Tower Hamlets Council launched its inhouse leisure service, Be Well, in May 2024. Photo courtesy of Tower Hamlets Council
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Tower Hamlets Council’s new insourced leisure service Be well off to a chaotic start

Complaints about the council’s Be Well leisure service raise concerns that ambitious plans to bring management in-house are rushed and poorly executed.

It’s been less than a month since the management of Tower Hamlets’ seven leisure centres was brought in-house, but many residents have already expressed concerns about a decline in service. 

The council insourced the management of the centres on May 1 after the previous contract with leisure provider Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL), who operate as Better, expired in April.

But residents have complained that the new in-house service, Be Well, is having teething issues and causing more complications than solutions. 

In his 2023 budget, which his opponents called risky and unsustainable, the mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman unveiled plans to insource leisure in the borough at a cost of nearly £2 million

The council said insourcing was a way to improve customer experience, increase local employment, and boost fitness among women, girls, SEND and older people. 

Tower Hamlets resident Carly Amanda has been a member of Mile End Leisure Centre for about 10 years. She had hoped the council takeover would improve the cleanliness of facilities, but she said it’s gotten worse. 

Mile End Leisure Centre, York Hall Leisure Centre John Orwell Sports Centre, Whitechapel Sports Centre, Poplar Baths Leisure Centre and Gym and Tiller Leisure Centre were closed for refurbishments before re-opening under council management on May 6. 

York Hall Spa in Bethnal Green will remain closed for renovations until early summer. 

After having issues with her membership online, Amanda, like many other residents, had to go to the leisure centre in person to address her problems.

Anto Antonella is also having issues using the website. ‘Unfortunately, the change of management got off to a bad start,’ she said. ‘They promised that the changeover would be easy and automatic. It’s a disaster.’

According to Antonella, the website doesn’t work and it’s difficult to book sessions. She has started to just turn up to her aquaerobics classes across the borough without booking, hoping there is a free spot.

‘I have membership and it doesn’t show up on my account,’ she said. ‘I asked at reception, but they can’t help. There is no app and they say it will be ready in June. Meanwhile, I paid for a non-service. It’s disgraceful.’

A Bow resident, who asked to remain anonymous, has also reported maintenance issues at Mile End Leisure Centre, which they have been visiting for 13 years. They said the facilities have not improved despite the council taking over management.

‘My biggest issue is the maintenance of the Mile End swimming changing rooms that seem to be neglected for ages,’ they said. ‘No locks, no doors, dirty and stinky, I can hardly ever see anyone cleaning floors over there.’

They added: ‘Better has made me used to pretty poor customer service, facilities maintenance and a user-unfriendly portal, so I was not expecting miracles from Be Well, but a slight improvement would be nice.

‘The question among parents is: why did you not test the system during the week off while the centre was closed or even earlier? The takeover was not something that was pushed on them overnight.

‘I also know there are several parents disappointed as they wanted to sign children up for swimming and trampolining, but they are told to wait for an unknown period of time and keep on checking [the website]. It feels like the only thing that got changed are staff uniforms and some signboards.’

Many users of Be Well have also reported a lack of communication. ‘I assume they must be swamped with emails. Two weeks ago I sent an email to Be Well about their lifeguard training. Still awaiting a reply,’ the Bow resident said. 

Zena Aljboury is a teacher based in Shoreditch. She said: ‘I bought a membership and did not get the 10 percent off joining fee as advertised. I cannot book swimming at all and am being charged if I try to book other classes. I cannot get a refund or cancel because nothing works!’

According to the council, it aims to invest £27.14 million over the next 10 years in its leisure services, but it currently has a shortfall of almost £24 million in approved capital funding. 

When the council first announced in August 2022 that it would take direct control of its leisure services, Mark Sesnan, CEO of GLL, said insourcing would increase costs by an additional £2.1 million a year.

A spokesperson from Tower Hamlets Council said: ‘The council has been working hard to ensure a smooth transition for customers to Be Well.  

‘Since the launch we have experienced some minor technical issues with our booking systems which are under continuous review. The app will be available for download in June.

‘We are committed to creating a new and exciting leisure offer to support residents’ journeys to healthier lifestyles, including upgrades to our centres and facilities.

‘We value customer feedback and encourage customers to report any issues they are experiencing to help us continually improve the service.’

For more local news, read about the Parkview Estate residents opposing the development of Sotherby Lodge and London Chest Hospital

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