Virgin Active unveils £25m refit plan


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The Independent Online

Virgin Active has announced plans to spend £25 million on improving the 53 Esporta clubs it bought last year to bulk up the business.

The group, which operates 122 sites in the UK, said it will follow up the £77.6 million acquisition by upgrading the former-Esporta estate this year, with some clubs benefiting from new equipment and changing rooms.

The move comes after a 9% rise in underlying earnings to £126.8 million in 2011 as global membership broke the one million mark with the help of the acquisition.

The group bought four clubs in Australia from Virgin Group and it said today it will use this as a launch pad to open its first new clubs in Asia as it shifts its focus east in the face of the slowdown in Europe.

Chief executive Matthew Bucknall said: "In the coming year we will be completing the integration of the Esporta sites, and making significant capital investment in the acquired clubs to improve all areas of the member experience."

The group said it continues to see strong demand for its clubs in the UK where it said it put in a resilient performance despite the economic gloom.

Esporta had more than 150,000 members at its 20 racquet clubs and 33 health and fitness clubs. It was Virgin Active's first major acquisition since it bought Holmes Place almost five years previously.

The company - owned by private equity firm CVC and Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group - has a total of 259 clubs across Europe, South Africa and Australia after opening 10 sites in the year.

Its bullish update comes after health club giant Fitness First said this month it is to walk away from nearly half of its gyms in a last-ditch bid to tackle its £600 million debt mountain.

The chain, which employs 1,500 staff in the UK, wants landlords to back a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) in which it will offload 67 of the 147 clubs it runs in the UK to other operators over the next six months.