OCL leading the way

Date published: 02 May 2018

Health and recreation provider Oldham Community Leisure is playing a leading role in developing a new membership scheme covering 13 organisations and 87 sites across the whole of Greater Manchester.

The GM Active collaboration is launching this Spring and will enable customers to access gyms, swimming pools and other facilities in all Greater Manchester boroughs regardless of their home or work location.

Businesses will also benefit from the new flexible and convenient offer, especially employees who regularly travel across different boroughs.

Peter Howson, head of customer relations at Oldham Community Leisure, has played a leading role in developing the new collaborative project.

He is a member of the GM Active board which includes chief executives and managing directors of the 13 organisations, along with NHS, health, sports, housing and voluntary organisations.

Explaining the benefit of the new GM Active service, Howson said: “If you're an Oldham Community Leisure member and you're visiting Stockport, for example, you can now go to one of Stockport’s Life Leisure centres for a gym, swim or another activity.”

But the move is important for the 13 leisure operators too, he said.

Howson added: “The GM Active network will allow this group of organisations to collectively compete with the big, national leisure and gym operators, rather than being smaller operators restricted to individual boroughs.

“This cross-borough offering will also really help us to target the corporate membership markets for health and leisure.

"Businesses with employees who commute or travel with work are more likely to use cross-borough leisure services.”

The process of setting up the new network  has been a major task, Howson said.

“The 13 different leisure organisations have different marketing, membership and entrance systems," he added.

"My role has been to make things as simple as possible for customers. But it's not as simple as giving out GM Active membership cards.

"We needed a membership validation technology system. So we’ve worked with four different software providers who serve the different leisure organisations to get their API (application programming interfaces) to talk to each other.

"Now we've created a single portal to be able to validate people to enter different leisure centres.”

In addition to technological challenges, the new network requires staff training across all the organisations.

Howson said: “In some ways, the technology element is easy.

"We also have to ensure that all the leisure centre receptionists and staff across the 13 organisations understand the details and, ultimately, that customers feel welcome wherever they go.”

The new technology system has recently been tested and staff training is to follow.

Howson said GM Active's spirit of co-operation reflected a growing ambition for more combined working across Greater Manchester.

“Outside of London, there is no co-operation strategy as big as this," he added.

"There is already a Greater Manchester regional agenda and the new Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham. GM Active is the forum for this co-operation in health and fitness.

"It’s all part of a great opportunity for Greater Manchester to be different.

“Leisure is a growing and fast-changing sector. GM Active is a really exciting project and I'm delighted to be involved in it.”

OCL's corporate membership offerings are being further developed too.

New business packages will offer 'bite-size' opportunities for employees to try different activities over ten or 15 week periods.

There will also be an enhanced focus on engagement with participants from the very start of their fitness journeys.

For more business news, in-depth features and social events, visit the Oldham Business Edge magazine.