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UNITING THE WORLD OF FITNESS
Health Club Management

Health Club Management

features

Interview: Jonathan Fisher

The group CEO of Holmes Place talks to Kate Cracknell about its new Evo gym-only concept, the importance of brand identity, and a possible return to the UK

By Kate Cracknell | Published in Health Club Management 2016 issue 2
Jonathan Fisher, The group CEO of Holmes Place
Jonathan Fisher, The group CEO of Holmes Place
If we’d positioned Evo as a Holmes Place sub-brand, it would have limited what Evo could become and confused what Holmes Place stands for

Boutique can’t just be to do with size, design or price,” says Jonathan Fisher, group CEO of Holmes Place. “A great boutique fitness offering has to stand on an idea, an approach to exercise, that really engages people. It needs a very distinct story and philosophy.

“That’s been done with group exercise, but I’m not aware of it having been done with a gym offering before, so that’s what we’ve set out to do.”

Sharing expertise
The spark of the boutique gym idea came a couple of years ago, after Holmes Place chief marketing officer Sean Turner went to Norway to see the founders of Evo Fitness (see HCM Oct 13, p30).

“What Sean saw in Evo Fitness was a very strong model, but also the potential to build on it and take it even further,” says Fisher. “Specifically, we felt there was an opportunity to overlay an idea, a brand philosophy, and this fitted perfectly with the vision I already had: for a gym where people learnt to move skilfully.”

Holmes Place therefore entered into a licensing agreement with Evo Fitness to roll out the brand across Europe – an agreement that allowed Holmes Place to build on the existing Evo model with its own vision and philosophy (see p35).

But why, with such a clear vision – not to mention expertise in building health clubs – did Holmes Place even need to partner with Evo? “We did look at starting from scratch ourselves, but Evo’s was a very robust commercial concept – underpinned by very good personal training and IT structures – and was something we were keen to buy into,” says Fisher. “In fact, the work Evo had done was the catalyst for me thinking about this boutique convenience segment.

“We wanted to use so much of Evo’s model that we decided, if they were happy for us to take the brand where we felt it needed to go, then we should do it. And then, if they wanted to share in that journey and take learnings back from us, we’d be happy with that.

‘To their credit, that was the main reason why they did it. They’ve been very interested in what we’re doing and we’re now seeing some of our philosophy – the notion of skillful human movement – being worked into their existing clubs.”

Evo expansion
The obvious question, given Holmes Place’s long track record in high-end, full-service health clubs is: why venture into this new gym-only arena?

“It’s always nice to start something from fresh. It gives you huge scope to be innovative, creative, bold,” says Fisher. “When you have 35 years of culture and 80 clubs, as we do with Holmes Place, that’s quite a big organisation to bring change to.

“The other reason is that Holmes Place is a big model – each new club requires a lot of investment, planning and preparation. We’re growing organically, but no more than one or two clubs a year.

“In the meantime, we’re seeing areas of the industry that are growing very rapidly. That’s exciting from a commercial perspective and we wanted to be part of it.

“But we’re not interested in a quick win. We’ll only go into businesses where we feel we can bring something genuinely different – where our model will be sustainable and with a unique competitive advantage for the mid- and long term. All of which takes us back to the importance of creating an identity – not just from a brand perspective but also from a content perspective. I believe Evo absolutely delivers on that.”

The new Evo offering isn’t being positioned as a Holmes Place sub-brand, but rather as a standalone business.

“I think we’ve been guilty of trying to stretch the Holmes Place brand too much, taking it in directions it didn’t really belong,” acknowledges Fisher. “We didn’t take it too far, but for example we had purely fitness-focused clubs and a few smaller footprint locations where we couldn’t deliver the full Holmes Place wellbeing experience.

“About two or three years ago we recognised this and decided to take a step back. You can’t stand for everything – you have to stand for something – and we’ve taken time out to distil the essence of what Holmes Place is about and make sure we don’t dilute that in any way. Holmes Place is about relaxation and lifestyle and urban sanctuary. It’s for a more mature market and it’s about being comfortable – being well, but enjoying yourself in the process.

