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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was at a time, when public sector stock had received little or no investment, so just couldn’t compete, provision was outdated and focused on sport rather than wellness and activity concepts.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.

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.”


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.


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.

Alliance completes Larkfield on time and within budget

Alliance are delighted to have completed the new Studios and Gym extension at Larkfield Leisure Centre. The project was delivered on time and within budget by the Alliance development team for TM Active, the forward thinking leisure trust who have now been able to introduce the Immersive Cycle Studio, two new Group Ex Studios and exciting Functional Gym space to members old and new.

The development was officially opened by Tracey Crouch, Minister for Sport, Civil Society & Loneliness (pictured with Tom Fairey). Also pictured is TM Active Chief Executive, Martin Guyton, with Ruth Doyle and Tom Fairey from Alliance Leisure.


To mark the launch of ukactive’s new, multi-day event which celebrates physical activity, Alliance Leisure partnered with ukactive to host an evening of networking, canapés and drinks at the Midland Hotel in Manchester on June 20.

The event was well attended by more than 150 partners and guests, all eager to toast ukactive’s re-formatted flagship annual event.

Active Uprising brought together more than 1,000 leading decision makers for a festival of insight, debate and action across Greater Manchester from June 21 – 23, 2018. With a jam-packed schedule which included thought leadership sessions, networking, insight and innovation, the event was the biggest festival of physical activity ever hosted in the UK.

James Foley, Commercial Director at Alliance Leisure, says: “We felt it was really important to support ukactive in their celebrations. The organisation plays a vital role in the growth and development of the physical activity sector. The scale of Active Uprising highlights just how much value the sector is now delivering to individuals and communities across the UK and we are very proud to be a part of it all.”

Steve Ward, CEO at ukactive, says: “Alliance Leisure has been a long term Strategic Partner and investor for the sector with the mission of making more people, more active, more often. The opportunity to work with Alliance and GmActive gives us the opportunity to set the scene for the Active Uprising over the next three years with organisations who have made and will continue to make the initiative a reality’.

Celebrations continued on the evening of June 21, with the new format ukactive black-tie Award ceremony, attended by 800 representatives from the physical activity sector. The event recognised the incredible work of many organisations and individuals passionate about getting more people more active more often. Alliance Leisure was incredibly proud to be named the winner of the Concept, Design and Build category for the innovation and success of the redevelopment works at Salt Ayre Leisure Centre in Lancaster.

Speaking about the Awards, ukactive CEO Steven Ward sys: “Given the growing contribution of physical activity in all aspects of society, it seemed only fitting that we expanded the ukactive Awards to recognise the full breadth of our movement to create an active nation.

“Huge congratulations to Alliance Leisure who has been making such strides to get more people, more active, more often.”

For more information about the awards visit


In response to the continued growth and success of Alliance Leisure’s client support services, the organisation has relaunched this part of the business under new brand, TA6.

The launch includes a restructure of the division and the introduction of new personnel to head up specialist areas. The move will enable TA6 to operate as a standalone brand, whilst still benefiting from the experience, credibility and operational efficiencies of parent company, Alliance Leisure.

Heading up TA6 will be Paul Woodford, Director of Marketing and Partnership. Paul joined Alliance Leisure in 2009 and has been instrumental in the growth and development of client services. Paul will be responsible for six key areas of service delivery: staff development, sales and retention, creative, digital, insights and the brand’s results-driven support package, the power pack.

Woodford, says: “Over the years we have worked with many operator partners to develop efficient, sustainable, high quality leisure services. Despite proven success, we have struggled to raise the visibility of the division, with many operators incorrectly assuming a need to enter into a design and build agreement with Alliance Leisure to access our marketing and training services. TA6 has been created to enable more effective promotion of the division as a standalone offer.”

As part of the restructure, John Leaver, currently Head of Alliance Digital, will move into the broader role of Head of Marketing, still overseeing Digital. Marina Thomas has been recruited as Head of Training and new joiner, Neil Harrison, previously National Membership Manager at 1Life, will lead a team of client Account Managers.

Woodford adds: “These are exciting times for the business. The name TA6 reflects Alliance Leisure’s roots, being the postcode associated with the business’ first location, back in 1998. TA6 is also a reference to ‘The Alliance 6’ core services. We hope the launch of the new brand will see many clients benefiting from our support over the coming years.”

Alliance Leisure remains the parent company and both brand’s will continue to have a close association but will now also be promoted as separate partnership opportunities.

For more information on TA6 or Alliance Leisure, please visit


The UK’s leading private leisure developer has been announced the winner of the New Concept, Build or Design category at ukactive’s prestigious annual awards.

The awards formed part of the inaugural four-day festival of physical activity entitled ‘Active Uprising’ which took part in Manchester, June 20-23, 2018. Attended by more than 1,000 industry representatives and influencers, the black-tie awards dinner replaced the long standing ukactive FLAME Awards as the UK’s leading celebration of innovation and achievement in the physical activity sector.

Speaking of the win, Sarah Watts, CEO at Alliance Leisure, says: “This award recognises the profound impact the creation of modern physical activity spaces which inspire and motivate, can have on behaviour change across whole communities. At Salt Ayre Leisure Centre in Lancashire, our redesign of a tired, disengaged leisure centre has resulted in a 72 per cent uplift in customer visits.

Working in Partnership with Lancaster City Council, we have breathed new life into facility and created a vibrant environment which is stimulating participation on a mass scale, across all segments of the community. This award brings our success at Salt Ayre into the spotlight and, hopefully, highlights to other local authorities that investment in leisure stock now for the future, and a partnership with us to design facilities that inspire whole communities to be more active for generations to come is achievable, even in these challenging times of austerity.”

For more information and to view imagery of the Salt Ayre project, click here.



WEDNESDAY MAY 9TH 2018, 1.15pm-14.05pm

At this year’s Elevate James Foley, Commercial Director at Alliance Leisure, will explain how leisure providers can play their part in encouraging children and teens to get active by creating innovative, engaging spaces which tap into the motivations of our young, tech savvy, generation. The key lies in helping youngsters find enjoyment, fun and fulfilment through active play and a diverse offering of physical activities.

Back in 2012, Lord Sebastian Coe, Chairman of the London Olympic Games Commission, stated that our children are the ‘least active generation in history.’ This statement is backed up in a study by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation which states only 1 in 10 girls and 2 in 10 boys aged 14 are meeting official guidelines for physical activity.

It currently costs the UK economy £8.2 billion per year to sustain inactive Britons and with a high percentage of our children entering adulthood physically illiterate this figure is set to rise.

So, what can be done to turn the tide and transform Generative Inactive into Generation Active

James will be joined on the panel by Dan Edwardes, Founder of Parkour Generations and Mark Hardy, Chairman at Association of Play Industries.

This promises to be a session full of insight and ideas so arrive early to ensure you get a seat.

For more information about Elevate and to register visit the Elevate website here