Reading’s new outsourced leisure provider has set out its vision for the town for the first time since winning the £43m contract.

Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL), a non-profit social enterprise which operates under the brand ‘Better’, has won the contract to design, build and operate leisure facilities in the town.

This includes new swimming pools at Rivermead and Palmer Park.

Reading Borough Council (RBC) announced it had chosen the organisation at Monday's Policy committee.

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Paul Shearman, partnership manager at Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL), outlined GLL’s council-backed vision for leisure in the town this morning in a video interview.

He said: “We are committed to providing affordable, high quality facilities for all ages and abilities. It has been our social mission now for nearly 27 years.

“We are looking to do something transformative for Reading, which we think is what the residents really deserve. “

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Palmer Park leisure centre will be one of the only leisure centres in the country to have athletics, cycling and swimming.

Mr Shearman said: “This is very much about putting Reading on the map.”

The partnership manager and GLL regional director Jamie Coleshill answered questions on employment practices, the loss of Rivermead’s bowls hall and green space concerns.

What is Greenwich Leisure Ltd?

Established to run local services in the London Borough of Greenwich in 1993 as a non-profit co-operative, it has since expanded to run services for local authorities across the UK.

The organisation has been operating as ‘Better’ in Reading for 14 years, running Rivermead Leisure Centre.

RBC has been criticised for outsourcing its leisure but GLL said some people have got the wrong impression.

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Mr Coleshill said: “We are not private operators. Every piece of profit goes back into the product, staff or the community.

“No-one takes a dividend. It is a partnership with the council.”

Criticism over employment practices

GLL has recently been criticised for its employment practices by union Unite. A report in December said the company relies heavily on zero hours’ contracts and refuses to recognise trade unions.

Mr Coleshill said they have a range of job opportunities, including full-time and part-time contracts and non-contract roles for those “who don’t want to commit” such as students home for Christmas.

Mr Shearman said: “Our staff work here at the Rivermead leisure centre but also at other leisure centres in Reading.

“We have transferred 15 swimming teachers over to us with all their terms and conditions.”

He added: “We are the only bidder to operate the National Living Wage.”

Sustainability and green space

Concern has been raised over losing green space at Palmer Park to car parking and the new facility but GLL has sought to reassure those who are worried.

Palmer Park and Rivermead will be the first leisure centres in the UK built to BREEAM Excellent standards.

“This is the highest level of sustainability,” said Mr Shearman.

“Part of that is the protection of green space.”

The top rating available is Outstanding but no leisure centres have reached higher than Very Good to this date.

Loss of bowls hall at Rivermead

There was also a lot of disappointment at the council’s plans to not replace Rivermead’s bowls hall when the site is rebuilt.

Mr Shearman said there is a surplus provision of bowls available in the borough and GLL bid to the requirements RBC was looking for.

GLL will work with the council “to look at relocation options” for Reading Bowls Club.

Councillor Graeme Hoskin, lead member for Sport, Health and Wellbeing, added: “We looked at sport across the borough. The 50m pool against 25m with a better range of facilities was one those choices and the bowls hall as well.”

Pools set to open in 2022

Finally, Mr Shearman said the targets of opening Palmer Park by early 2022 and Rivermead by summer 2022 are “very achievable”.

He said the organisation recently finished a 12-month project in South Oxfordshire on time and is already “a significant way down the road in terms of what the plans [in Reading] look like”.