Abbeycroft Leisure logo

Abbeycroft Leisure – creating impact in local communities

Abbeycroft Leisure is at the heart of the communities in which they serve. One of the largest, independent leisure trusts in the UK, Abbeycroft manages 18 facilities across Suffolk and one in Cambridgeshire, with an annual turnover of £12M.

They are a shining example of a not-for-profit social enterprise, and are immensely proud of their social impact, which last year was valued at over £6.2million. Their values are easy to understand and underpin everything they do;

  • community focused
  • deliver together
  • pride
  • acting with integrity

Delivering with Allied Health Professional Suffolk

Warren Smyth, Chief Executive at Abbeycroft explains how he believes ‘delivering together’ not only makes perfect sense, but it’s the right thing to do not just for their members, but for the wider community.

Warren Smyth“We’ve worked well with a range of partners for a long time, including our two local councils, West Suffolk and Babergh District Council, who own several of the facilities we manage on their behalf. But we felt we had a responsibility to impact on the wider health agenda and we knew that physical activity plays a vital role in that, if the approach is joined-up.

“So last year (2019), we signed a memorandum of understanding with both Suffolk Mind and fellow social enterprise Allied Health Professionals Suffolk (AHPS), with the aim of improving the health and wellbeing of residents in Suffolk. The aim was to ensure that wherever there is an opportunity to provide joined up solutions that involve improving the mental and physical health of Suffolk residents through initiatives that involve physical activity, we would work together and not in competition. This would ensure that the clients and patients of each organisation would receive the very best outcomes for their health and wellbeing.”

All three organisations have significant but different levels of expertise and resource, and the agreements ensure that these specialisms are used to the maximum benefit for clients and members.

Warren continues: “Sharing our expertise, knowledge and resources drives innovation, but importantly it maximises our ability to help our communities’ live longer and healthier lives. It’s especially important to our partners to know that whenever a health or wellbeing problem exists they only need talk to one of us and we will work together, not in competition, to come up with a solution. Being committed to smart partnerships such as this, makes perfect sense”

Tim HagueTim Hague, Chief Operating Officer at AHPS said “The aim of AHP Suffolk is to lead the way towards healthier, happier lives for our people.  Working in partnership with Abbeycroft has enabled us to develop a broader range of services – supporting more people to return to an active life and access leisure facilities. Our agreement with Abbeycroft extends the reach of our services to more people, promoting health and wellbeing and building on the ‘social return’ that we deliver collectively.

“We have been able to deliver musculoskeletal services, including physiotherapy, within this partnership, and despite some programmes being put on-hold as a direct result of the pandemic, we know that physical activity will play such an important role in the nation’s recovery from COVID-19, and we feel this partnership puts us in a good place to respond effectively.”

GP Referrals

In addition to the partnership with AHPS, Abbeycroft have recognised the need to be more than just  a leisure centre, and have been trail-blazers in a number of initiatives which positively impact the wider public health.

Lady sat on an exercise bike in a gym surrounded by other peopleFor example, their Bury St Edmunds Leisure Centre became the first facility in Suffolk to be awarded a new county-wide quality standard for their Exercise Referral Scheme, called Active Living.  The quality standard was developed by Suffolk County Council Public Health and county wide partners for Exercise Referral Schemes (ERS) operating within the county. Suffolk is the first authority in the country to develop a county-wide quality standard of this kind.

Exercise referral schemes enable GPs and health professionals to refer patients with long term health conditions to a fitness programme based within the community, to increase their physical activity levels as part of a healthy lifestyle. Following Bury’s success, six further Abbeycroft centres also received the same quality standard.

Falls Prevention Scheme

Group of people - older people with walking sticks sat down in front of a group of workersWorking in partnership with West Suffolk CCG and West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, Abbeycroft has also developed a falls prevention programme. The aim was to provide easily accessible rehabilitation and, importantly, preventative training for clients in a leisure rather than traditional healthcare environment.

Initially, participants join a 12-week programme, which involves a group ‘Strength and Balance Class’ once a week. Typically, people attending may have fallen already or for different reasons are worried about their balance. Each class consists of 60 minutes of specific movements and exercises that safely challenge balance and muscle strength, followed by a chance to chat with fellow class members over tea/coffee.

Making time for the social element of the programme is particularly important and is a great opportunity to develop mutually supportive friendships, which often motivate ongoing participation in other centre activities beyond the programme.

Atrial Fibrilation

Photo of an Abbeycroft Leisure staff member with a customer with an Atrial fibrillation deviceAtrial fibrillation (AF) causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate and is one of the major causes of severe stroke, particularly among the over-65s. The condition is all the more dangerous because many sufferers do not show any obvious symptoms and may be completely unaware they have it.

Health practitioners in west Suffolk, which has an estimated 1,700 undiagnosed AF sufferers, have been successfully trialling a simple device that can identify those people likely to have the condition and they teamed up with Abbeycroft Leisure to support their detection project. Abbeycroft staff have been trained to use the new device and are now able to offer AF checks at their leisure centres in the west of the county.

Watch the below video to find out more about Abbeycroft Leisure