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Looking at standards  and raising the game  since March 2004



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Leisure Connection Watch

      Last updated : 6 December  2013 

Incorporating Harpers Fitness 

As of November 2013, Leisure Connection / Harpers Fitness are no longer responsible for my local sports centre, Vale Farm. I will be winding down my activity in support of Leisure Connection Watch so that only major news that comes to my attention will be reported. If anyone would like to take over the site to run it in a more pro-active way, let me know. PB

Health & Safety Executive: Managing health and safety in swimming pools

World Health Organisation: Guidelines for Safe Recreational Water Environment

Fitness Industry Association: Code of Practice

Office of Fair Trading:  Guidance on Unfair Terms in Health and Fitness Club Agreements     
OFT Short Guide to Membership Terms
European Standard EN 15288 Swimming pools -  Safety Requirements for Operations  &
Design Requirements

ASA Safe Supervision for Teaching and Coaching Swimming


The Leisure Connection Dossier - Issue 7  

With so much information about LC on this website it can be time consuming finding the leading items. Now you can download a Word Document or PDF with key reports about LC. The dossier refers to Audit Commission, council and media sources. Items are listed under headings that include Problems with Council Contracts, Health & Safety, Cleaning & Hygiene, Maintenance, Staffing,  Price Increases, and User Contract Issues.  The current version is  Issue 7 published 7.5.11.  Note that this version does not include the two successful 2013 HSE prosecutions of Leisure Connection / Harpers Fitness. 

Index for News Headings from January 2011 till now
Dates on left are when items were added to LCW.    Dates on right are when reports first appeared.    
Headings from 2008 to 2010
    Headings from 2007     Headings from 2006       Headings from 2004 to 2005 

6.12.13 Uttlesford - Leisure Connection fined £45k plus £21k costs for chemical accident  6.12.13
The judge said, "risk was foreseeable, significant and avoidable. The company failed properly to eliminate the risk which could have been achieved by relatively simple procedures in the use of the chemicals – protection of the immediate area. It didn’t have a proper system in place.”

7.9.13 Uttlesford - Leisure Connection Plead Guilty Following a Toddler Suffering Chemical Burns  6.9.13
 The company pleaded guilty to breaching a general duty of care by exposing visitors to a risk of corrosive burns. Sodium Hydroxide was left on the floor of a changing room during a family swimming session.

23.8.3 Uttlesford - Leisure Connection / Harpers Fitness Back in Crown Court on New Charge  23.7.13

On September 6, Leisure Connection are scheduled to appear again at Chelmsford Crown Court to face a further HSE-led prosecution following an incident at Great Dunmow Leisure Centre. 
See LCW report on the incident.

18.7.13 Maldon - Leisure Connection / Harpers Fitness to pay £191,000 in Fines and Costs 18.7.13
HSE says,
"Michelle Gellard was robbed of her chances of rescue and survival by Leisure Connection's failures. Evidence emerged in the course on the investigation that Leisure Connection failed to identify and address the fact that the amount of life guarding it was paying its staff to provide at Blackwater Leisure Centre was noticeably less than the amount it knew was required for full and safe operation of the pool."

3.7.13 Review Centre Ratings for Leisure Connection / Harpers Fitness  7.6.13
Overall rating of 1.4 out of 5 based on 13 reviews between 2008 and 2013. Common grumbles are gym contracts and poor cleaning. 

18.6.13 Uttlesford - Justices Refer LC Chemical Burns Case  To Crown Court 18.6.13
LC sought for the case to be heard in the Magistrates Court. The HSE succeeded in having the case referred to a Crown Court where, if found guilty, higher fines can be imposed.
The victim of the accident, aged two-and-a-half, spent 10 nights in hospital after the incident on February 18, 2012.

17.6.13 Uttlesford - HSE Prosecuting LC Following Toddler with Chemical Burns  11.6.13
 BBC report on case due to open at Chelmsford Magistrates Court on June 18. See also LCW report on the incident.
LC are also due in court for sentencing on 17.7.13 after pleading guilty to safety lapses in Maldon.

16.6.13  Spalding - Castle Sports Complex complaints about " inconsistent water temperatures and filthy and unhygienic changing rooms" accompany arguments over reduction of sauna times. 29.5.13

16.6.13  Worksmart shows historical data on Leisure Connection Limited  2009
Turnover has fallen since 2004. Profit way down from £15m in 2001. Staff numbers almost halved between 2003 and 2009.  Curiously, despite these results the highest paid director's pay peaked in 2007.

