Q&A: Spa Experience’s Melissa Evans chats to the SSA about social sustainability, community, and the importance of keeping it local

After five Spa Experience facilities became Sustainable Spa Association members this month, we caught up with Melissa Evans, National Spa Manager at Spa Experience to find out about their journey towards a more sustainable future…

What is Spa Experience and how was it formed? Could you tell me a bit about the background of the enterprise?

GLL is a social enterprise that has been going for over 25 years that started operating sports and leisure facilities on behalf of the local council, with the first one of those being within the Borough of Greenwich. Since then, it has grown to support hundreds of different facilities right across the UK, working with different local authorities on leisure centres, children’s facilities, trampoline parks, libraries, cafes, you name it, so this was where Spa Experience was born from.

As well as operating a range of facilities, the first spa to be operated by GLL was actually in Bethnal Green, which is in one of the poorest boroughs of London, and so it was important to regenerate the facility, which was a gorgeous old, Turkish bath, to make it accessible.

GLL, and Spa Experience, is about making these facilities affordable and accessible, especially in less affluent areas of the country, because we know just how important they are for health and wellbeing. We want to make spas and wellness facilities available to everybody, rather than a one-off trip to the countryside for a hen do, but something that is integrated into the community, providing everyone an equal opportunity to be healthier and happier. We work with a range of leading brands, from Elemis to La Sultane De Saba, so our spa experience in terms of treatments and experiences is no less than something you might find outside of the city, but can act as a more affordable option for local people and communities. 

You’ve recently signed up seven of your spas as Sustainable Spa Association members – how important is sustainability and the environment to you and what was the driving force behind the decision to join the SSA? 

A thing that we keep coming back to is People, Planet and Profit, and so far, I’d say we’re doing really well at the People side of things. As a social enterprise, people are a key focus and our board is made up of people that work for GLL, from Directors right through to Spa Therapists, so key decisions are a truly democratic process. Not only that, but 50% of the people we employ at every spa facility comes from within the local community, because we want to make sure it’s a space for local people, ran by local people, and so we want to use our facilities as a way to provide jobs and income to the community we serve and give back to the people who put their faith in us. 

From a social sustainability perspective, we’re flying at the moment. However, we’ve always been conscious of the environment, especially in the industry we operate in, and so we want to use the Sustainable Spa Association membership, to connect with like-minded people, get involved in projects and really learn more about how we can improve our daily practices and processes to make our spas more environmentally friendly. 

Are you currently working on any projects to improve your sustainability and environmental offering?

As part of GLL, we, of course, already have a wide range of sustainability practices in place, but we want to knuckle down and see what we, as a spa operator specifically, can do to improve. 

We’re currently undertaking a review of all the product houses that we work with and promote through our spa, to see whether or not there are products with better green credentials out there for us to use instead. We already work with Rob and the team at Scrummi who have helped us in this area immensely, so we’re excited to see how we can enhance this offering more. However, the SSA membership is a big step for us and we’re ready to throw ourselves in at the deep end to learn, absorb and do as much as we can to become a more eco-friendly, and affordable, option.

What more do you think can be done in the spa industry to be more environmentally friendly?

I think things are heading in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go yet. We have a responsibility as an industry that promotes health and wellbeing to make sure we’re looking after the health and wellbeing of the planet too. It’s kind of contradictory to be unsustainable in our line of work, especially in this day and age. 

I think everyone has been working to improve, but we’re working in silos, and we’ve never had an association or body to drive that forward collectively – which I think is where the SSA can help massively for the industry. We talk about it at conferences but there’s never the follow through or accountability for some, so having an organisation that can provide a list of values or measures you need to be hitting can help spas benchmark performance and highlight areas for improvement. 

It would be awesome to get the spa community together and set some accurate measurements, so we could get all operators, no matter how big or small, private, public or social enterprise, whether they’re based in the UK, Europe or Globally, and figure out how they compare. Not from a perspective of naming and shaming, but to celebrate and acknowledge those who are going above and beyond to act as an inspiration and motivation for those who still have a way to go. And don’t get me wrong, spas of different shapes, sizes and finances may get there at different speeds, I appreciate that, but I believe through greater transparency, collaboration and forward-thinking, we, as an industry, can help to make an incredibly positive impact on the environment around us.