Racquets Fitness Centre – why Apprentices work for small businesses

Own a small business? Thinking about taking on staff? Employing an Apprentice could be the way forward for you. Around 2/3 of Oxfordshire’s Apprentices are employed by small businesses and this Small Business Saturday, we’re encouraging more small businesses to discover the benefits of employing an Apprentice. Sue Martin-Downhill of small family business Racquets Fitness Centre in Thame and her Squash Coach Apprentice Ben explain why Apprentices work for small businesses…

Racquets is a family run fitness centre in the heart of Thame with something for everyone. In addition to a wide variety of squash coaching and clubs for all ages and stages, there’s an extensive range of fun fitness classes on offer from core boxing to hardcore spin. You can work out in one of three gym zones and then relax in the Racquets lounge. As well as sport, Racquets is also a centre for socialising - the lounge is open every evening and the large function room is used for everything from children’s parties to business get-togethers.  

The centre is run by husband and wife team Simon Martin and Sue Martin-Downhill. It’s a small business, employing around 25 people, with some part time - equivalent to 10 full time staff.

Around 5 years ago, Sue was involved in running another business that was taking on its first Apprentice. She could see how employing an Apprentice at Racquets would be an affordable way to recruit new member of staff who could grow with the business and learn how to do things the Racquets way. The centre employed their first Apprentice, Jack Shrimpton, to work as a personal trainer in the gym. He was followed by a second Personal Trainer Apprentice Ellis Quarterman. Both Jack and Ellis are now full time Racquets employees, providing group and one-to-one personal training.

Branching out

Following the success of the first two Apprentices, Sue decided to introduce an Apprentice into a different area of the business – squash coaching. Ben Hedger, 18, has been playing squash at Racquets since he was 4 and is currently working towards becoming a professional player. Sue and Simon offered him the opportunity to join them as a Squash Coach Apprentice once he left school.

This was a fantastic opportunity for Ben. He’d get paid for doing the sport he loves, whilst working towards a Level 2 coaching qualification which is paid for as part of the Apprenticeship. He jumped at the chance and started his Apprenticeship with Racquets in September 2016.

Ben’s role involves coaching groups of year 5 and 6 children from a number of local schools. Ben also works on reception, including one evening a week and provides cover for other staff members when required. This enables him to develop valuable customer service skills alongside the coaching skills and experience he is gaining every day.

Sue says: “Before Ben started, we didn’t have the capacity to offer as many school-time sessions. