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There's nothing leisurely about Warren's decade with Abbeycroft Leisure

Warren Smyth, Abbeycroft chief
Warren Smyth, Abbeycroft chief

When Warren Smyth first took the hotseat at Abbeycroft Leisure, the UK was just entering its big recession, Twitter was in its infancy and George W Bush was US President.

The world was a very different place and so was the leisure industry.

Wind forward to 2018, and Warren can look back on more than a decade as chief executive of one of the larger businesses across the area and a period of growth, acquisition and investment which has ridden the wave of the popularity of personal fitness.

New plans are in hand for a £60,000 revamp of the Bury Leisure Centre gym, there’s a new family cycle event planned in Bury for the autumn and Abbeycroft’s new fitness app has just hit our mobile devices.

Life’s looking positive for Warren, who while loving a game of hockey, has been troubled by an injury this year so static cycling has been his one fitness outlet along with chasing around after children Alfie and Lily.

But what about the summer’s World Cup - who does a health professional think will come out on top?

“I’m really interested this year as there are a lot of players for England who I hope will be able to play with no fear. My experience of playing sport - nothing like that level I hasten to add - is that when you have lots of young people around you, they have no reputations to worry about and so they play with no fear. I’m quite fascinated to see how it works for Gareth Southgate this year in Russia, given in theory that it’s one of the least experienced squads that we have sent.”

Back in 2007, Warren, now 43, walked through the doors of a very different Abbeycroft Leisure with just two sites under its wing in Bury and Haverhill.

Since then, acquisitions have seen the likes of Newmarket and Trumpington come on stream, along with The Self Centre on Moreton Hall and the newest opening also on Moreton Hall, Skyliner.

“With upgrades, we’re also trying to get into a cycle where it’s not just one big hit every five or more years, as evidenced by the £60,000 project at Bury Leisure Centre gym. It makes much more financial sense.”

One little-known fact about Warren is his passion for ... amateur boxing.

“I started at 10 and carried it on until I was 22. One night my Dad said we would go the boxing in Romford and he took me to the show, which I watched and was fascinated. I joined the club and my experience at that club was absolutely amazing.

“My coaches were outstanding; they looked after you and I found the boxing benefited me in so many other sports. I’m a real advocate of amateur boxing because I do think the sport is very high-intensity for a very short period of time. It’s explosive.”

What about the future?

Warren has been on a recent conference to look into a crystal ball and try to best-guess where leisure will see itself in the future. Technology, nutrition, and an ageing fitness population are all high on the agenda.

“Waving my magic wand, my biggest challenge will be to find out what out next set of customers will want. One of the biggest challenges is making sure people can access the things they want to access and keep them taking part. I think technology has a role - we took a long time finding the app which was right for us before going ahead with that development.

“We find people are not so much taking part for the health benefit but for the social benefit.

“I think the trends in health and fitness will change quite dramatically; it used to be about big facilities, lots of equipment, Step Aerobics used to be popular. But we see that group interaction as a big driver moving forward.”

Abbeycroft are keen to look at the benefits of physical activity on the workforce, too.

“Five years ago, we could have looked at a corporate gym membership - that’s where we were. Now, we understand most employees will be accessing that service anyway if they really want to do it. But it’s the other things now, such as health MoTs, advice, advise on walking routes, ParkRun, and on top of that with our work with The Self Centre, you have things such as mindfulness, mental health and general wellbeing, yoga and pilates. Employers can just pick up the phone to us and we can come to a company and see what works. One size certainly doesn’t fit all.”

Abbeycroft Leisure are main sponsors of the 2018 Bury Free Press Business Awards and are the lead sponsor on the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award, lifted last year by West Suffolk Hospital NHS Trust’s Jan Bloomfield.

“Lifetime Achievement means someone who has invested not just their day job but a bit of their spare time, enthusiasm and passion.People who can demonstrate that passion over a long time really stand out. I think Jan was someone who is testament to the Lifetime Achievement Award. It goes beyond the day job.

“Jan has made an impact on the college and other areas which go well beyond the NHS work she does.”

You can nominate now in any of the 11 categories via http://imlevents.co.uk/

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