8.6.13 Brent -  Quest Report for Willesden Centre reveals continuing poor customer service  September 2012

7.6.13 Brent -  LC / Harpers Fitness to be replaced at Vale Farm from November  20.5.13

7.6.13  New Holder of Poison Chalice - Neil King becomes CEO of  LC / Harpers Fitness  2.5.13
The new supremo can be seen on YouTube. Will what he advocates there be what he does in LC? I am not holding my breath. Though I might be holding my breath  if I went to one of the centres run by Neil's previous employer. PB

27.3.13  Maldon -   Leisure Connection / Harpers Fitness  Sentencing Deferred Again  27.3.13
In October 2012, following prosecution by the Health & Safety Executive in the wake of the drowning of Michelle Gellard at the Blackwater Leisure Centre, Leisure Connection Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act, which states that all staff have to ensure the safety of all persons such as visitors and the general public."  Sentencing was deferred until March 27. Today, sentencing was again deferred. It is now listed for 17 July 2013 at 14:35  at Chelmsford Crown Court. Case ref. T20120512   Court contact details.

9.3.13 Review Centre Verdicts on Harpers Fitness  March 2013
As of today there are 11 reviews of Harpers Fitness centres and their average score is 1.5 out of 5. The most common complaints are about poor cleaning and the tired look of centres.

9.3.13 Innaction- More Trip Advisor Comments  January 2013
"...don't got swimming ... Its old and not really clean, a real let down to a great looking hotel."
"Would've been nice to be pre-warned that the leisure facilities were closing at 4pm on New Years Eve... and weren't open on New Years Day..."

9.3.13 Brent - Vale Farm Insufficient lifeguards, Freezing Changing Rooms & Cold Showers (again) 2012/2013
Pools open without the minimum number of lifeguards on two occasions. Wet side changing rooms unheated on bitterly cold days. Wetside showers playing up yet again.

5.3.13 Bourne - Half Term Marred by Pool Being Closed by Sand for Ten Days 1.3.13
"The problem at the pool was discovered during routine maintenance on the filters which contractors had assured the council would not interfere with the operation of the facility."

16.1.13  West Devon - Poor cleaning an issue for Meadowlands users  October 2012?

8.1.13 Innaction Loses Park Inn  Heathrow Contract  December 2012?
Despite LC pinning its hopes on management of privately owned  facilities, it has already lost one of its first contracts with the Radisson group.

8.1.13 Richard Millman leaves  Leisure Connection / Harpers Fitness  October 2012
Another Chief Executive has departed and three months on there is no news of a new appointment.

28.10.12 Brent - Vale Farm Centre closed without warning and no sign to explain why  27.10.12
Customers milling about in freezing cold. No sign of any staff. No one answering phone four hours later.

Maldon - Reports on HSE Prosecution of Leisure Connection / Harpers Fitness  27.10.12
"The operators who run a swimming pool where a little girl from the Isle of Dogs was drowned four years ago have admitted in court responsibility for the tragic accident... Leisure Connection Ltd admitted breaching Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act which states that all staff have to ensure the safety of all persons such as visitors and the general public."  
23.10.12  St Albans- Councillor says Leisure Connection's tax avoidance is "disgraceful". 23.10.12
"...Leisure Connection set up a trust which will be a charitable trust so it can avoid paying national domestic taxes and it could  reduce its VAT responsibility to save money. What exactly is its charitable status exactly?"

17.10.12  Ponteland - "Lifeguard supervision was extremely poor and in my opinion unsafe" 10.7.11
Mystery visitor slams lifeguarding.

17.10.12 Brent - Yet more problems with Vale Farm Showers  18.10.12

12.10.12 Uttlesford  - Leisure PFI Accounts 18.9.12
1.10.12 LC Recapitalises - £9.3 million "capital injection". 21.9.12
In 2007 LC's owners tried to sell the company for £50 million. No one bought. Given the loss of contracts since then it is hard to imagine the value of the company has increased. So £9.3 million reported repesents a cash injection that is probably equal to more than 20% of the value of the company.

