Brio Leisure

Highlighting best practice as a representative in The Parliamentary Review

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Brio Leisure is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Highlighting best practice
Brio’s managing director Elly McFahn, pictured on the far right, at the launch of a
partnership with Vivo Care Choices in one of Brio’s leisure centres, pictured alongside
Vivo staff and customers
Brio Leisure is the highly successful result of an innovative
experiment in 2011 to set up a community interest company
(CIC) to deliver affordable leisure opportunities for the
people of west Cheshire. Brio has grown year on year, delivering
inclusive services in a safe and supportive environment. In 2011
its turnover was £7 million – and the local authority subsidy
represented 13 per cent of income: its current turnover is £12.6
million with the subsidy providing only two per cent – the
remainder coming from fees, charges and third-party contracts.
Visitor numbers have increased by 45 per cent. Managing director
Elly McFahn explains why Brio has proven to be such a success.
The initial groundbreaking idea has been mirrored in our continuous quest for
innovation, expanding our activities far beyond the boundaries of traditional public
sector leisure operations. Working with partners to deliver specific health benefits is
an increasingly important part of our agenda.
The power of the CIC model
Operating as a CIC brings together the efficiency of the private sector with the
ethos of the public sector. Although wholly owned by Cheshire West and Chester
council (CW&CC), Brio operates largely independently of it. A board of execs and
non-execs oversees the business; the culture is dynamic and forward-looking. The
vibrant award-winning Brio brand, typical of a private sector approach, is well
established locally and has allowed diversification with a range of sub-brands.
»Owned by Cheshire West and
Chester council
»Established in 2011
»Based in Chester with facilities
and outreach across the
borough of Cheshire West
»Services: Supporting local
health and wellbeing through
the provision of services based
from ten leisure centres
offering gyms, fitness classes,
swimming pools and playing
surfaces, as well as three
entertainment venues
»No. of employees: 230 FTE
but around700 people in full,
part-time, temporary and
casual roles. 9 apprentices and
55 volunteers
»79,000 leisure cardholders/
members – 23 per cent of the
borough population. 3.1 million
visits per annum including
163,000 entertainment visits
Brio Leisure
At thesame time the company’s
relationship with the council is strong
– CW&CC’s confidence in Brio was
reflected in the grant of a 15-year
contract to operate its leisure facilities
from 2015. The Brio–council partnership
ensures we can contribute to meeting its
goals around activity, public health and
culture. In return, CW&CC constructed
two well-received new facilities at
Northwich and Ellesmere Port, each
costing £15million. The council can
provide loan funding and other capital
to support carefully justified further
development and gives Brio opportunities
to bid for relevantcontracts.
Financially, Brio must stand largely on
its own two feet, with a council subsidy
of just 8p per visitor – extremely low
by industry standards. This requires a
constant focus on business efficiency
and careful balancing of commercial
and socialobjectives.
Embracing public health
The team at Brio is motivated by the
opportunities we have to make a real
difference to local people’s health
and wellbeing – a message supported
by careful training and internal
communications. We know we have a
key role in helping with issues such as
childhood obesity, sedentary lifestyles
and social isolation. We can help reduce
the strain in the NHS so two experienced
health professionals sit on Brio’s board.
Examples of how delivering positive
health outcomes are integrated into
our activities include:
»Delivery of part of the council’s
Integrated Wellness contract providing
services for smoking cessation,
weight management and exercise
on referral. Brio delivered over 8,000
health interventions in 2017, as well
as providing free memberships to
all over-75s. A dedicated “Cheshire
Change Hub” brand was established
to support the contract;
»A falls prevention service, delivering
strength and conditioning activities
to older people in their homes and
local communities;
»“Buggy Burn and Firm” – a fitness
programme offered to new mums at
risk of post-natal depression;
»“Starting Well”, working with
Cheshire & Wirral Partnership,
delivering activities in children’s
centres and schools to increase
participation and tackle obesity.
Belief in partnership
By working with partners, Brio can
leverage its resources to deliver much
greater benefits to the community.
Examples of successful partnerships
»Macmillan Cancer Support, which
allows Brio to deliver volunteer
services to those affected by cancer.
Over-75 customer,
Anne, making use of
the free leisure pass to
keep active and increase
Brio fitness instructor,
Lydia Morgan putting the
class through their paces
It was fantastic.
Inside three
months of
being referred
by the GP I
was feeling
Highlighting best practice
These include leading health walks,
organising volunteers for assisting
people with daily tasks and running
other community and social events;
»Vivo Care Choices, which operates
care homes across Cheshire West.
They have moved some services into
Brio centres, relinquishing ageing
properties and saving the council
around £200k annually. Users feel
more integrated into the community
and benefit from dedicated services
such as swimming lessons and
fitness classes.
Other valued partners include the
Poverty Truth Commission, various
local housing associations and Sport
England who recognise Brio’s positive
approach and have provided valuable
grants and other forms of support.
An exciting future
Through innovation, partnership and
a prevailing culture of “making a
difference”, Brio goes from strength to
strength. New developments include:
»Plans to transform our flagship
leisure centre in Chester, Northgate
arena, into a dynamic new health
and fitness centre;
»An innovative partnership with the
University of Chester, with master’s
students evaluating the benefits of
health and exercise in various ways
to help quantify the social value our
services can bring;
»Exploring with the NHS exciting new
ways to deliver therapies outside of a
clinical setting;
»Seeking innovative ways to help
more people become happy, healthy
and active.
In addition, our belief in Brio – its ethos,
skills, ways of working and brand – are
strong and we believe there is scope to
extend our model beyond the CW&CC
footprint. We remain ambitious.
When I’m in
the gym I can
tell that other
users are
happy to see
me. It’s made
me feel like an
equal for the
first time in
my life
Brio’s Cheshire Change Hub helped
transform Rachel Williams’s life.
Born with a rare spinal condition,
she struggled to walk from an
early age, and by her late teens
was reliant on walking aids and a
As she got older, she suffered from
severe depression and anxiety,
rarely leaving the house. In 2016
she attempted to take her own
life. After being released from
hospital in 2017, she grabbed at
a lifeline offered by the Cheshire
Change Hub and underwent the
Exercise on Referral programme.
She was overwhelmed by how welcoming and accommodating the staff at Ellesmere Port Sports Village were.
“They are so experienced in assisting wheelchair users and have an attitude which encourages you to focus on
what you can do, rather than what you can’t,” says Rachel.
Rachel now visits a Brio centre up to six times a week and enjoys a variety of activities, including the gym and
aqua fit classes.

This article was sponsored by Brio Leisure. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.