As Aura Wales, home to Flintshire’s leisure centres, libraries and heritage services, approaches its fifth birthday we look back on some of our highlights and impact over the past five years.
As the first employee-owned community benefit society established in the UK, Aura’s impact was first recognised nationally at the 2019 Social Business Wales Awards where we scooped not only the Consumer Facing award but the main prize of Social Enterprise of the Year with the judging panel describing Aura as “a great example of how a social enterprise can keep valuable services running for the benefit of local communities”. Aura’s charitable operating model enables it to run the county’s leisure, libraries and heritage services for £1.5 million less per year.
Over the past five years, many customers have reached out to explain how Aura has supported them in their various fitness, sport or library-related accomplishments. Some have achieved amazing goals such as Heidi Rogerson, a local girl from Flint who, after being told “so many times that she would never be able to swim”, defied the odds and “rocketed through” Aura’s Learn to Swim programme to become a fantastic swimmer with a dream of becoming a Paralympic champion. One parent thanked Aura for helping their child to “fall in love with sport”; similarly, a gym member expressed their gratitude to Aura for, “saving” their life, “and changing it for the better”. Gym members who have been referred to Aura’s gym and fitness classes by their GP as part of the National Exercise Referral Scheme (NERS) have also expressed their thanks to Aura, with one member saying: “I was referred to the scheme because I had arthritis and was really struggling; I was in an awful lot of pain on a daily basis. I’ve been going from strength to strength since then and now I’m feeling as healthy as I ever have!”
Each message received has inspired and motivated the Aura team to continue promoting the importance of physical health and mental well-being. Indeed, one of Aura’s greatest accomplishments thus far has been its commitment to inspiring children and young people to enjoy both leisure and library activities, and in many cases, learn and develop a lifelong skill or passion. The Aura Swim team currently provides weekly swimming lessons to over 2,500 children, and each year, around 3,000 local children take part in the Summer Reading Challenge facilitated by Aura Libraries.
The Aura Sports Development team continually strives to encourage children and young people to get hooked on sport for life and their work over the past five years has had a hugely positive impact. Some recent examples include free football festivals for children of all ages and the return of free Fit, Fed and Read sessions which combine sport and library activities to promote well-being and creativity. Last summer, over 3,300 children attended Fit, Fed and Read sessions across Flintshire where over 1,600 free meals were provided to promote well-being and the importance of a healthy diet.
Since 2017, over £3 million has been invested into Aura’s leisure centres and libraries to improve facilities. Aura has recorded more than one million visits per year to our leisure centres and over 600,000 visits per year to our libraries. This reflects not only the importance of leisure and library services, but also the integral role they play within communities.
In recent times, Aura has introduced brand new attractions in the form of a fun-filled inflatable park – the first of its kind in Flintshire – and a re-designed indoor skate park at Deeside Leisure Centre. Both parks have been well-received by both the local community and visitors from further afield, and represent Aura’s ambition and commitment to providing exciting and dynamic leisure opportunities for its community.
In April 2021, Aura joined the Adult Community Learning Partnership, a joint venture between Flintshire and Wrexham to provide adult learning opportunities to local communities. To date, Aura has secured nearly £150,000 funding to deliver courses to support people to improve their skills and to create pathways into employment. This funding has also enabled Aura to enhance the learning environment in which these opportunities are provided. So far, Aura has delivered over 200 courses ranging from Mindfulness to Developing Your Retail Skills with more than 400 adult learners improving their education and employability potential.
Reflecting on the past five years, Aura’s Chair, Mrs Sara Mogel OBE, commented: “I’m extremely proud to be part of Aura Wales and of an organisation that truly believes in benefitting the communities it serves. We have achieved a great deal since we started in 2017, against a backdrop of diminishing resources, but know there remains much to do in terms of removing inequality to access to sports provision and reducing social and digital isolation.
Now, more than ever, in the post-pandemic world, mental and physical health is of huge importance. The services Aura provides are highly valued by Flintshire residents and it is imperative that they continue to flourish not only for the next five years but for future generations as well.”
Share your memories of Aura over the past five years using the hashtag #5YearsOfAura and connect with us via our social media platforms: @walesaura (Facebook) @aura_wales (Twitter) and @aura.wales (Instagram).