The Scottish Leisure Network Group (SLNG) is a voluntary-run organisation formed in 2003, by Bobby Kerr of West Dunbartonshire Council, who identified a need within the local authority leisure sector to collaborate and share best practice.
In 2018, an Executive Committee was formed from representatives of member organisations, as well as independent organisations, to help continue to grow the good work of the network in supporting and connecting members. With representation from almost all of Scotland’s 32 local authority areas, encompassing not-for-profit leisure operators from councils, charitable trusts, universities and colleges across 48 member organisations, the SLNG is the comprehensive membership organisation for the sector in Scotland.
Following a successful Annual Conference in 2019, the SLNG had planned to hold regular face-to-face member events throughout 2020, kicking off with the first successful Regional Seminar in February 2020. Then the pandemic struck.
The SLNG immediately faced a challenge; how could they continue to connect and support their members during these unprecedented times, when they were not allowed to meet in-person as per Government guidelines?
This situation was further compounded by the fact that the existing SLNG website lacked any connectivity functionality that would allow for members to come together in discussion forums or be able to access or share information.
Making the business case and delivering the solution
Fast forward to April 2020, when Dawn-Anne McAneny, Engagement and Operations Manager at the SLNG was introduced to Sarah Gadsden, CEO of the Improvement Service who put Dawn-Anne in contact with her IS colleagues to learn more about the products and services that they could provide to help improve the work of the SLNG.
Following a meeting with Mike McLean, IS Knowledge and Collaboration Manager, the SLNG identified that the digital features within the Knowledge Hub (KHub) product would fill the communications void that COVID-19 had created.
Dawn-Anne worked with Mike to gain a deeper understanding of the KHub in order to compile a business case to present to her Executive Committee colleagues for discussion and evaluation. A proposal for the design and structure of the ‘Scottish Leisure Hub’ was created, an ‘always-on’ digital platform that would provide a full multi-media library, discussion forum and events calendar to connect and support members during the pandemic.
It took just four weeks from initial introductions to the Scottish Leisure Hub going live on the KHub.
Dawn-Anne ran an introductory webinar to all members of the SLNG to provide an overview of the Hub, with 75 colleagues from member organisations signing up immediately, and continued to support members during the initial launch phase by running drop-in sessions termed ‘Find-out Friday’ where they could join an open Teams session to receive support on KHub functionality and queries.
The SLNG has been able to greatly benefit from having a KHub presence, particularly during the initial months of the pandemic, as members were able to access the latest guidance from Scottish Government, sportscotland, Scottish governing bodies and all other industry agencies and organisations from a single organised source, saving them the time and effort required to source such information themselves.
Members became more creative and willing to share their resources on the KHub Library area, including images and video content that they had created to welcome members back into their centres when restrictions lifted, which strengthened the unity of the SLNG and the collaboration between members.
Both Mike and the Knowledge Hub team were very supportive to Dawn-Anne and the SLNG during the initial launch and continue to be available for advice when needed. The KHub itself enables our members to easily register and instantly benefit from a very user-friendly intuitive online platform with very little training.
The Discussion Forum was categorised into the key functional areas for leisure operations, which enabled members to post threads on subjects in the relevant category, benefitting from reaching all members on the Hub and using them as ‘sounding boards’ when making sense of the latest guidance documents and how they should be interpreted and applied in their organisations.
The Events area provided a communication mechanism that enabled the SLNG to easily notify members of the virtual events happening both within the Group and the leisure sector itself so that members were aware and could plan for what they or their colleagues needed to attend.
The Members area, where all members could create a profile which included their job title and key responsibilities, meant that members could connect with peers in other local authority regions for support.
Finally, the Group Message feature in KHub enabled Dawn-Anne to reach all members with the latest news and updates in a weekly summarised update, sign-posting members to information they needed most.
As the SLNG navigate the terrain created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Scottish Leisure Hub has been identified as a crucial tool in enabling the Group to continue to support and connect their members virtually.
The Group are embarking on creating new libraries and exploring using other areas of the KHub functionality as their needs and requirements change. Pressures on the leisure sector to ultimately survive and become a sustainable resource within Scotland’s local communities, continuing to serve and improve the mental and physical wellbeing of the people of Scotland means that collaboration and sharing of skills, knowledge and experience has never been more needed in a virtual environment.