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FITNESS, HEALTH, WELLNESS

features

Life lessons: Tara Dillon

One of the sector’s best known leaders, Dillon took CIMSPA from last chance saloon to being an award-winning organisation. She talks to Kath Hudson about the gruelling early years

Published in Health Club Management 2023 issue 6
Dillon say there was an ‘overwhelming amount’ of work to do when she took over at CIMSPA / photo: CIMSPA
Dillon say there was an ‘overwhelming amount’ of work to do when she took over at CIMSPA / photo: CIMSPA
I was beset with self doubt and imposter syndrome, I felt paranoid, exposed and watched

The biggest challenge of my career was taking over CIMSPA. Although I’m so glad I did, I’ve never felt so isolated as I did in those early days, when I spent many nights in hotel rooms with my head in my hands.

Since it was only a short secondment initially, I had felt there was no risk, but once I got involved I realised the enormity of the challenge and felt that if I didn’t make it work I would be a public failure.

The financial situation was precarious and there was an overwhelming amount of work, which we weren’t well enough resourced to do. Initially I was beset with self doubt and imposter syndrome, I felt paranoid, exposed and watched.

Securing finances
The first challenge was to secure the financial position. Funding was difficult, even though the industry had said it wanted a body to showcase the profession and standardise training.

When I approached Sport England, I was told I had no operational evidence, no money and no people and was asked why the sector wasn’t funding it. I argued the sector wasn’t awash with money and that CIMSPA needed a partner to prove a point.

Eventually, with a plan, they did give us some funding. I then went back to the sector to ask employers to match it, although they didn’t quite match it, we had enough support to get going. This was a pivotal moment; it showed willingness and collaboration from the sector.

Power of listening
I drew on my professional experience. Successful organisations listen, have a strong vision and recruit well, so I aimed to do just that. It helped that I had a healthy black book and felt solidarity from the industry. The change came when I realised I wasn’t having to check cashflow every single day.

When I took over we had less than 1,000 members, but after two years we had five times as many and the support of five or six important partners.

During this time I learned it’s really important to listen to your customers, as well as your instincts, and to hold your nerve through periods of change. CIMSPA had to match the ask of the sector, which meant we had to stay true to our mission and not pivot for an easy win. There were many temptations where changing course, or entering a partnership, would have been financially beneficial but it would have impacted our integrity.

The position of CEO is a big jump up from MD and I initially found it a lonely place, however, when I learned to reach out to sector friends, I found myself well supported.

Stop whinging
When I was battling for the Sport England funding I recall I did whinge a bit – moaning about other organisations which were funded – but a mentor told me to stop being a victim and work it out, which was the jolt I needed. I learned not to look for problems, but to focus on what’s going well and build on that. Be clear on the goal and keep making small steps forward.

The tough times were definitely worth it. I’m proud of the empowering culture we’ve created at CIMSPA, which is built on the foundations of equality, respect and teamwork. I implemented the policy of treating people like grown-ups – for example offering unlimited leave, having a realistic expenses policy and an open-minded approach to flexible working – and then handed the baton over to the employees.

This approach won us the Best Company award in The Times Top 100 Not for Profit category and I was voted in the top five CEOs. The organisation is making a difference, and we’re constantly striving to be the best we can be for the sector.

If anyone reading this has anything to say, I’m always listening.

About CIMSPA

The Chartered Institute of the Management of Sport and Activity (CIMSPA) is the representative body for all those working in the physical activity sector.

CIMSPA is the industry’s first chartered institute and was born out of the convergence of a number of organisations that blazed a trail, including the Association of Leisure Managers (ALM), ILAM (Institute of Leisure Management), The National Association of Sports Development (NASD), The Association of Baths and Recreation Management (ISRM) and CIMSPA’s foundational organisations, the Institute of Sport, Play and Leisure (ISPAL) and IMSPA – the Institute for Sport and Physical Activity.

CIMSPA’s formation gained industry-wide support from organisations including UK Active, Sport England, Community Leisure UK, the Chief Cultural and Leisure Officers’ Association (CLOA) and the Sport and Recreation Alliance (SRA) – formerly the CCPR (Central Council for Recreation).

In addition to advocating, setting standards for qualifications and governance, CIMSPA also took over the functions of the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs), the body established ‘by the industry for the industry’ to regulate the registration of fitness professionals, validate their qualifications and raise standards in the sector.

The REPs merger happened in February 2020 following an agreement between CIMSPA and REPs’ owner, UK Coaching, who combined REPs with the CIMSPA Exercise and Fitness Directory, creating a single directory for all exercise and fitness professionals.