1.10.12 West Devon  - Council adopts leisure contract monitoring plan 4.9.12
Following a fractious history, "Action plan to be adopted...and used to implement a clear contract management procedure and reporting... the lessons learnt from the review of the contract be taken into account for future similar contracts"

12.9.12 Sleaford  - LC to sack 30 staff due to refurbishment 12.9.12
A spokesperson for Leisure Connection said: “Unfortunately all staff roles are being made redundant but alternative employment has been provided at other Leisure Connection sites for a number of staff and Leisure Connection will be continuing to find as many alternative positions as possible up until the closure.”
12.9.12 HSE vs. LC - The case against LC been transferred from Chelmsford Magistrates Court 11.9.12

After an initial hearing by Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court, the Health & Safety  Executive  prosecution of LC following the Maldon drowning of Michelle Gellard in 2008 will continue in Chelmsford Crown Court on October 29th. The prosecution is being brought under a Health and Safety at Work Act section that states,  "It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety." 

30.8.12  Brent - Unable to Swim Due to Lack of Staff  30.8.12
Plus cleaning issues and Duty Managers who cannot leave the reception desk because they are acting as receptionist.

27.8.12 Innaction - More unfavourable comments on Trip Advisor about LC Run Leisure Facilities in Hotels  April - August 2012
"I work in the leisure industry and I have never seen such awful standards! There was grime, muck and dirt everywhere. Very run down and awful."

22.8.12   Maldon - Health & Safety Executive Prosecuting LC Over Drowning  22.8.12
The court hearing will start on September 11th.

4.7.12   Oadby & Wigston - Quest Inspections Find Dozens of Issues Including H&S, Poor Maintenance and Dire Cleaning  April 2012
"Some employees are not screened for working with children and vulnerable people through Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks."

"There was noticeable yellowing of the floor in the showers caused by an accumulation of body fats."
The Contract Maintenance Technician is only part time, and this role is split across the three sites within the Contract. This effectively means that he is only allocated in the region of 10 hours per week to carry out remedial and maintenance work at the Centre and this would appear to be insufficient."
"... it was noted that there still appears to be some further training required in respect of maintaining levels of surveillance of the allocated zones. During the Assessment, Lifeguards were observed carrying out other tasks (moving lane ropes and rescuing a lost item in the Pool), which distracted them from scanning their zones."
During the course of the visit I did not encounter any team members carrying out patrols or checks throughout the facility."

4.7.12   Ely - LC Contract  "scrapped" by Council after years of " much-criticised" service  4.7.12
"The news will come as a relief to local families, many of whom have been complaining about the poor hygiene at the pool for some time. In the last 12 months, the pool has had to close numerous times due to tiles lifting off the pool floor and it had to close after an outbreak of threadworm. Last year, parents even said they were boycotting the facility, describing its condition as 'disgusting'".

10.6.12   Brent -  Water tests not taken for three months  2009 
A H&S letter released following an FOI request shows that LC/Harpers failed to conduct a pool water test that should have been carried out weekly for three months.

5.6.12 Harpenden - Playscheme Roasted by OFSTED for Poor Quality August 2011
The OFSTED report on Camp Energy run by LC failed 18 out of 18 areas rated
"Poor organisation impacts negatively upon the quality of the overall provision, limiting the effectiveness of measures to safeguard the welfare of children. There are several breaches of specific legal requirements."

26.5.12 Maldon - FOI request reveals multiple issues at both Leisure Centres  2008 - 2012
8 Default Notices that attracted penalties and 21 Rectification Notices.
Monitoring reports that repeatedly return to the same unresolved issues
Poor standards of cleaning & Failure to report a serious incident whereby a child was taken to hospital after near drowning

15.5.12 Dunstable - Leisure Connection Offering £2.60 per hour for 15 Leisure Assistant / Lifeguard Apprentices May 2012
Then £3.60 per hour after completion of 6 months training.  

13.5.12 Spate of Complaints About Membership with Leisure Connection / Harpers Fitness April / May 2012
Consumer Action Group    Michael Kinghorn

9.5.12 Uttlesford - Toddler badly burned by chemicals in leisure centre changing room  18.2.12
 Freedom of Information reveals an appalling and tragic accident to a young lad about to have his first swimming lesson. Air ambulance took him for treatment of serious burns. He appears to have been injured by drain cleaner being used in the changing room shortly before the lesson began. HSE investigating.

