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Buyers and suppliers from across the physical activity industry got together at the sector’s first live event in almost 18 months at the Physical Activity Facilities Forum.

Approximately 200 professionals involved in the design, build and management of physical activity facilities were able to network in person for the first time since the start of the global pandemic at the Physical Activity Facilities Forum 2021. Operators, local authorities, universities, schools, trusts, architects, contractors, project managers and consultants delivering active projects spanning sport, leisure, recreation and play met face to face with specialist suppliers to the sector to discuss their project needs and to do business. 

The event kicked off with Stable Event’s inaugural Golf Day, with Ryan Mighali from Prospec Ltd winning the competition and receiving a trophy at the event’s Gala Dinner. 

Stable Events worked with the venue, Heythrop Park Resort, to ensure the safety of all delegates. In addition to hosting the event in the resort’s 1,000sq m permanent marquee structure, which was well ventilated and had ample spacing between desks, air purification units were also provided - courtesy of delegates Goji Group - capable of killing 99.9 per cent of viruses and bacteria, including coronavirus.

“Considering the current guidelines it felt like a safe way to network,” said Louise Sharp from Jubilee Hall Trust.

 

successful format

Buyers and suppliers benefited from 20-minute meetings with fellow delegates, which had been pre-selected to meet their needs. 

“I liked the idea of suppliers coming to us and them having kit available to look at. Being able to chat to other leisure providers also helped in sharing best practice and prompted conversations with suppliers we might not have met,” said Jubilee Hall Trust’s Louise Sharp.

They also heard from a range of speakers at the CPD-certified seminar programme, which ran across both days of the event.

Delegates heard from Susannah Walker, co-founder of Make Space for Girls, which campaigns for parks and similar public spaces to be planned and designed to be as welcoming to girls and young women as they are to boys and young men. Walker explained the work being done in three cities - Vienna, Malmo and Barcelona - to make parks more appealing to girls. The solutions included better lighting; wider entrances to play areas; smaller, sub-divided sports areas or adding a second more open court; seating areas arranged in groups rather than lines; circular paths around the perimeter of the park; more swings and good quality toilets.

Paul Reed from GT3 Architects discussed whether the modern leisure centre is fit for purpose. He said the ways in which people think about fitness and leisure have evolved in recent years with a shift towards digital health and fitness tools, meaning that the leisure industry must evolve and innovate if it is to continue to attract users.

The situation has been accelerated as a result of the Covid crisis, posing an interesting question for local authorities, universities and operators as they look to engage with a wider range of users and encourage more people to remain active. 

The future of the leisure sector is not about returning to normal, said Reed. It is about making designs more inclusive both in terms of the actual building and its context. Understanding the barriers for all users is key to creating centres that meet the needs of all age groups, needs and abilities, while bringing together complimentary uses including NHS facilities, adult learning, libraries, student learning spaces, customer services and community gardens/allotments can increase footfall and widen user demographics.

Finally, addressing sustainability and the carbon neutral agenda is a key design principal for all current and future leisure projects to create positive environments. Incorporating these three key areas of opportunity will ensure leisure facilities are inclusive environments that are designed for all and provide a lasting difference. 

 

delegate feedback

“Meeting real decision makers who genuinely want to speak to suppliers.”

Kevin Ritchie, Prospec Ltd

 

“It was a good experience, lots of interesting new products on the market to consider in future specs.”

James Pilling, gcp Architects

 

“Genuinely good to meet people face to face and also meet new people from other areas of the industry who we are not always around.”

Aaron McCulloch, YPT

 

“Really liked the efficient and slick organization, face to face meetings, socialising and networking.”

John Lomas, Collinson Construction

 

“The structure and format, it’s a really good mix of meetings, networking and education. Plus, it’s so good socially to meet like-minded people and have a beer together in the evening.”

Neil Richardson, ReCreation

 

“The 20 minute face to face meeting are an excellent use of valuable time. Network has tremendous value.”

Brian Gray, CMAT

 

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