Alison Sutherland

Job title Regional Swimming Development Manager

Employer Everyone Active

Tell us about your role…
I work for Everyone Active, one of the leading leisure centre operators in the UK, as the South East Regional Swimming Development Manager. I oversee the whole of the south east region, which includes 50 different pools delivering lessons to over 68,000 children every week.

What are your main responsibilities?
I look after our entire swimming programme in the south east region, ensuring the product that we deliver in each of our centres meets the guidelines we have set out as part of the Everyone Active group. I am in charge of ensuring our teachers are well equipped and able to cater for all ages from four months old to adults, as well as being well informed to best deliver lessons for schools based on the national curriculum.

I am also responsible for coordinating timetables to ensure we maximise pool space at the times that best suit our members. I look after new business opportunities – like programme developments and initiatives, including those run by Swim England, the UK swimming governing body.

What do you enjoy most about your role?
I absolutely love my job and always wake up excited about what the day will bring. I think the leisure industry is an amazing one to be a part of, especially at Everyone Active, as you really feel like you are part of a family, where everyone enjoys what they do and comes to work with a smile on their face ready to have fun.

Whilst there is a light-hearted, happy atmosphere throughout the centres, we do all still work hard and take our jobs seriously. I believe it is extremely important to always deliver a quality service and so make it my mission to keep on top of guidelines and work alongside my colleagues to ensure everyone is well versed and skilled to do so.

“I absolutely love my job and always wake up excited about what the day will bring. I think the leisure industry is an amazing one to be a part of”

What are the biggest challenges in your role, or facing your industry generally?
In recent years we have seen the competition grow, this has meant we need to work even harder to differentiate ourselves from the competition, thinking outside of the box and always looking to keep ahead of the trends to provide new services that are attractive and exciting to the public.

In terms of getting into the leisure industry, there has always been a bit of controversy over the level of pay available. Whilst the industry offers excellent opportunities to earn a great living as you work your way through the ranks, this requires individuals to be dedicated and stick it out as it can be a little tougher when you first start. Provided you do so, it really is possible to reap the rewards!

What opportunities are there in your industry for young people in 2018?
The opportunities are endless – especially now as many councils are contracting operators  to manage their facilities. This of course opens up new jobs in a whole host of areas and there are excellent opportunities for in house training and chances for progression. A lot of people don’t realise, but just because you work in the leisure industry it doesn’t mean you are limited to being a swimming instructor or personal trainer, there are opportunities within HR, admin, catering, IT, engineering, social media – both onsite and at head office. I would say it is about identifying what you like and going after it. If you are proactive and eager to learn and develop, there is always another qualification available to help you progress and learn.

Tell us a bit about your career path to this point.
When I was 16 I started working as a swimming teacher as I always had a passion for swimming and wanted to mentor and inspire others to get involved too. I moved oversees to Australia for a bit and taught there and realised that this was something I could turn into a career. When I came back to England I continued teaching, before stepping up into the role of a swimming manager at one Everyone Actives site, then becoming a contract manager at a group of sites and now into a regional manager role looking after over 50 sites.

“You really need to have an interest in the sport and leisure industry, with a passion for swimming and working with children”

What experience, and extracurricular activities, does your career require?
You really need to have an interest in the sport and leisure industry, with a passion for swimming and working with children. Once you have gained your swimming instructor qualification you can then start working as a teacher and developing your career from there. In fact, Everyone Active works alongside Dudley College to offer an apprenticeship scheme for those keen to enter the industry to do their instructor qualifications. In the past we have had those on the scheme working their way up to swim manager and similar roles – there really are so many opportunities available if you are driven to go after them.

What skills do you think are required to make a good swimming teacher/manager?
I would say that being passionate about teaching people to swim or swimming in general is paramount to becoming the best instructor you can be and enjoying your job every day. As a swimming teacher you get to work with such a diverse range of people, from all ages, backgrounds and stages of development so being a people person really helps too. If you can demonstrate the love for swimming and helping people develop then you will really stand out to anyone looking to hire for such a position.

If you had one bit of advice you would tell your younger self, what would it be?
Interestingly, my son is currently looking to get into the leisure industry and my advice to him has been to remain patient and look to get as much experience as possible in a variety of different areas of the industry. That way he can work out exactly what he loves and then put all his efforts into developing himself as much as possible in that area and seeing how far he can progress.

What was the best advice you were given?
I don’t know if there has been one piece of advice, but throughout my career I have been surrounded by such dedicated people who have inspired me to become the best I can be in my job. The industry is amazing for that – every day you meet such likeminded people who you can learn so much from to help you grow and progress in your own career. I am grateful to so many people for that.