“Meanwhile Evo is very different, with tremendous personality and its own sense of purpose. It’s a performance brand for committed exercisers who want to develop skills for the outside world. If we’d positioned it as a Holmes Place sub-brand, it would have been the worst of both worlds, limiting what Evo could become and also confusing what Holmes Place stands for.”

And the rationale seems to be paying off. Specific figures are off the record, but the Geneva club broke even very quickly and a strong roll-out is now planned: Evo will expand across Germany, Austria and Switzerland by Q3 2016, with a focus on cities like Berlin, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Vienna and Zurich. “In fact, we’re about to do a joint venture with Auctus – a very successful private equity firm in Germany – to expand both Evo and Holmes Place in that market,” says Fisher.

And other markets are on the table too: “We’ve taken the Evo licence for the whole of Europe other than Scandinavia and Russia. Some markets we’ll do on our own, others we’d possibly look to joint venture.

“We haven’t really made decisions around that for the moment, but for example in markets we’re not currently in – such as France and Italy – we might look to find a local partner. We’ve also agreed with the Norwegians that, for the big markets – the UK, US, Japan, China, Brazil, India, Australia – we’ll joint venture with them.

“I also think we’re coming up with something that will be so well-defined, it will be a great franchise model. We’re looking to franchise in the second half of this year, once we’ve fine-tuned the concept and all of its training methods, with one of the markets we’re particularly interested in being Japan.”

A return to the UK?
The UK is also on his hit list – which is interesting given that Holmes Place sold its UK estate in 2006. “The UK is very appealing,” says Fisher. “I think it’s almost time for us to return to that market – not just with Evo but with Holmes Place too.

“I don’t want to try and wrestle market share away from other operators by force – as I said before, we only go into markets if we feel we’re able to bring something sustainably different to the table – but I feel that there’s an opportunity for both brands in the UK.”

Fisher concludes: “In terms of Evo, though – not just in the UK but around the world – I can’t even conceptualise how big it could be. I see it as a new category – one that’s relevant for any mature market. It could be huge. It’s also easy to expand as a business model. The financiers like it. The members like it.

“It has science – in its IT platform and in as much as the sums add up – and it has soul in its training philosophy. I can easily see it adding 30–40 per cent to our turnover over the next five years.”

About Evo Geneva

HCM editor Kate Cracknell takes a look around the new Evo Europe club

When you first go into the Evo Europe club – which opened in Geneva, Switzerland, in March 2015 – you’re immediately struck by the similarities it has to its sister clubs throughout Scandinavia.

At 600sq m, the club is the same size as the flagship sites in Norway, and the RFID access is part of the same hi-tech IT infrastructure developed by the Evo founders for the Scandinavian clubs. Indeed, this was one of the big draws for the Holmes Place team, which recognised IT’s vital role in the commercial success of the Evo model.

The staff-light, PT-heavy model of the original clubs is also evident – as is the high degree to which PTs feel ownership of the club, interacting with members and generally keeping an eye on things.

As you come through the door, the same shelving units are in place to store outdoor shoes, which aren’t allowed in the gym. The same round sofas add a sense of welcome to the entry space. Club rules – gym etiquette and consideration for other members – are noted on the walls, and the changing rooms are minimal, with plenty of lockers on the gym floor. Neither are there any group exercise classes, although there is some small group PT.

But what the Holmes Place team has done is take the already successful Evo model and add another conceptual layer that helps it stand out from the crowd – a layer that’s allowing the Swiss operation to charge a premium compared to the Norwegian clubs.

That layer is the fitness club’s philosophy and raison d’etre: mastering movement that’s skillful, purposeful and playful – movement that’s both fun and that will support people in their everyday lives and activities.

Fitness director Kesh Patel is the man behind the detail. “I wrote a book on this – The Complete Guide to Bodyweight Training,” he explains. “I take the approach of working with people as if they were four years old, when they naturally moved in this way.

“It’s all about fundamental movement patterns and we build up from the ground – from their feet. People train every part of their body but they forget their feet. That’s the one part that’s in constant contact with the ground, so your strength has to come from there.

“We’re now formalising our philosophy into an approach called EvoMove, which all our PTs will be trained in via a week-long Evo Academy foundation course. We want to ensure our PTs are premiership quality.”

