GLL best–known as Better Gyms or simply “Better” is the largest UK based charitable social enterprise. They operate 258 public Sports and Leisure facilities, 88 libraries, 10 children’s centres and 5 adventure playgrounds. They are partnered with 50 local councils, public agencies and sporting organisations. We sat down with Andy Gilbert, Community Sport Manager at Better Gyms Camden to talk about the enterprise, fitness and community.
What does your organisation do?
As a proud representative Andy passionately states “We’re GLL, our customer brand name is ‘Better’ and we operate leisure centres across the country”. Better Gym operates a range of facilities to encourage activity including “gyms, swimming pools and swim schools” giving users a variety of options to keep fit.
Andy alludes to their mission to encourage locals to get active “In Camden, we operate 5 leisure centres and several charitable social enterprises supporting health and wellbeing.”
The nature of this charitable social enterprise is to “reinvest surplus into the community and communal infrastructures outside of our leisure centres as well as making sure our leisure centres are accessible to members of the community.”
What makes GLL ‘Better’?
GLL possess a “what it says on the tin” attitude towards the way they do business “we do what we say” exclaims Andy adding “it’s my responsibility to take our turnover and invest it in our facilities to make it accessible to those in our communities. We pride ourselves on being inclusive and affordable.”
Andy describes one of the ways GLL has made Better Gyms accessible to Camdenites “We work in partnership with the Camden council to ensure Camden residents are charged less for their memberships in comparison to non-Camden residents.”
“We are a true social enterprise and that’s what sets us aside – our priority is to reinvest into our people. As a business, we have our four pillars: Better Business; Better service; Better communities and Better People. Everything we do falls under those pillars”
Every little helps
Partnerships have shaped GLL into the organisation they are Andy explains “One of the things that makes our services better is our partnership with you.” Andy adds “I converse with people who have been referred to us by KX Recruit; I’m usually the man behind the computer who they don’t ever see. However, I started to go out and speak to them and you can see the change you’ve made in their lives. It’s quite inspiring to us”.
Reflecting on the people he’s met Andy mentions an employee he hired via KXR “Prior to working at Better Gyms, one of our employees hadn’t worked in a while”. Sympathising with his employee’s previous job search struggles due to her “broken English” Andy says “She probably wouldn’t have gotten a job with us if she hadn’t enlisted the help of KX Recruit. You referred her to us and gave her support. This allowed us to make reasonable adjustments on our end to accompany her”.
Referring to her career progression Andy says “She is a valued team member, she’s brilliant at her job and she’s progressed from a casual role to a permanent one in a short space of time. I have no doubt she’ll continue to progress through GLL. Her story is very inspiring!”
A positive impact in bleak times
When it comes to the positive impact they’ve had on the local community there are many stories that bring a smile to Andy’s face “Where our leisure centres are located there are some gaps in provision – one is in Regent’s Park Estate in Camden”. Describing the challenge, they had Andy says: “the community in this area were highly inactive with high levels of low employment”.
As a solution, Better Gyms partnered with Middlesex County Cricket Club to provide Regent’s Park Estate with access to “estate-based activities delivered by professional cricket players, coaches, and World Club winners”. To add extra value to the project Andy and his team worked with their “partner Big Food to provide healthy cooking classes taught by a Chef” to locals.
Thinking back to the event which involves participants from diverse backgrounds and age groups Andy says, “We did it for the first time last year, it was moving to see what the power of sport and the power of cricket in a multi-use communal space could do. We delivered 6 sessions consisting of 12 hours in total – our youngest participant was 3 and the oldest was 89.”
To make sure they got as many locals involved as possible Andy worked with both mature and young people’s projects to maximise awareness.
Work the blues away
Exercise is a great way to lift your spirits especially when you’re experiencing emotional distress and depression. Andy expresses how exercising can influence your mood and be beneficial for job seekers “We work with numerous mental health services within Camden such as Mental Health Steering Group to support others through physical activity”.
“We try to do this in a number of ways such as; free swimming pool access at our Kentish Town sports centre every Monday afternoon for people living with mental health who are referred into the Camden NHS trust.”
Recalling personal case studies Andy speaks of the people this service has helped “We’ve had cases where we’ve worked with people who had to leave their jobs and were unable to work because of severe mental health issues. We introduced them to physical activities and with some support they were able to return to work on a part-time basis.”
In support of the significance working can make Andy says, “We’ve had testimonies where people’s confidence has improved, and they’ve been able to make friends in the community without feeling like there’s a stigma hanging over their heads”.
Your relationship with KX Recruit
GLL recruits for a wide range of jobs within their leisure centres from cleaners to general managers to sports coach and so on. Andy recounts how he heard of KX Recruit “A colleague at Camden council recommended KXR and steered us in your direction. I remember him saying ‘you should work with this group – they’re fantastic!’ – we met with you shortly after that”.
Better Gyms Camden previously used an online recruitment system which they “quickly realised needed to be more approachable for Camden job seekers.” KXR offered an application process that made this more efficient “you’ve provided us with brilliant support, and we are reaping the benefits of it by getting brilliant members of staff.”
Have we been successful in placing candidates with you?
“We’ve had 23 interviews with candidates referred to us by KXR and we’ve had 4 successful placements. The ones I’ve spoken to have mentioned how your service has helped them to get back into work. Getting a job in this industry with an organisation that pays London living wage plus a host of benefits can be hard – but you make it happen. We really want to see more people from your service come into our organisation”.
“I’d rate KXR a 10 because working with you has been so successful and beneficial. All the leisure managers at Better Gyms Camden shout loud and proud about your service. You’re our first point of call for recruitment. The support we’ve received from yourself and KXR staff has been 10/10. You’re always there – even if it’s on the phone or via email. We always get a quick response. It’s really beneficial for us to have a local service like yours. Everyone you’ve referred to us for an interview has been absolutely fantastic!”
Thinking ahead – what can we expect from Better Gyms Camden in 2020?
Planning for a bright future Andy reveals “You can expect new developments, new targeted projects with the LGBTQ+ community, women’s’ only activities, and employment opportunities with organisations such as yourself. We’re also going to do supportive internships for disabled Camden residents, NVQ’s for Camden students and facility redevelopment”.
Hoping to get even more locals active Andy announces, “We’re also doing new community projects, more estate-based activities, free pay and play card schemes and live stream classes to make everything more accessible especially with Covid-19”.
What can we look forward to?
“Our new leisure facility is opening in King’s Cross soon, it will be a boutique gym with a community feel.”<<< BACK TO BLOG