Q&A with Peter Gunn, BH Live

BH Live manages six venues in Bournemouth including the Bournemouth International Centre (BIC), Bournemouth Pavilion, Littledown Centre, Pelhams Park Leisure Centre, Stokewood Leisure Centre & Sir David English Sports Centre. The Breaker spoke to Chief Executive Peter Gunn about their successes and to see what the future holds for BH Live.

BH Live is a leisure and cultural trust, established in 2010 as a ‘non profit distributing organisation’. BH Live and manages the non charitable activities, primarily relating to Conferences and Exhibitions. BH Live manages six venues and facilities in Bournemouth including the award winning Bournemouth International Centre (BIC), Bournemouth Pavilion, Littledown Centre, Pelhams Park Leisure Centre, Stokewood Leisure Centre & Sir David English Sports Centre.

The Breaker went to speak to their Chief Executive Peter Gunn at the BIC to talk about their successes over the past year and to see what the future holds for BH Live.

The Breaker: The BIC and Bournemouth Pavilion generates over £100 million per annum in direct and indirect economic benefit to Bournemouth. What do you think BH Live brings to the Bournemouth community; by arrange events and programmes for the public?

Outside the BIC building Photo: Laura Curtis

Peter Gunn:
I think there’s the economic impact on the town, which you’ve mentioned and a lot of the things we do attract regional visitors. They come in and visit events, they stay at the hotels, they use restaurants, use taxi’s, support transport systems so from that point of view it really does help the economy of the town. I think secondly it helps our cultural offer within the town. And not least that gives people the opportunity to enjoy themselves and have fun and be entertained, which is what we’re about.
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The Breaker: How does the money, £100 million, help facilitate your events and the community?

Peter Gunn: Well the primary spend is with the venue. The secondary spend supports the businesses so for somebody who comes to a conference, they’ll come here, they’ll spend money with the conference organisers, they’ll be educated within the venue, they’ll stay in hotels three or four nights and that adds to the economy and the business itself, so it really ripples.
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The Breaker: And thats really affected the community, I think that’s great.

Peter Gunn: But some residents are quite critical of conferencing, sometimes in the paper you read comments such as ‘it’s disruption to the town, why do we need it?’ but I think if people stepped back and understood, or took time to think through the broader impact of events, and it supports everything about the town, its a bit like the university. Its not just about education its about bringing people to the town.
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The Breaker: BH Live has delivered a variety of different events to Bournemouth, including Zumba, the wedding fair, which we went to, you’ve helped people with cancer by hosting Living Well and Beyond Cancer and you are about to host the next Cupcake Camp. What impact do you think this has had on the economy of tourism in the area?

Peter Gunn: I think the fact that BH Live is a very diverse organisation makes it sustainable, so many things I discussed about our abilities to put on large events, some by themselves, may not be that profitable and the buildings are very very expensive to run but having a very very diverse program means that it adds to the economic viability, financial viability for places like the BIC, BH Live as a whole.
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The Breaker: How do you choose which events to put on, is there a progress you have to go through?

Peter Gunn: We also have a program policy in terms of use of space, so we try and ensure that, for example conferences tend to be booked two, three, four years in advance, so we focus very hard on the bigger events. Then the nearer it gets to the day we fill in the gaps. So there is a kind of method behind the madness really, in a way.
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The Breaker: The Trade Union Congress are going to come back in September next year. So what do you think they will bring to BH Live and the society? 

Peter Gunn: We also know that around 30 per cent, based on research, of delegates will bring their families back. So they’ll come to Bournemouth and say ‘What a great place’ and ‘I’ll come back for a holiday’ and it promotes the town as a whole. It’s a great opportunity to showcase Bournemouth to the rest of the country.
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The Breaker: One of you newer services, that was launched in November was BH Live Hospitality. Can you explain what it provides, what the aims of the program are and what it has added to BH Live?