The agreement made CIMSPA the only directory with the official recognition of the sector.

More: www.CIMSPA.co.uk

Within two years, CIMSPA had increased membership fivefold / photo: Shutterstock / Friends Stock
Within two years, CIMSPA had increased membership fivefold / photo: Shutterstock / Friends Stock
Focus on what’s going well and build on that, says Dillon / photo: Shutterstock / Friends Stock
Focus on what’s going well and build on that, says Dillon / photo: Shutterstock / Friends Stock
https://www.leisureopportunities.co.uk/images/2023/105041_609208.jpg
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features

Life lessons: Tara Dillon

One of the sector’s best known leaders, Dillon took CIMSPA from last chance saloon to being an award-winning organisation. She talks to Kath Hudson about the gruelling early years

Published in Health Club Management 2023 issue 6
Dillon say there was an ‘overwhelming amount’ of work to do when she took over at CIMSPA / photo: CIMSPA
Dillon say there was an ‘overwhelming amount’ of work to do when she took over at CIMSPA / photo: CIMSPA
I was beset with self doubt and imposter syndrome, I felt paranoid, exposed and watched

The biggest challenge of my career was taking over CIMSPA. Although I’m so glad I did, I’ve never felt so isolated as I did in those early days, when I spent many nights in hotel rooms with my head in my hands.

Since it was only a short secondment initially, I had felt there was no risk, but once I got involved I realised the enormity of the challenge and felt that if I didn’t make it work I would be a public failure.

The financial situation was precarious and there was an overwhelming amount of work, which we weren’t well enough resourced to do. Initially I was beset with self doubt and imposter syndrome, I felt paranoid, exposed and watched.

Securing finances
The first challenge was to secure the financial position. Funding was difficult, even though the industry had said it wanted a body to showcase the profession and standardise training.

When I approached Sport England, I was told I had no operational evidence, no money and no people and was asked why the sector wasn’t funding it. I argued the sector wasn’t awash with money and that CIMSPA needed a partner to prove a point.

Eventually, with a plan, they did give us some funding. I then went back to the sector to ask employers to match it, although they didn’t quite match it, we had enough support to get going. This was a pivotal moment; it showed willingness and collaboration from the sector.

Power of listening
I drew on my professional experience. Successful organisations listen, have a strong vision and recruit well, so I aimed to do just that. It helped that I had a healthy black book and felt solidarity from the industry. The change came when I realised I wasn’t having to check cashflow every single day.

When I took over we had less than 1,000 members, but after two years we had five times as many and the support of five or six important partners.

During this time I learned it’s really important to listen to your customers, as well as your instincts, and to hold your nerve through periods of change. CIMSPA had to match the ask of the sector, which meant we had to stay true to our mission and not pivot for an easy win. There were many temptations where changing course, or entering a partnership, would have been financially beneficial but it would have impacted our integrity.

The position of CEO is a big jump up from MD and I initially found it a lonely place, however, when I learned to reach out to sector friends, I found myself well supported.

Stop whinging
When I was battling for the Sport England funding I recall I did whinge a bit – moaning about other organisations which were funded – but a mentor told me to stop being a victim and work it out, which was the jolt I needed. I learned not to look for problems, but to focus on what’s going well and build on that. Be clear on the goal and keep making small steps forward.

The tough times were definitely worth it. I’m proud of the empowering culture we’ve created at CIMSPA, which is built on the foundations of equality, respect and teamwork. I implemented the policy of treating people like grown-ups – for example offering unlimited leave, having a realistic expenses policy and an open-minded approach to flexible working – and then handed the baton over to the employees.

This approach won us the Best Company award in The Times Top 100 Not for Profit category and I was voted in the top five CEOs. The organisation is making a difference, and we’re constantly striving to be the best we can be for the sector.

If anyone reading this has anything to say, I’m always listening.

About CIMSPA

The Chartered Institute of the Management of Sport and Activity (CIMSPA) is the representative body for all those working in the physical activity sector.

CIMSPA is the industry’s first chartered institute and was born out of the convergence of a number of organisations that blazed a trail, including the Association of Leisure Managers (ALM), ILAM (Institute of Leisure Management), The National Association of Sports Development (NASD), The Association of Baths and Recreation Management (ISRM) and CIMSPA’s foundational organisations, the Institute of Sport, Play and Leisure (ISPAL) and IMSPA – the Institute for Sport and Physical Activity.