5.5.12   Brent -  FOI reveals H&S and other issues  2010 - 2012
Three months after a drowning at another LC pool, Brent H&S concerned about local quality of lifeguarding.
Playscheme room attracts Prohibition Notice - "wholly unsuitable to be used by children"
"...no arrangements in place to protect the workers hand dosing the pool" results in a further Prohibition Notice.
Plus H&S issues with gas, noise, working at heights, insufficient lighting and slip hazards.

5.5.12   Brent -  More hair in pool, more cold showers and continuing delays at reception  4.5.12

19.4.12 Uttlesford - Cleaning issues and slow responses + Council's slack approach to management 19.4.12
  "Male toilets – nasty smell", "Tiles on floor look very grubby ", "showers need scrubbing and drains smell","lots of rubbish under seat ", "Drains – hair blocking water and soap not going down". "The centre especially downstairs, corridors and wet change is starting to look tired, worn out and unloved."
Plus "lethal" icy car park and is the pool thermometer reliable?

15.4.12   Brent -  An open letter to Councillor with lead role for Leisure 15.4.12
     Councillor sent clump of hair found in pool at opening time along with other debris including a sticking plaster.

13.4.12   Brent -  Hoots of laughter at LC's claim to make repairs "within 48 hours"  12.4.12
11.4.12   Brent -  Card readers not working again and six weeks of cold showers  11.4.12

7.4.12   Dorking -  OFSTED find Kids Needs Not Met  Feb 2011
             "Kids Fit for Sport" programme lacking appropriate first aid and  system for recording medication.

6.4.12   Ponteland -  Pool extremely chilly because half of the boilers not working 6.4.12
Councillor said: ".. at one time I thought they were going to make it into a skating rink. ... After a long period of time trying to get to the root of the problem we found out that the pool has ten boilers, but only five had been working." 

4.4.12   St Albans -  Facilities burn down, green fees go up 6.4.12
Batchwood Golf Club has operated out of three temporary buildings following a fire in August 2011. No start as yet for new building. "Disgust" at 4% increase in fees.  
1.4.12   Brent -  A photo showing what swimmers have to put up with at Vale Farm 1.4.12
     Despite regular complaints since 2006 swimmers still encounter large clumps of hair on Sunday mornings.

18.3.12   Ely - Yet more problems lead to customer anger  15.3.12
"... always something wrong with the children’s or the adult pool and I think everyone’s just sick of it now. It’s about time the council got to grips with the facilities there, including the hygiene."

17.3.12 Harlow Innaction Health Club - Unhappy Experiences  15.3.12
"...the changing room is awash with water, with hairs, bits of tissue..."

16.3.12 Heathrow Innaction Health Club - "Unhappy members disgusted by spiraling problems resulting in poor hygiene levels in the gym and swimming pool areas" 17.3.12  Plus Trip Advisor comments.

13.3.12  Brent - You need our permission for petition to protest to the council about our standards. 13.3.12
Plus confusing signs, refusal to make available the record of pool temperatures, delays at reception and cold showers. 

11.3.12 Uttlesford - 100+ angry parents join Facebook to  improve leaner pool temperature 26.1.12
  "... they say pool is so cold it turned their children blue" The group was set up after parents tired of Lord Butler Fitness and Leisure Centre refusing to act on requests to make the pool warmer."
Company says temperature range is 29-31.5°C. Best practice for learner pools according to expert body is between 30-33°C

27.2.12 Ely - Pool Contract Up For Grabs 16.2.12

"The pool and its facilities have been at the centre of controversy with users for years, who insist the pool is unhygienic."

27.2.12 Ely - Pool closed by outbreak of threadworm  2.2.12

23.11.11 Brent - Vale Farm Update  Nov. 2009 to Nov 2011
bulletHygiene concerns about pool expressed at two public meetings. bulletPetition against plans to close half of pool to early morning swimmers
8.10.11 Worcester - FOI Request Reveals Cleaning, Maintenance & H&S Issues at Two Centres 2008 - 2011
Documents obtained using Freedom of Information show issues at Worcester Pool and Perdiswell Leisure Centre.
bullet15 out of 18 lifeguards found to lack qualifications bulletH&S Inspector questions qualifications of LC Head Office person in charge of H&S bullet“The changing rooms ... are not cleaned effectively, the floors have ‘body fats’ and debris, particularly around the corners of the walls...” bullet"When interviewed the team were unclear as to how the overnight cleaning was managed and they had yet to define standards or health and safety guidelines for this aspect of the cleaning programme." bullet"Learner pool circulation pump out of action for about 4 months." bullet"At least 25% of lockers in the ladies Changing Room had no key or pins." bullet"“The football changing room showers require further cleaning, particularly the scales on pipes, sockets and joint (potential Legionella issues)...”

