Chief exec of Pendle Leisure Trust says farewell after 40 years

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Looking back on a career in local leisure, Phil Storey knows he has been a lucky man.

He retires today from his role as chief executive of the Pendle Leisure Trust.

And that will bring to an end a remarkable chapter of the life of leisure in Pendle.

It is a chapter which spans four-and-a-half decades and has seen many changes.

And Phil has loved every minute of it.

At the start of the last week behind his desk in Colne Town Hall he said: “I have been a lucky lad.

We live in contradictory times. People are told to take more exercise, but leisure facilities are being closed down. The future of leisure has got to be looked at as a health offering

Phil

“I have worked with some truly fantastic and dedicated people and it has been a hobby more than a job.

“I have a lot of people to be grateful to.

“The council has supported us down the years and we have some great leisure facilities. The council has certainly invested in those facilities.”

When he took over the helm as leisure chief, the Pendle scene was already flourishing with leisure centres, swimming pools and The Muni already attracting people in their droves.

The Blues Festival has blossomed into a multiple award-winning showcase and although a threat hangs over its future, it is a festival he is truly proud of.

“People talk about the Blues Festival losing money, but it doesn’t.

“The festival as a whole generates lots of income with all sorts of pubs, clubs and other businesses making money.

“The only bit which has the potential to lose money is the Leisure Trust bit because we stand all the financial risk in case of bad weather or lower-than-expected ticket sales.

“The festival has been good for Colne and good for Pendle and I am glad it will stay for one more year and hope something can be done to secure its longer-term future.”

There is also a threat to the future of Marsden Park Golf Course in Nelson, the course where Phil himself enjoys a game: “It is one of the best golf courses in the area and I am glad we have found a way to keep it going for at least another year.

“There was great public outcry when people thought it might close, now I just hope that all those people who showed so much concern when they thought it might close actually turn up this year, put their money in the till and help keep it going.”

Phil’s story started in Charles Street, Colne, where he lived with parents Alan and Ruth, older brothers Jeff and Martin and younger sister Pamela.

He went to Park Junior School in Colne and then Nelson Secondary Technical School.

A football-mad teenager, he realised after a number of trials that his dreams of playing the game professionally were never going to bear fruit.

And that led to him start work as a pool attendant and swimming teacher at Colne Baths in 1970.

His role remained largely unchanged until local government reorganisation created Pendle Council in 1974 and Leisure Services, with Arthur Fenton as director, became a council department in its own right.

That new department didn’t just include baths, under the management of Ian Mitchell, but also parks, entertainment, tourism and a public golf course, and the chance of a different career opened up for Phil who, until 1976, remained a pool attendant and swimming teacher.

He then got his first chance of promotion and became relief pool supervisor at Marsden Park open air pool, that chance coming in one of the hottest summers on record when anything up to 2,000 people a day were taking the chance of a cooling dip in the Marsden Park waters.

“Although I didn’t have a day off for seven weeks, it wasn’t a bit like work,” said Phil as he looked back on the start of a role which led to him becoming supervisor at that pool in the summer while reverting to a teaching and pool attendant role in the winter.

He became full-time supervisor at Colne in 1979 and then senior pools supervisor in 1981 at the same time as West Craven Pool was opened by Olympic swimming legend David Wilkie.

Phil became recreation assistant in 1984 at the same time as Pendle’s first leisure centre was opened in Colne by Sir Bobby Charlton.

Promotions to recreation manager and chief assistant recreation officer followed as the leisure and sports scene in Pendle continued to expand. During those years, the leisure services department supported a variety of public events.

As well as running football tournaments, public halls and theatres and local races, Phil and his team were familiar faces at Nelson and Barrowford Agricultural Shows as they provided marquees and logistical support. They were also key players in the formation of what has become the popular Trawden Show.

When the need to replace the former Nelson Baths became increasingly apparent a consultation was run in the columns of this newspaper to see if the public wanted a leisure pool or a traditional pool. The leisure option won the day and plans for Pendle Wavelengths began to be formulated.