CIMSPA’s formation gained industry-wide support from organisations including UK Active, Sport England, Community Leisure UK, the Chief Cultural and Leisure Officers’ Association (CLOA) and the Sport and Recreation Alliance (SRA) – formerly the CCPR (Central Council for Recreation).

In addition to advocating, setting standards for qualifications and governance, CIMSPA also took over the functions of the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs), the body established ‘by the industry for the industry’ to regulate the registration of fitness professionals, validate their qualifications and raise standards in the sector.

The REPs merger happened in February 2020 following an agreement between CIMSPA and REPs’ owner, UK Coaching, who combined REPs with the CIMSPA Exercise and Fitness Directory, creating a single directory for all exercise and fitness professionals.

The agreement made CIMSPA the only directory with the official recognition of the sector.

More: www.CIMSPA.co.uk

Within two years, CIMSPA had increased membership fivefold / photo: Shutterstock / Friends Stock
Within two years, CIMSPA had increased membership fivefold / photo: Shutterstock / Friends Stock
Focus on what’s going well and build on that, says Dillon / photo: Shutterstock / Friends Stock
Focus on what’s going well and build on that, says Dillon / photo: Shutterstock / Friends Stock
https://www.leisureopportunities.co.uk/images/2023/105041_609208.jpg
The CIMSPA leader took the association from last chance saloon to award-winning organisation. Here she reflects on the gruelling early years
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Featured supplier news
Featured supplier news: Altrafit introduces custom functional fitness equipment at Third Space
Altrafit has taken further steps to cement its reputation as a provider of high-quality, affordable functional fitness equipment that is built to last with the development and introduction of a new functional fitness keg for luxury gym operator, Third Space.
Company profiles
Company profile: Les Mills UK
For over 50 years Les Mills has been leading the way in fitness to inspire ...
Company profiles
Company profile: Active IQ
The UK’s leading Ofqual-recognised awarding organisation for the physical activity sector, we offer over 100 ...
Supplier Showcases
Supplier showcase - Safe Space: Delivering the vision
Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
Featured press releases
Servicesport UK Limited press release: ServiceSport UK awarded Ministry of Justice contract for gym equipment maintenance in prisons
In a significant milestone, ServiceSport UK proudly announces that we have been awarded the prestigious Ministry of Justice contract for the inspection, service, and maintenance of PE equipment across 106 public prisons in England and Wales.
Featured press releases
Alliance Leisure Services (Design, Build and Fund) press release: Alliance Leisure celebrates official opening of its first Leisure Local Health Hub
This month sees the official opening of a brand new, £9 million Health Hub in Nottinghamshire. Based on Sport England’s Leisure Local model, the new community provision delivers a host of leisure facilities designed to bring new active living opportunities to the whole community.
Directory
Snowroom
TechnoAlpin SpA: Snowroom
Spa software
SpaBooker: Spa software
Flooring
Total Vibration Solutions / TVS Sports Surfaces: Flooring
Cryotherapy
Art of Cryo: Cryotherapy
Salt therapy products
Himalayan Source: Salt therapy products
Lockers
Crown Sports Lockers: Lockers
Property & Tenders
Jersey
Jersey War Tunnels
Property & Tenders
Chiswick, Gillingham, York and Nottingham
Savills
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Diary dates
03-05 Sep 2024
IMPACT Exhibition Center, Bangkok, Thailand
Diary dates
08-10 Sep 2024
Wyndham® Lake Buena Vista Disney Springs™ Resort, Lake Buena Vista, United States
Diary dates
19-19 Sep 2024
The Salil Hotel Riverside - Bangkok, Bangkok 10120, Thailand
Diary dates
20-22 Sep 2024
Locations worldwide,
Diary dates
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REVĪVŌ Wellness Resort Nusa Dua Bali, Kabupaten Badung, Indonesia
Diary dates
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Diary dates
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QEII Conference Centre, London,
Diary dates
22-25 Oct 2024
Messe Stuttgart, Germany
Diary dates
24-24 Oct 2024
QEII Conference Centre, London, United Kingdom
Diary dates
04-07 Nov 2024
In person, St Andrews, United Kingdom
Diary dates
04-06 Feb 2025
Coventry Building Society Arena, Coventry, United Kingdom
Diary dates
11-13 Feb 2025
Fairmont Riyadh , Saudi Arabia
Diary dates
10-13 Apr 2025
Exhibition Centre , Cologne, Germany
Diary dates
07-07 Jun 2025
Worldwide, Various,
Diary dates
28-31 Oct 2025
Koelnmesse, Cologne, Germany
Diary dates
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