13.7.11 West Devon - A Contract  that Soon Turned Sour  2005 - 2009
Minutes obtained using Freedom of Information show that West Devon Borough Council soon regretted awarding a contract to LC. Recommended reading for all Councillors, Council Officers and Companies considering awarding contracts to LC.

10.7.11 Oadby & Wigston - Auditor Unhappy & Councillors raise issues Nov 2010 - Mar 11
 Concerns about accounting plus  "cleanliness, equipment breakdowns, behaviour of staff, protocols and management"

10.7.11 St Albans  - Focus Groups find cleanliness an issue at Westminster Lodge  2.12.10

10.7.11 Grantham - 79 Rectification Notices for Cleanliness Issued at Leisure Centre 2006- 2009

8.7.11 Maldon -  Further safety breach and rectification notices plus "Cleaning continues to be a challenge for the Centre". 2009 - 2011

9.6.11 West Devon - Council Committee Finds "consultation undertaken by Leisure Connection was flawed" 22.3.11

"There was also some concern that that attendance figures proffered by Leisure Connection were not entirely accurate through the electronic recording system not always functioning."

Dunstable - Grove Theatre Circle Tickets Withheld Until Stalls All Sold 24.2.11

The inquest started on Monday 9 May 2011 and concluded a week later. This page summarises coverage and provides links to articles and radio reporting, including podcasts.

12.5.11 LC/Harpers Operations Manager at Blackwater was ‘unaware’ that a duty manager had been allowing two lifeguards to patrol the pool rather than four. He also did not know how his name had got onto pages of a key document for health and safety at the centre.

10.5.11 Shortly before Michelle drowned the lifeguards had been reduced from three to two when the Normal Operating Procedure required four. The Duty Manager believed he could use his discretion to reduce the numbers when the pool was not busy.  

4.5.11 Maldon - Inquest into drowning at Blackwater Leisure Centre opens on May 9th  9.3.11

"Family solicitor Peter Todd said: 'This case potentially has significant implications for all those involved in lifeguarding or managing a swimming pool, and for parents of children using a pool. It is important lessons are learned to ensure this particularly distressing tragedy never happens again.'”

West Devon -  Swimmers Complain About Lack of Consultation over Closures 9.3.11

"What consultation? There hasn’t been any as far as I am concerned," says Mr Kilpatrick.
"Customer forums were held... during which the proposed changes to the pool timetables were discussed," says LC/Harpers.
Jackie Jones, who swims six mornings a week, said to claim any consultation had taken place with early morning users of the pool was "a joke". "I’ve never even heard of this user group."
"Who and when did they consult? We must be their most regular and loyal 'group' so why didn’t they consult with us, especially as we are the ones affected?" said Mr Penrose.

18.3.11 Harrow - LC / Harpers Fitness Loses Harrow Leisure contract 18.3.11

"...problems in the past at the leisure centre with customer complaints, spates of thefts from lockers and cars, police closures of Byron Hall and the discovery of unacceptable levels of ammonia in the pool."

" 12.1.11 Norwich - FOI Documents reveal concerns various

A Quest report for December 2010 reveals that cleaning an issue on previous visits.
Contract Meeting Minutes from August 2010 show Council threatens "
penalty clauses as per the contract
 will be considered if unacceptable delays in repairs continue".
       Plus - Mystery shopper has an accident that is not recorded.

12.1.11  Oadby & Wigston - FOI Documents reveal Council's continuing concerns   various

The current issues regarding the contract relate to the catering provision, noise, cleaning contract,
general management arrangements, contract enforcement and profit share.” Another document raises
concerns about the GP Referral Scheme.

8.1.11 Harrow - Council asked for LC/Harpers Contract Manager to be Removed 6.1.11

8.1.11 Harrow - Spate of thefts from leisure centre 4.8.10

Headings from 2007      Headings from 2006     Headings from 2004 to 2005 

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Thanks to Contributors

Thanks for the encouragement and items sent to me by dozens of people concerned about the standards of LC. I also appreciate the people who have pointed out  typos and faulty links. 


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