Split into four separate rooms, the layout and offering reinforces the concept. The first room is deliberately more familiar: a cardio area supplied by Precor, Concept2 and Tomahawk/IC7. Patel acknowledges that some members may not even venture beyond this area.

Those who do will move to a resistance area kitted out exclusively with Technogym Kinesis and Kinesis stations; there are no fixed resistance machines in the club. Everyone has an induction on the kit, and instructional videos are also being developed.

The third room is a performance area offering free weights and benches – but nothing overly heavy as it’s all about correct technique – as well as a sprint track and a running lab, including a plantar plate for foot analysis.

The final room is what Patel calls ‘the playground’. No free weights – it’s bodyweight only – with a stripped-down Octagon rig, TRX, gymnastic rings, wall bars and a traverse wall.

Changing rooms are minimal, with many lockers on the gym floor
Changing rooms are minimal, with many lockers on the gym floor
The fourth room at Evo Geneva is dedicated to bodyweight training
The fourth room at Evo Geneva is dedicated to bodyweight training

Creating an icon

As if the roll-out of Evo weren’t enough to keep Fisher and his team busy, Holmes Place has also created another brand: Icon.

Launched in Poland, the premium low-cost offering has been designed specifically with Millennials in mind. “It’s amazing how many businesses start without thinking about who their target market is,” says Holmes Place group CEO Jonathan Fisher. “We started with Millennials as our focus and built a brand and offering that reflects their values and aspirations. It’s centred around group exercise, around looking good. It has great music and high energy and at its heart it’s about being connected – about belonging and about meeting people.

“It’s also aspirational. In the low-cost sector, you’re always going to be very vulnerable to anyone who’s able to charge that little bit less. I have an overwhelming sense of concern that low-cost is going to turn into a really red ocean, and I really wouldn’t want to be there. We decided, if we were going to do lower-cost, we’d do it in a way that would be sustainable. This means we’re able to charge around 20 per cent more than the true low-cost operators in the market.”

From the one club currently open, another eight will open in Poland in 2016 – and although originally intended for that market only, Fisher is now looking at other options: “The brand is so cool and so good that it probably should go elsewhere. It could work in Barcelona, for example, or Berlin.”

Does he worry that what’s cool with Millennials today will be uncool next week? “No, because I’m not running it! We have Millennials leading this brand.”

ICON is an image-focused brand for Millennials, run by Millennials
ICON is an image-focused brand for Millennials, run by Millennials
Sign up here to get HCM's weekly ezine and every issue of HCM magazine free on digital.
The Holmes Place brand is about ‘relaxation and lifestyle and urban sanctuary’, and is designed with a more mature market in mind
The Holmes Place brand is about ‘relaxation and lifestyle and urban sanctuary’, and is designed with a more mature market in mind
At its core, Evo is a performance brand for committed exercisers
At its core, Evo is a performance brand for committed exercisers
Jonathan Fisher
Jonathan Fisher
https://www.leisureopportunities.co.uk/images/15958_727500.jpg
Holmes Place CEO Jonathan Fisher: A new gym-only model and a possible return to the UK
Jonathan Fisher, The group CEO of Holmes Place Kate Cracknell, Editor, HCM,Jonathan Fisher, Holmes Place, Kate Cracknell, boutique, Evo, Icon, functional, Millennials, feet, brand
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features

Interview: Jonathan Fisher

The group CEO of Holmes Place talks to Kate Cracknell about its new Evo gym-only concept, the importance of brand identity, and a possible return to the UK

By Kate Cracknell | Published in Health Club Management 2016 issue 2
Jonathan Fisher, The group CEO of Holmes Place
Jonathan Fisher, The group CEO of Holmes Place
If we’d positioned Evo as a Holmes Place sub-brand, it would have limited what Evo could become and confused what Holmes Place stands for

Boutique can’t just be to do with size, design or price,” says Jonathan Fisher, group CEO of Holmes Place. “A great boutique fitness offering has to stand on an idea, an approach to exercise, that really engages people. It needs a very distinct story and philosophy.

“That’s been done with group exercise, but I’m not aware of it having been done with a gym offering before, so that’s what we’ve set out to do.”

Sharing expertise
The spark of the boutique gym idea came a couple of years ago, after Holmes Place chief marketing officer Sean Turner went to Norway to see the founders of Evo Fitness (see HCM Oct 13, p30).

