Dissident group of members claim luxury club is being run into the ground

The luxury Riverside Health and Fitness Club has become the scene of a bitter dispute between a group of members and the management. The members have set up their own web site to highlight some of their grievances.

The club, and in particular the general manager Ian Ure, comes in for fierce criticism on the group's web site. Both staff and members have made contributions to the site's discussion forum expressing dissatisfaction in the strongest terms.

Much of the hostility to the current management comes from long-standing members who had memberships which were refundable like a debenture. The Esporta Group changed the membership structure to a non-refundable basis which meant that there was no secondary market. The Company was forced to make a £4 million write off to account for this earlier in the year but members claim that they have uncommunicative about how debenture holders are to be compensated.

The disgruntled group of members claim that the Esporta group is running the Riverside club on a shoestring budget in an attempt to make their accounts look more attractive in the context of the on-going takeover battle.

A spokesperson for the members' group said, "The pool is now permanently unattended in the evening and there is only one member of staff on duty in the gym at any one time. There is no studio manager and the staff that used to work in the gym have been replaced by pastiches of the former employees. There is no Food and Beverage manager and catering has been contracted out."

One comment on the web site was, "The truth of the matter is that the club carries the rest of the group and has become a blatant cash cow who's udders are very sore, the members can see it and the staff also know it." It is claimed that with revenues of £300,000 a month from members subscriptions alone the Riverside Club is supporting the rest of the group.

Patrick White, the CEO of the Hogarth Group whose Park Club competes directly with the Riverside pointed out that despite being a privately owned company their standards of disclosure were relatively high and this was important to foster a sense of ownership and community amongst members. He refused to comment directly on the Riverside situation but said, "The website was drawn to our attention earlier this year. Like all forum sites, including ChiswickW4.com, it does highlight the immense dangers that companies in the service sector face if they disregard the views of their customers."

Previously the tennis facilities were seen by many as giving the Riverside the edge over the Park Club for people who played that sport but with the Park Club currently building a wide range of new facilities, including twelve more tennis and sports courts, they are clearly hoping to attract members from the Riverside. The Club's Sales Manager, Sarah Attrill, told ChiswickW4.com that incoming Riverside members benefited from "special terms", although she would not be drawn on what these might be.

The member disquiet comes at an embarrassing time for Esporta as management are already under fire from Duke Street Capital who have made a hostile bid for the company. Countering claims of an "unsatisfactory performace" Esporta has recently released forecasts which show a healthy increase in revenue and Chief executive Maurice Kelly said: "We've tackled costs. Revenue is growing. This is not a business that is in trouble any more."

The company's management claims the bid undervalues the group. There has been talk of a "white knight" possibly the David Lloyd group coming in with a counter-bid but this Friday (12th July) Duke Street bought more shares at a higher price of 87.5p in a move that many analysts think will be enough to secure control particularly with world stock markets nose diving.

Esporta Subject to Hostile Bid

£4 million Chiswick Riverside write-off stuns Esporta

Esporta Web Site

The Hogarth Club

The Park Club

August 1st 2002

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