Peter Gunn: We took a decision round about July last year to form BH Live Hospitality and that was a combination of subcontracted elements around the BIC and Pavilion. Then we had in house catering round the leisure centres, so we brought that together to achieve a economist scale, but most importantly we feel we can market the services better and provide a better service to customers. And we hope to grow that part of the business.
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The Breaker: I want to move on now and talk about the FeelGood Factory program at Pelhams Park Leisure centre, that will start in March. The program is aimed at women, what are your hopes for the projects effect and benefits on the people who will be using this service?

Peter Gunn: Well firstly it gets more people into Pelhams Park Leisure centre, you know and that’s what we’re about, more participation. Its do to with people who wouldn’t normal exercise so the FeelGood Factory has been designed in such a way as to be not intimidating, very small numbers, one to one tuition and I think it’s also suitable for those who are coming back to exercise, having not exercised for a long time, it may be to do with medical conditions where they get expert help on how to go through a rehabilitation exercise and we may get some medical help with that.
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The Breaker: Your site says you are interested in several new projects around physical fitness. Could you elaborate on what projects you’re looking into?

Peter Gunn: We talked about the FeelGood Factory, in Littledown Park we’re looking to invest in a high ropes adventure area, which is a fantastic new facility a £300,000 investment and the objectives there is to attract people into physical exercise that wouldn’t normally take part, who are put off by the leisure environment.
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The Breaker: You have three services BH Live tickets, Hospitality and Meet Bournemouth. Have you got any other plans for expansions for BH Live in the future?

Peter Gunn: We’ve got plans to develop a gym brand because currently we have four fitness facilities that sit within our centres and we want to develop a BH Live fitness brand so we have constants across the venues and centres, similar pricing, a group membership scheme because at the moment it you go into Stokewood you can’t use Pelham’s gym, if you go to Littledown you can’t use the David English, and then use that as a concept that we can take into other venues and centres. So there’s just some snippets of some of the things we’ve got planned, but yes lots of ambition.
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The Breaker: BH Live has had a successful year, but are there any projects or events that you feel could have been better or hope to improve on in the future?

Peter Gunn: There’s always things you know, if we’re not making mistakes then you’re sort of not learning. But I wouldn’t say necessarily there were mistakes I’d say they more of a disappointment that they haven’t come into motion yet. One example is the linked hotel to the BIC, there’s been talk for maybe six or seven years of building a hotel, just above where we’re sitting today, beyond the BIC. The economic downturn means theres less money for the developers to borrow so its a very tricky scheme financially.

The Breaker: What have been some of your highlights or your greatest accomplishment since you started working for BH Live?

Peter Gunn: I think the greatest accomplishment is bringing together what were separate venues into one organisations and starting to realise that by bringing it together the sum is greater than the parts. But they’re all about the BH Live experience about the leisure and entertainment event experience, that is the biggest achievement and its also the greatest opportunity going forward.
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The Breaker: BH Live has been nominated for a number of award in 2011, including ‘Outstanding Customer Service of the Year’ as well as ‘Bournemouth Tourism Award’, how did you celebrate?

Peter Gunn: I don’t know how other people celebrated but my philosophy is that its not the award itself but its the sort of journey as it were, its not the end. Its all about what we’ve done to be recognised and I always feel that its great we should reflect on it but then move on and use it as a kind of spring board. So they way I celebrated is to think, ok thats great but how can we get any better, how can we move on. I think a few of the staff may have had a couple of glasses of champagne.
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The Breaker: Final question, what do you think the future holds for BH Live?

Peter Gunn: I think it’s very exciting, I think we’ve got a real opportunity to build on the strengths of BH Live brands, to bring the venues together and really deliver some of these investments we’ve talked about, whether its BH Live Hospitality or the high ropes or the linked hotel and really make a difference to people’s lives whether thats just through them enjoying themselves or getting fit, educating them or just making them feel better walking out the venues and centres than when they walked in.
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