“What Sean saw in Evo Fitness was a very strong model, but also the potential to build on it and take it even further,” says Fisher. “Specifically, we felt there was an opportunity to overlay an idea, a brand philosophy, and this fitted perfectly with the vision I already had: for a gym where people learnt to move skilfully.”

Holmes Place therefore entered into a licensing agreement with Evo Fitness to roll out the brand across Europe – an agreement that allowed Holmes Place to build on the existing Evo model with its own vision and philosophy (see p35).

But why, with such a clear vision – not to mention expertise in building health clubs – did Holmes Place even need to partner with Evo? “We did look at starting from scratch ourselves, but Evo’s was a very robust commercial concept – underpinned by very good personal training and IT structures – and was something we were keen to buy into,” says Fisher. “In fact, the work Evo had done was the catalyst for me thinking about this boutique convenience segment.

“We wanted to use so much of Evo’s model that we decided, if they were happy for us to take the brand where we felt it needed to go, then we should do it. And then, if they wanted to share in that journey and take learnings back from us, we’d be happy with that.

‘To their credit, that was the main reason why they did it. They’ve been very interested in what we’re doing and we’re now seeing some of our philosophy – the notion of skillful human movement – being worked into their existing clubs.”

Evo expansion
The obvious question, given Holmes Place’s long track record in high-end, full-service health clubs is: why venture into this new gym-only arena?

“It’s always nice to start something from fresh. It gives you huge scope to be innovative, creative, bold,” says Fisher. “When you have 35 years of culture and 80 clubs, as we do with Holmes Place, that’s quite a big organisation to bring change to.

“The other reason is that Holmes Place is a big model – each new club requires a lot of investment, planning and preparation. We’re growing organically, but no more than one or two clubs a year.

“In the meantime, we’re seeing areas of the industry that are growing very rapidly. That’s exciting from a commercial perspective and we wanted to be part of it.

“But we’re not interested in a quick win. We’ll only go into businesses where we feel we can bring something genuinely different – where our model will be sustainable and with a unique competitive advantage for the mid- and long term. All of which takes us back to the importance of creating an identity – not just from a brand perspective but also from a content perspective. I believe Evo absolutely delivers on that.”

The new Evo offering isn’t being positioned as a Holmes Place sub-brand, but rather as a standalone business.

“I think we’ve been guilty of trying to stretch the Holmes Place brand too much, taking it in directions it didn’t really belong,” acknowledges Fisher. “We didn’t take it too far, but for example we had purely fitness-focused clubs and a few smaller footprint locations where we couldn’t deliver the full Holmes Place wellbeing experience.

“About two or three years ago we recognised this and decided to take a step back. You can’t stand for everything – you have to stand for something – and we’ve taken time out to distil the essence of what Holmes Place is about and make sure we don’t dilute that in any way. Holmes Place is about relaxation and lifestyle and urban sanctuary. It’s for a more mature market and it’s about being comfortable – being well, but enjoying yourself in the process.

“Meanwhile Evo is very different, with tremendous personality and its own sense of purpose. It’s a performance brand for committed exercisers who want to develop skills for the outside world. If we’d positioned it as a Holmes Place sub-brand, it would have been the worst of both worlds, limiting what Evo could become and also confusing what Holmes Place stands for.”

And the rationale seems to be paying off. Specific figures are off the record, but the Geneva club broke even very quickly and a strong roll-out is now planned: Evo will expand across Germany, Austria and Switzerland by Q3 2016, with a focus on cities like Berlin, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Vienna and Zurich. “In fact, we’re about to do a joint venture with Auctus – a very successful private equity firm in Germany – to expand both Evo and Holmes Place in that market,” says Fisher.

And other markets are on the table too: “We’ve taken the Evo licence for the whole of Europe other than Scandinavia and Russia. Some markets we’ll do on our own, others we’d possibly look to joint venture.

“We haven’t really made decisions around that for the moment, but for example in markets we’re not currently in – such as France and Italy – we might look to find a local partner. We’ve also agreed with the Norwegians that, for the big markets – the UK, US, Japan, China, Brazil, India, Australia – we’ll joint venture with them.

