Life Leisure, a charitable trust and not for profit social enterprise company which manages sports and leisure facilities, including 12 in Stockport, has taken ownership of flagship facility Stockport Sports Village (SSV) to create what it claims will be “a lasting legacy for Stockport residents”.
Purchasing the multi-million pound, 23 acre site, from Woodley Sports Social Club Ltd, is the operating company’s first venture into land ownership and is thought to reflect a rent vs mortgage differential of circa £14 million for the trust.
Life Leisure first took over rental and management of the site in 2012. Since then SSV, which in June 2018 was named National Leisure Centre/Health Club of the Year by health and fitness industry body ukactive, has achieved year-on-year growth, attracting over 1000 users a day to facilities including a 5,000 sq ft Gym, aerobics, HIIT and dance studios, 17 3G football pitches (the same used at Barcelona FC’s training facility), and club standard tennis courts. The site’s conference and banqueting facilities also support Stockport’s wider hospitality and corporate economy.
Since its launch six years’ ago, SSV has also been an important addition to Stockport’s education infrastructure, providing a base for Stockport College to deliver many of its sport-related courses to ensure students receive access to the latest technology and training environments.
Investment in the site hasn’t stopped. This year also saw Life Leisure invest in launching a new on-site outdoor training facility for obstacle course races (OCRs) – including its own Tough Tribe event – and an outdoor Laser Combat course, making SSV one of the UK’s largest and most diverse sport and fitness facilities.
For Life Leisure Group CEO Malcolm McPhail, the successful purchase of SSV marks the start of a new era for the organisation and also a milestone for Stockport. He said: “As a leisure trust, we currently face unprecedented competitive pressure at all levels, from major private chains and boutique gyms, through to budget operators. It’s a market environment which means you have to believe in and commit to every single business decision wholeheartedly – buying SSV is the perfect example of this.
“It’s unusual for a trust, let alone a trust of our size, to be in a position to buy such a major asset but we could see SSV’s potential and its importance to Stockport from the outset, so when the call for interested parties first went out around 3 years ago, we knew it was absolutely something worth pursuing.
“I also always knew this was a direction I wanted to go with Life Leisure. The amazing team here has enabled us to build a reputation for operational excellence – it’s one of the key reasons we were successful in our bid over other contenders. I felt the time was right to build on that reputation by becoming an owner and establishing a major anchor on our balance sheet. I should also say at this point that Lloyds Bank, Paul Wilcox from GDP Funding, our legal advisors DWF, and Bruce Poizer from real estate brokers Cushman and Wakefield were fantastic throughout the entire process.
“As a social enterprise everything we make goes back into the facilities and services we offer so in that sense, every single one of our members now has a piece of SSV. The outcome of this deal really is a lasting legacy for Stockport residents, a world-class, award winning facility they can be proud of for years to come.”
The acquisition reflects a period of significant development for Life Leisure which over the last 5 years has achieved circa 45% growth in turnover, and earlier this month announced its commitment to regional expansion by securing its first management contract outside Stockport. The organisation, which is the most awarded leisure trust in the North of England, recently took over The Park Leisure Centre in Barrow-in-Furness, relaunching the facility in August as ‘Life Leisure Barrow Park’.
When asked if the purchase would result in any new developments at SSV, Malcom said: “Watch this space! All I will say is that we have always been a forward-looking organisation and that will be certainly be reflected in how we develop SSV and the range of services we will offer there.
“As an operating company we have been able to do some amazing things, including launching one of UK’s first health intervention focussed centres (Avondale), and developing training facilities and programmes for Stockport Metro – a club which has produced more medal winning swimmers than any other. Building on that legacy with a facility like SSV now under our ownership is an incredibly exciting prospect.”