A social enterprise in Flintshire, which supports the physical and mental wellbeing of its local community, continues to go from strength to strength with over 1.5 million visits to its leisure centres and libraries across the county during the last 12 months.
Aura Leisure and Libraries is a charitable organisation that runs many of the leisure centres, libraries and heritage services previously operated by Flintshire County Council. The social enterprise was established in September 2017 as a way to keep all libraries and leisure centres open for the community following an extended period of public sector austerity and budget reductions.
Providing culture, sport and leisure opportunities to the region, the social enterprise recorded an impressive 1.1 million visits to its leisure centres and 600,000 visits to its libraries in the last 12 months.
The organisation has also partnered with the Wales Co-Operative Centre to be part of its Social Summer 2019 campaign, which is encouraging families across Wales to make more use of the wide-range of family-friendly social enterprises over the summer holidays. Managing four leisure centres – which include three swimming pools, an ice-skating rink, an indoor skate park, 3G sports pitches, a ten pin bowling alley and a spa – and seven libraries, employee-owned Aura Leisure and Libraries provides year-round family-fun services and facilities for the people of Flintshire.
Discussing the importance of social enterprises in Wales, Paul Jones, Aura Leisure and Libraries’ Business Improvement and Performance Manager, said: “As a social enterprise, Aura has a unique and fantastic opportunity to determine its own destiny. Our ability, as social entrepreneurs, to maximise all available potential to make a difference to customers’ lives is central to providing a solid, financially robust, platform from which to improve and develop highly valued community services.”
With a growing number of visitors, the employee-owned organisation now employs around 260 people, many of whom worked previously in the local council leisure and library teams.
Aura Leisure and Libraries’ growth has also been supported by the £2.7 million it has received in investment and grant funding for vital refurbishments and expansions. In July last year, Mold Leisure Centre doubled the size of its previous ground floor fitness suite and added a second first floor studio. A few months later, Jade Jones Pavilion in Flint received a major refurbishment of its swimming pool changing facilities and an extension to its existing gym. An increase in fitness membership has been a direct result of the recent investments with Mold more than doubling to 1,500 members and Jade Jones Pavilion Flint now topping 1,000.
Earlier this year, Aura Leisure and Libraries also received £300k in grant funding from the Welsh Government for the re-development of Flint Library, due to be completed in early 2020.
The refurbishments are a testament to Aura Leisure and Libraries’ ongoing commitment to improve its facilities and services to continue to impact positively on the mental well-being and physical health of its members and its community.
Catherine Evans, Marketing Manager at the Wales Co-operative Centre, said: “Social enterprises create huge value for the Welsh economy and they also create so many benefits for local communities, which is why our Social Summer 2019 is so important. We want to raise awareness with the public that there are social enterprises nearby, where they can visit over the summer holidays to enjoy themselves, while also supporting a wider social cause.”
With an ever increasing number of visitors and members, the organisation is an excellent example of the thriving social business sector in Wales, and its importance for the Welsh economy.
The ‘Mapping the Social Business Sector in Wales’ report, published earlier this year, found that the social business sector in Wales is worth an estimated £3.8 billion to the Welsh economy, a 34 percent increase on findings in 2016.
Social enterprises play a key role in creating job opportunities for local communities. The 2,022 social enterprises in Wales employ around 55,000 people and provide volunteer opportunities to an estimated 58,000 individuals.
In addition, around a quarter of all social businesses invest their profits in their social objectives and more than 75 percent pay the Real Living Wage to all their staff, compared to just 48 percent of Welsh SMEs.