“I also think we’re coming up with something that will be so well-defined, it will be a great franchise model. We’re looking to franchise in the second half of this year, once we’ve fine-tuned the concept and all of its training methods, with one of the markets we’re particularly interested in being Japan.”

A return to the UK?
The UK is also on his hit list – which is interesting given that Holmes Place sold its UK estate in 2006. “The UK is very appealing,” says Fisher. “I think it’s almost time for us to return to that market – not just with Evo but with Holmes Place too.

“I don’t want to try and wrestle market share away from other operators by force – as I said before, we only go into markets if we feel we’re able to bring something sustainably different to the table – but I feel that there’s an opportunity for both brands in the UK.”

Fisher concludes: “In terms of Evo, though – not just in the UK but around the world – I can’t even conceptualise how big it could be. I see it as a new category – one that’s relevant for any mature market. It could be huge. It’s also easy to expand as a business model. The financiers like it. The members like it.

“It has science – in its IT platform and in as much as the sums add up – and it has soul in its training philosophy. I can easily see it adding 30–40 per cent to our turnover over the next five years.”

About Evo Geneva

HCM editor Kate Cracknell takes a look around the new Evo Europe club

When you first go into the Evo Europe club – which opened in Geneva, Switzerland, in March 2015 – you’re immediately struck by the similarities it has to its sister clubs throughout Scandinavia.

At 600sq m, the club is the same size as the flagship sites in Norway, and the RFID access is part of the same hi-tech IT infrastructure developed by the Evo founders for the Scandinavian clubs. Indeed, this was one of the big draws for the Holmes Place team, which recognised IT’s vital role in the commercial success of the Evo model.

The staff-light, PT-heavy model of the original clubs is also evident – as is the high degree to which PTs feel ownership of the club, interacting with members and generally keeping an eye on things.

As you come through the door, the same shelving units are in place to store outdoor shoes, which aren’t allowed in the gym. The same round sofas add a sense of welcome to the entry space. Club rules – gym etiquette and consideration for other members – are noted on the walls, and the changing rooms are minimal, with plenty of lockers on the gym floor. Neither are there any group exercise classes, although there is some small group PT.

But what the Holmes Place team has done is take the already successful Evo model and add another conceptual layer that helps it stand out from the crowd – a layer that’s allowing the Swiss operation to charge a premium compared to the Norwegian clubs.

That layer is the fitness club’s philosophy and raison d’etre: mastering movement that’s skillful, purposeful and playful – movement that’s both fun and that will support people in their everyday lives and activities.

Fitness director Kesh Patel is the man behind the detail. “I wrote a book on this – The Complete Guide to Bodyweight Training,” he explains. “I take the approach of working with people as if they were four years old, when they naturally moved in this way.

“It’s all about fundamental movement patterns and we build up from the ground – from their feet. People train every part of their body but they forget their feet. That’s the one part that’s in constant contact with the ground, so your strength has to come from there.

“We’re now formalising our philosophy into an approach called EvoMove, which all our PTs will be trained in via a week-long Evo Academy foundation course. We want to ensure our PTs are premiership quality.”

Split into four separate rooms, the layout and offering reinforces the concept. The first room is deliberately more familiar: a cardio area supplied by Precor, Concept2 and Tomahawk/IC7. Patel acknowledges that some members may not even venture beyond this area.

Those who do will move to a resistance area kitted out exclusively with Technogym Kinesis and Kinesis stations; there are no fixed resistance machines in the club. Everyone has an induction on the kit, and instructional videos are also being developed.

The third room is a performance area offering free weights and benches – but nothing overly heavy as it’s all about correct technique – as well as a sprint track and a running lab, including a plantar plate for foot analysis.

The final room is what Patel calls ‘the playground’. No free weights – it’s bodyweight only – with a stripped-down Octagon rig, TRX, gymnastic rings, wall bars and a traverse wall.

Changing rooms are minimal, with many lockers on the gym floor
Changing rooms are minimal, with many lockers on the gym floor
The fourth room at Evo Geneva is dedicated to bodyweight training
The fourth room at Evo Geneva is dedicated to bodyweight training

Creating an icon

As if the roll-out of Evo weren’t enough to keep Fisher and his team busy, Holmes Place has also created another brand: Icon.

