Rethinking Public Leisure and Culture: Building a Sustainable Future | Virtual Conference 2020

Published on: December 10th 2020

On 8 December 2020, Community Leisure UK were delighted to welcome 200 delegates to their first ever virtual Conference. The day was jampacked with thought-provoking keynote speakers and workshops, inspiring delegates to reimagine the sustainable future of public leisure and culture. We were joined by charitable trusts and national partners across England, Scotland and Wales which, in combination with our excellent keynote speakers and workshop leaders, made for a productive day. Community Leisure UK’s six Business Partners also provided new ways of thinking and an engaging virtual Expo for delegates to explore.

Here are our four key takeaways from the Conference.

We need to shout louder about the contributions and potential of culture and leisure in Building Back Better

Our first keynote speaker Bill Grimsey talked us through how we need to redevelop our town centres and high streets, and the role that culture and leisure can play in this. Bill told us that high streets and town centres are reaching out for a sense of purpose; now is the time to grab it. To reimagine our high streets and town centres and to make those places accessible and supportive of our mental and physical health as well as a contributor to our (local) economy, we all have a role to play. There is the opportunity for leisure and culture to be part of the conversation with local partners and offer community hubs – why not have a private Bank invest in a library in exchange for a till in this community-centred building? Good work is happening all around us but so far those case studies are not reaching those who are at the start of the journey. Therefore we all have a role to play in developing a cohesive approach to town centre redevelopment and regeneration, especially if we want to support recovery post-Covid. To quote Bill: “You are a mover and a shaker”. Start knocking on people’s doors.

We build on this inspiring first keynote speaker with our workshop on Culture and Place. In this session, Betty Belanus, curator at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in Washington D.C. showcased the work of the Smithsonian Festival. This workshop showed how a national festival engages local people in their place, with 60-80% of visitors of the Smithsonian Festival being local, and also stimulates tourism, where remaining visitors are from outside of town or even outside the US (5-10% visitors is international). By celebrating cultures, the festival stimulates international collaboration, tourism and makes a place more attractive to live and visit. However, representing a culture is always difficult as cultural events and programming take time to research and develop. Being specific about what you want and can showcase will help with setting the right expectations and give a fair cultural representation.

We need to be clear and specific in communicating the value that culture and leisure brings to our communities

Our second keynote speaker Ken Hughes challenges us to reflect on what our staff do that makes a difference in customers’ lives, and how we are communicating this value. Ken also highlighted the need to make sure that customers and communities feel confident and in control when they return to our leisure and culture facilities. So while we need to adapt to a Covid-19 safe environment, we also need to keep in mind what excites our customers and communities.

One of our workshop leaders Andrea Quinn from Geelox introduced delegates to how an understanding of people and the aspects/factors that drive their behaviour can lead to positive changes for organisations. Andrea educated us on why we behave the way we do, specifically focusing on the responses from business leaders during the pandemic and the best possible ways of handling them. Understanding people’s behaviour will help us in our communication to customers and communities – when consumers know that their money will be reinvested in facilities, for example, it encourages them to return to see and use these services and know that they contributed.

And this is where leisure and culture trusts have a real advantage, as highlighted by Archie Paton from Fireworks Consultancy. Archie’s workshop focused on the customer proposition. He not only highlighted the importance for organisations to encourage confidence post-Covid-19 with messaging around cleanliness and thoroughness, but also encouraged members to embrace the foundation of their business – the trust model – and embed this in organisations’ communication to ensure that the charitable status is known and understood by customers and the community. 

We have to rethink how we engage our communities digitally

Digital engagement is on everyone’s mind these days, and workshop leader Marc Davies from Digital Communities Wales talked us through what it means to create digital access. Marc introduced us to the 5 Essential Digital Skills that people need to have to be able to engage digitally and feel included. These are on top of the foundation skills. Yet he also flagged that 18% of people in the UK do not have any of the 5 essential skills. After showing some great advancements of digital inclusion in care home settings specifically, Marc discussed that digital access needs to be considered across all departments in a business. Organisations will first need to identify the digital skill levels across staff, and give training where needed, before digital can be offered as a service and integrated across all work, to customers and audiences.

Building on this, our afternoon workshop on digital technology developments saw some inspiring suggestions from Arts Council England’s Digital Culture Network, Les Mills and Technogym on how culture and leisure providers can create a well-rounded digital offer. They showed us with practical examples that video is key to promoting your organisation and your offer on social media and that you do not need a big budget to use video and achieve good results. While digital is booming, we learned that post Covid-19 organisations will need to provide a digital as well as a physical offer, as customers want that choice. Using local instructors will tie your physical and digital offers together.

Culture and leisure have made great strides towards building healthy communities

The workshop led by Marianne Boyle from Ukactive highlighted the findings from ukactive’s consultation on the Future of Public Leisure, including the challenges and opportunities that face the leisure sector going forward. And while the past year has been challenging, both Marianne and workshop leader Davind Minton from Leisure Database highlighted the post-Covid-19 opportunity for leisure to work with the health sector to improve health outcomes.

The Conference highlighted that this work is already being done. As part of our Spark of Innovation workshop, four Community Leisure UK members from across England, Scotland and Wales highlighted their best practice. Enable Leisure and Culture, Awen Cultural Trust, KALeisure, and Active Tameside demonstrated their health and wellbeing contributions through their social prescribing programme, work with vulnerable individuals to address social isolation, digital culture opportunities to engage community groups, and holistic offer to enable people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to participate in suitable physical activity.


Learn more

Feeling inspired by our key takeaways or want to re-watch a session from the day? The recordings can be accessed here, for which the password has been shared with all registered delegates. Please contact us if you are unable to access the videos or would like more information.