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Durham County Council 2017

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This pilot project aimed to apply the latest national research around improving the swimming experience to local swimming pools; to understand the impact of making several ‘small’ improvements simultaneously to the swimming customer experience; and to establish a clear vision and objectives for improvement of swimming in County Durham. Durham County Council were delighted to be selected as 1 of 12 local authorities to take part in this national pilot, funded by Sport England.


Outcomes – Develop Shared Local Strategic Outcomes for Your Place

The primary desired outcome was to get more people swimming, more often. The supporting outcomes were to: increase awareness and relevance of local swimming opportunities; create a welcoming environment to enhance the customer experience; develop a skilled and motivated workforce, to deliver a high-quality swimming experience to meet customer needs; create an attractive and accessible local swimming offer; and to increase the representation of groups previously under represented at swimming facilities.

Insight – Understand Your Community and Your Place

The value of swimming was widely understood, but the opportunities available locally were not. Swimming facility staff were perceived to be friendly and helpful, but their ability to understand and communicate swimming opportunities needed improvement. Finally, there were opportunities across all pools to impact on growth and retention, but different focus and approaches required at each pool.

The project was informed by: Desk Research (review of existing data). Priority audiences were identified using market segmentation data for a 10-minute drive time catchment around each pool; Focus Groups to explore perceptions and behaviours of key groups within local communities; and Assimilation – bringing the findings from the desk research and focus groups together to develop an insight report including recommended actions for improving the local swimming experience.

Interventions – Identify How the Outcomes Can be Achieved Sustainably

Improvement plans were developed for each pool. Building on the ASA national framework for growing swimming, interventions were categorised under three headings (frontiers):

  • Frontier 1: Increase swimming awareness & relevance
    • A more clearly defined offer
    • An appropriately skilled workforce
    • Increased branding/visibility
    • Targeted/Insight led marketing
  • Frontier 2: Improve the overall swimming environment
    • Improved cleaning standards/visibility
    • Improved facilities to create a more functional, attractive and welcoming environment
  • Frontier 3: Tailor the swimming offer to different abilities & motivations
    • Development of high-quality swimming products
    • Review of the timetable to better meet the needs of priority audiences

Commitment – Secure Investment Commitment to Outcome Delivery

An improvement plan was presented to Sport England, and the project was successfully funded. Following the presentation of a business case, match funding was also secured from DCC internal budgets on an invest to save basis

Evaluation – Understand the Impact of Your Work

There were over 600 downloads of a new swimming app within the first two weeks, leading to a saving of £6000 on print marketing materials. Swimming participation increased across all pools by up to 73% – and 74% of customers felt that changes to swimming product descriptions had a positive impact on their swimming experience.

There were increases in customer satisfaction across many areas (quality and availability of information about swimming lessons, sessions which met customer needs, and cleanliness of the pool and changing facilities). 66% of customers were satisfied with family fun sessions and 96% were satisfied with the Ready Set Splash programme.

There was also increased awareness of available facilities, increased awareness of swimming products, and increased confidence among pool staff.

Factors affecting swimming participation are very complex. This means that different approaches are required for each pool and its surrounding community. Additional local insight to supplement the national insight is key to developing effective interventions. The complexity of swimming participation also means that establishing cause and effect can be very difficult when introducing multiple interventions simultaneously. There is also a big difference between perceived and actual performance of staff. This is challenging when implementing and evaluating impact of staff training.


Click on the blocks below to read case studies.

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