How I became a Leisure Centre Manager

9th December 2019

The post: General Manager, Lisnasharragh Leisure Centre

The post holder: Peter McMonagle

Peter McMonagle has worked his way up from a junior role with GLL to Leisure Centre Manager of the new £20m Lisnasharragh Leisure Centre.

Here’s how he became a Leisure Centre Manager

Give a brief outline of your career to date.

I’ve been lucky to have worked my way up in GLL (the social enterprise that manages all of Belfast’s public leisure centres in partnership with Belfast City Council) from a junior role to that of General Manager. I started as a casual lifeguard with GLL in 2011, then became a Senior Lifeguard and Duty Manager the following year at Harrow Leisure Centre. I left Harrow to become a Service Manager/Assistant Manager at Clapham Leisure Centre where I was in charge of operations. In 2014, I was successful in joining the mobilisation team in Belfast. I became General Manager at Whiterock Leisure centre, then at Ballysillan and now I am opening Lisnasharragh Leisure Centre which was formerly the Robinson Centre.

What was your favourite subject at school?

I enjoyed a wide variety of subjects at school from History to Chemistry and PE.

Did you go on to further/ higher education, if so what did you study and where?

I studied Chemistry at the University of Manchester.

How did you get into your area of work?

I was a competitive swimmer, so during the summer when I was 18, I took a casual lifeguarding job. I was quite good at the management part of the job and when GLL took over the leisure centre things went from there.

Is this what you always wanted to do?

No. I was never certain of what I wanted to achieve in a professional sense. I had considered teaching for a while and even did some work experience in that field. However, I found I thoroughly enjoyed my job once I started and pushed myself to improve every day and that is how I have ended up in the position that I am in now.

Were there any particular essential qualifications or experience needed?

The only essential qualification I needed when I started with GLL was my National Pool Lifeguard Qualification. GLL provided me with plenty of professional development that has allowed me to progress and gain the relevant experience that I have needed to do each job.

Are there alternative routes into the job?

There are lots of ways into leisure industry general management. GLL offers a professional two-year graduate scheme that brings candidates through a range of frontline placements and two supervisor placements. Other people have come into the industry from similar roles, as the business management and leadership elements are all transferrable skills.

What are the main personal skills your job requires?

The role of General Manager in this business requires a lot of different skills. You need to be a good people person and strong leader to get people to understand and buy into your vision for the centre. Having a good way with people makes the customer facing part of the job much easier. You also need a good understanding of business and how to manage financial performance.

What does a typical day entail?

I wouldn’t say there is a typical day. There is so much going on and with such a wide variety of products on offer within our centres, every day is different. Most days involve catching up with staff and monitoring the performance of the centre. In my role at the moment we are getting a brand-new centre ready to open so everything is moving very quickly and even one hour to the next is different.

What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job?

The best part about this job is the team I work with. The camaraderie with the other General Managers and my centre team is important and is something that I enjoy immensely. The variety of the job also keeps me interested every day and challenges me. The most challenging part is the volume of work. Trying to fit everything we need to do into a working week when we are a seven day a week business is a challenge.

Why is what you do important?

My job is important because we provide a service to the people of Belfast. Our business priorities are all guided by our social values and achieving the goal of getting “more people, more active, more often”. This is hugely important in a world where there are increasing health inequalities. GLL’s social enterprise model means that our impact is seen in the community teaching life skills to people through our swimming lessons or health interventions to help people through our Health-wise programme.

What advice would you give anyone looking to follow a similar career path?

Work hard and make the most of the experience you gain from your role. Also engage with people. You cannot do this job without the support of your colleagues and having their support makes the job more fun and easier.

If you weren’t doing this what would you like to do?

I haven’t really thought about what I would do outside of this. I’d quite like to win the lottery and travel the world.

If you could go back, what is the one piece of advice you would give to yourself on your first day?

I would tell myself to listen more and utilise the skills of the team to make the job easier. When I first stepped into management, I thought I could do the job without too much support because I knew it all, which I very much didn’t.

Describe your ideal day off.

I like a day off that is relaxing – sitting in front of the TV watching some box sets or sport, going to the gym or playing football and then maybe a takeaway in the evening.

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