Launched in Poland, the premium low-cost offering has been designed specifically with Millennials in mind. “It’s amazing how many businesses start without thinking about who their target market is,” says Holmes Place group CEO Jonathan Fisher. “We started with Millennials as our focus and built a brand and offering that reflects their values and aspirations. It’s centred around group exercise, around looking good. It has great music and high energy and at its heart it’s about being connected – about belonging and about meeting people.

“It’s also aspirational. In the low-cost sector, you’re always going to be very vulnerable to anyone who’s able to charge that little bit less. I have an overwhelming sense of concern that low-cost is going to turn into a really red ocean, and I really wouldn’t want to be there. We decided, if we were going to do lower-cost, we’d do it in a way that would be sustainable. This means we’re able to charge around 20 per cent more than the true low-cost operators in the market.”

From the one club currently open, another eight will open in Poland in 2016 – and although originally intended for that market only, Fisher is now looking at other options: “The brand is so cool and so good that it probably should go elsewhere. It could work in Barcelona, for example, or Berlin.”

Does he worry that what’s cool with Millennials today will be uncool next week? “No, because I’m not running it! We have Millennials leading this brand.”

ICON is an image-focused brand for Millennials, run by Millennials
ICON is an image-focused brand for Millennials, run by Millennials
Sign up here to get HCM's weekly ezine and every issue of HCM magazine free on digital.
The Holmes Place brand is about ‘relaxation and lifestyle and urban sanctuary’, and is designed with a more mature market in mind
The Holmes Place brand is about ‘relaxation and lifestyle and urban sanctuary’, and is designed with a more mature market in mind
At its core, Evo is a performance brand for committed exercisers
At its core, Evo is a performance brand for committed exercisers
Jonathan Fisher
Jonathan Fisher
https://www.leisureopportunities.co.uk/images/15958_727500.jpg
Holmes Place CEO Jonathan Fisher: A new gym-only model and a possible return to the UK
Jonathan Fisher, The group CEO of Holmes Place Kate Cracknell, Editor, HCM,Jonathan Fisher, Holmes Place, Kate Cracknell, boutique, Evo, Icon, functional, Millennials, feet, brand
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Inclusive Fitness Boston, a health club created specifically for those with disabilities and their families, ...
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The Women in Fitness Association (WIFA), is partnering with Sport Alliance to undertake a survey ...
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Increases in COVID-19 cases across Europe are forcing governments to introduce restrictions, which is having ...
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Exercise has been found to increase levels of endocannabinoids – cannabis-like substances produced by the ...
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People suffering from mild depression should be offered exercise, mindfulness, therapy or meditation before medication, ...
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Total Fitness plans to launch a new-style health club model, with plans already in the ...
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Fitness operator Crunch Fitness says it's continued its recovery from lockdowns, with membership levels across ...
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FitnessOnDemand’s divisional vice president Uday Anumalachetty discusses what live fitness really means for clubs and their members today
Opinion: Why we need to reimagine what live fitness really means
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier news: INTEGRATE INNOVATE INVIGORATE with Power Plate
Moving into a new era of health and wellness, Power Plate has extended their popular Black edition range to enable health clubs and fitness studios to integrate vibration training seamlessly into their facilities.
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier news: First énergie site opens in Barcelona fully equipped by Core Health & Fitness
The first énergie Fitness club in Spain has opened in partnership with Core Health & Fitness in Sant Cugat, Barcelona, as part of a seven-year exclusive supplier agreement.
Featured operator news
Featured operator news: Being active helps Parkwood Leisure customers save the NHS £16m
Parkwood Leisure, one of the UK’s leading public leisure facilities operators, helped prevent more than 7,000 cases of stroke, dementia, depression and type 2 diabetes in 2019, saving the NHS £16 million, a new social value report has shown.
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Featured operator news: Sporting heroes to officially open £22 million redevelopment at Everyone Active centre
A £22 million redevelopment project will be unveiled at Grange Paddocks Leisure Centre, as part of the official launch of the state-of-the-art centre.
Company profiles
Company profile: Freemotion Fitness
With science and innovation at its core, Freemotion questions how we work out and then ...
Company profiles
Company profile: FIBO Global Fitness
FIBO Global Fitness is the leading international trade show for fitness, wellness & health....
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