ELEVEN years ago, Rossendale Leisure Trust was costing more than £700,000 a year to run, but Chief Executive Ken Masser and his team have turned its fortunes around.

Now Ken has decided it is time to hand over the reins, he has reflected on the many changes he has seen and is confident the team running the trust will help his successor to continue to take the organisation forward.

He said: “In October 2011 RLT was in a really difficult position with high financial costs, the recent closure of Bacup Leisure Hall and the ski slope while Haslingden Pool was on the brink of closure, and did so in 2013.

“The perception of the Trust seemed to be that it was inefficient and not particularly well managed and a financial burden on the council. It was doing relatively little for the community in comparison to what we do now.”

Although the Trust manages the leisure offer in partnership with Rossendale Council, the infrastructure, buildings and contents remain in the council’s ownership as does responsibility for maintenance.

With his accountancy background, Ken was used to helping businesses restructure and transform but he didn’t have any real experience of the leisure industry apart from his involvement in lots of local sports and clubs.

He said: “I looked at the financial performance and tried to generate cost savings and improve efficiency. We started to build the community offer and I thought it was really important to build a better relationship with the council.

“By 2015 we had reduced the cost of leisure to the council to nil and then by 2017 we were paying the council £150k in rent.”

Throughout Covid, RLT made a small operating surplus and expanded its offering to include cultural activities.

Ken said: “When I arrived, there was maybe 100 hours of school sports; now there are 5,000. The Trust was supporting maybe 10 school sports competitions over the year and now it is supporting 150.

“We now deliver an expanded community health and wellbeing programme including weight management, exercise on prescription and cardio rehabilitation to nearly 1,000 people a year. We have built a great relationship with GPs and local health professionals across the borough.”

Several projects like the Holiday Activities and Food Programme are managed by the Trust in partnership with other businesses and have brought millions of pounds into Rossendale.

The Hill – Ski Rossendale has been transformed since the merger with the Trust in 2020 and around 200 children are on the slope every Saturday learning how to ski and the British Race Series has returned so the facility is back on the national map.

The Trust linked up with The Whitaker Museum and Art Gallery and helped the facility to reopen post-Covid. It has now been nationally recognised as a National Portfolio Organisation with guaranteed funding for three years.

Links with Valley Leadership Academy led to the Trust establishing a hugely popular gymnastics club and the Grip and Go development at the Adrenaline Centre was one of the country’s first and is a key revenue generator.

He added: “It will be hard to leave because I genuinely love my job, but I feel sometimes in life opportunities for a change can come along and a new challenge for me felt like the right thing for me and my family.

“I am passionate about tackling inequality and I think that there is lots about society that is unfair. Health and wellbeing need to have a higher priority.

“In the new year I will be setting up my own consultancy practice, supporting places and organisations to evolve their culture and leadership, and develop leisure and physical activity approaches that make it easier for more people to be active.

“Hopefully I can take some of the things we achieved in Rossendale and help other places to have similar successes.”

-Cathrine Smyth Media.