Melichar.