The building was developed by the Clifford Barnett Group who asked Phil to join them as general manager, having previously worked with them on projects in Colne and Barnoldswick.

That new role took him to roles as diverse as the Keswick Spa and the Portsmouth Pyramids.

But then the chance to return presented itself when it was decided to add a pool on to the leisure centre in Colne and create Pendle Leisure Centre.

Another Olympian, Sharron Davies, came to town to open the new Colne facility as Phil also returned to the Pendle Leisure fold.

Roles and Principal Recreation Officer and Recreation Services Manager followed until Ian Mitchell retired in 1995 and Phil became Leisure Services Manager.

Continued improvements to the many leisure facilities continued throughout the 1990s and then Pendle Council saw that converting the leisure services department into a charitable trust would be an excellent way to save money and protect some services.

Phil explained: “As a charitable trust there are no rates to pay on buildings and no VAT is payable on admission charges. There is also access to a lot of grants which would otherwise not be available and all that offers substantial savings to the council.”

As soon as the decision was made, the transition to Pendle Leisure Trust took less than six months and remains one of the fastest-ever transfers.

Phil has been chief executive ever since and knows that it has been a challenging role: “Most trusts are just sport trusts, but we have also had the entertainment programme and hospitality. We have also supported Sports Development and Arts Development as well as strengthening and increasing Healthy Communities.

“They have all been grant funded and over £500,000 worth of work has been delivered by these programmes.

“That is great added value and shows just what a trust like Pendle can achieve.”

Phil had not been chief executive for long when the Pendle Sports Awards, another collaboration with Leader Times Newspapers, were launched.

“Rewarding people for work on the field of play was important to us in the sports awards,” he said, adding: “But also rewarded those tireless individuals who work so hard behind the scenes to make sure that sport actually happens was also vital to us.

“The Pendle Sports Awards truly did honour some of the legends of local sport and I am glad that we were able to tell their stories and share their successes.”

The life of Pendle Leisure Trust rarely stands still and more recent additions have been Inside Spa, the ACE Centre and Urban Altitude with its adjoining archery butts.

“Inside Spa was the first publicly accessible spa in the country. The quality of the spa is such that it is a model that many others have followed.

“The ACE Centre is an excellent facility and Urban Altitude offers something different to the leisure scene in the borough.”

While having kept abreast of differing trends in leisure, Phil has also been aware that the market has become more challenging.

“We live in contradictory times. People are told to take more exercise, but leisure facilities are being closed down. The future of leisure has got to be looked at as a health offering.

“That is why the spa is important. People look at exercise because that is what everyone wants to do, but the spa is a real way of offering relaxation to help people fight against stress.

“None of what we have done would have been possible without some great people.

“I have worked with some great people, far too many to name, but we have also had the support of a great band of trustees. I have had three great chairmen in Bob Little, Keith Folley and Bernard Swarbrick and all the other trustees bring differing types of expertise to the group. Some of them have been with us since we set up in 2000 and without them some of what we have achieved would not have been possible.”

Looking forward to his retirement and spending more time with his wife, Carolyn, sons Gareth and Chris and daughter Samantha, Phil accepts that he has a lot to be grateful for.

“For a small borough to have three swimming pools is incredible.

“They are financially draining for the trust, but I can’t think of another borough the size of Pendle with three swimming pools.

“We have four gyms and some other incredible facilities.

“And what we do have is some facilities of true quality. I genuinely believe that if you give people facilities of a decent standard they will respect them.

“I also believe that people who use the facilities we provide are not customers, they are individuals and I have always tried to treat them that way.

“I have been lucky, I have loved every minute of it and I know I will miss it.”

A keen footballer in his younger days with teams like Morris Dancers, Commercial and Barrowford Nomads, his footballing interests these days see him following the Clarets as often as possible.

A keen golfer and occasional fisherman he is looking forward to spending a bit more time on them and with his family now that work commitments won’t soak up as much of his evening and weekend time.