It has been an up and down few days, but after two hours of coaching and playing singles with the Wiltshire Women’s Singles Champion, (Lisa Turner, another local resident who doesn’t really need a sports centre) I felt good. I’d survived uninjured, and it had been a good session. However, by the time I actually left the Lime Kiln I felt about as good as I have felt since, well, November 23rd. Reason? An entirely fortuitous meeting with DC Leisure’s Business Development Manager, Ian Mitchell, who just happened to be visiting all the sites DC Leisure are taking over.
I bumped into Ian, and SOS campaigner John Clark, in the corridor, and had a very interesting conversation. Ian came over as very professional, and was very positive about the future of the lime Kiln. He said DC wanted to work with the users, and saw SOS as a potential user group, a feature of most of their centres. He is extremely keen for DC staff to meet the committee, but also indicated that they will want to talk to all the clubs using the centre. For my part, I undertook to collate all the work that SOS has done into a report for DC, and assured Ian that any user group based around SOS would be there to support the new management in maximising the potential of the Lime Kiln, rather that just moaning about everything.
I also found out that DC is actually managing the group now, although the staff have been taken onto the NWDC payroll until they can be passed over to DC. This was the main problem created for DC and NWDC when NWLL went into liquidation. DC simply could not take on all the existing NWLL staff, many of whom would have been leaving if Calne and Cricklade closed, or perhaps even if they remain open under different management. DC had expected all redundancies and redeployment to be sorted out by the time they took over. The staff have gone to NWDC under TUPE regulations, and some will be moving to DC after the end of March. However, whilst they have no staff on the sites at the moment, DC is already managing the four centres.
DC is the largest privately owned leisure contactor, employing over 7,000 people in 118 centres. Ian Mitchell said they would probably appoint senior members of staff as interim managers, until they find the right person to fill that role at each centre. The good news is that the Lime Kiln will have a proper manager, with a mandate to run the place, rather than a number of duty managers with no real authority. It is encouraging that DC is prepared to spend time finding the right people.
I asked Ian what Activa members should do, since NWLL, the company we pay our direct debits to, no longer exists. He told me that we actually pay our membership to MCA, who manage the membership for NWLL. Ian said that MCA would collect next month’s membership and implied that cards would be valid under existing conditions for the time being. DC will write to everyone offering them a new membership package as soon as possible. I don’t have all the details, but their membership package sounds better than the current scheme. Ian did say that it would apply in all four centres in the contract. (Lime Kiln, Corsham, Chippenham and Malmesbury). Users won’t be able to use their membership in the centres of adjacent contracts, such as West Wilts., but they will be able to use them further afield. So if you are in Cheshire say, and there is a DC site nearby, your membership will apply.
Whilst my meeting with Ian Mitchell left me feeling very positive about the future, we must not expect too much too soon. The Lime Kiln is still the Lime Kiln, with its crumbling infrastructure and dilapidated interior. NWDC still own the building, and they will still have to maintain it. Many of the staff will be those who, as John Clark put it ‘have learned to accept second best’ under the laissez-faire ‘management’ of NWLL. That’s the bad news. The good news is DC are in the business of making sports centres work, so they ought to listen to what the customers want, and we can expect standards of customer service to rise. (Well, they could hardly fall).
In fairness, I have to give credit to the Lime Kiln’s staff for maintaining their level of service throughout what has been a very difficult time for them. Over the last few years I have been as frustrated as anyone by the inability of the staff to perform what would seem simple tasks like booking courts, remembering to set up courts that have been booked and setting them up correctly. I assume this poor level of service applies to other users too. However, I did find myself feeling extremely sorry for the staff on Monday, when none of them knew if they would even have a job on Tuesday, or be paid what they were owed. Under the circumstances, they maintained a good level of professionalism.
Ian Mitchell described the NWLL booking system as ‘antiquated’, although I understood it had been devised by NWLL’s IT staff quite recently. (If so it displayed all the characteristics of ‘in-house development, which is to say theyu had reinvented the wheel as a square, and it doesn’t work). I may be wrong there, but, like the rest of you, I know how the majority of staff struggle to use it. It is not unusual for it to take ten minutes or more to book a couple of courts. Hopefully that will change when DC install new systems, but, remember, staff will have to learn them.
SOS needs to be very supportive of DC Leisure in the initial stages of their takeover, giving them every opportunity to get things right. We must hope that things improve, whilst remembering that having a slightly battered sports centre with a few ‘issues’ is infinitely preferable to having none! As for NWLL, I don’t regret their passing, but I’ll let gene Clark sum it up for me:
Now I gotta say that it’s not like before
And I’m not gonna play your games anymore
After what you did I can’t stay on
And I’ll probably feel a whole lot better
When you're gone