One of North Tyneside’s most well-known sports centres has seen a 60% increase in event bookings for October and November, signalling a post-covid recovery at the not-for-profit Blue Flames community sporting club is underway.
Blue Flames, located on a 15-acre site on Whitley Road, saw income drop to zero at the start of the Covid lockdown in March of last year. As every aspect of the operation involved interaction with people, all existing events, functions and sporting activities were immediately cancelled with devastating consequences for the club and the community it serves.
Since restrictions were eased this summer, events and functions have been back on the menu as the team prioritised previously cancelled weddings and rearranged events in the newly opened function suites. The push for social events has meant the club is operating nearly back to capacity for the Autumn, although customer confidence for events in the longer-term remains cautious.
Amy Rutherford, operations director at Blue Flames comments: “We have seen a marked and very rapid rise in booking requests for events and functions for the Autumn which has been absolutely wonderful. Previously, people would book events across our function suites months and years in advance. However, with so much uncertainty over the past 18 months, no one is really planning more than a few months ahead.
“We have the booking requests in place to really get back on our feet and run a full capacity sporting schedule but we can’t confidently hire more permanent hospitality staff or increase our ground team without the longer-term bookings to support that need.”
Blue Flames had to take the difficult decision to cancel the annual Fireworks display in November due to staff numbers affecting the safety of the large-scale event. As the clubs biggest annual fundraiser, the cancellation has proved a blow to longer-term recovery plans.
Amy continues: “Not running the fireworks display for the second-year running was really disappointing, not just to us but the community as a whole. It’s a major event in the annual schedule and for us, a huge fundraiser for the rest of the business. I know so many people were looking forward to the display.
“With the improvement in the function and events side of the business, like much of the hospitality sector, we are finding it difficult to attract new staff. This is the reality of a community-run sports club. The success of our events and function space subsidises the sports provision – we must have one to have the other.”
The outlook for 2022 is looking more positive as increasing confidence puts social and sporting events firmly on the calendar for the new year at Blue Flames. The club has received support from the team at the North Tyneside Business Factory – the business support programme from North Tyneside Council – to help develop new routes to market with marketing and business mentoring support from the advisory team.
Amy comments: “The last 18 months have been intensely challenging and at times, incredibly frustrating when going from a successful not-for-profit serving the community to making difficult decisions for the organisation. We’re not alone in these challenges and the team at the Business Factory have been incredibly supportive in helping us to get back on our feet with practical advice to help market the functions side of our business to new customers.
“It has been a welcome support at a time of almost daily challenges and we just can’t wait to get back to normal operations to serve the local sporting community with top quality facilities and coaching.”
The Business Factory is funded by the ERDF and delivered by TEDCO Business Support in North Tyneside to help new and existing enterprises with one-to-one business support, guidance and access to free training workshops on a range of topics.
Lee Casey, business advisor at TEDCO and the Business Factory comments: “Amy and her team have really been tested since the start of the pandemic to find ways to get a people-facing business back into profit during a time of little social interaction. They stood by their customers, offering full refunds for all cancellations. That flexibility is now paying off with customers returning to book events in their three function suites for Autumn events. However, the future of the club is in the hands of the community it serves.
“It has been a pleasure working with Amy and her passionate team to help devise new ways to reach customers and I look forward to furthering that relationship going forward.”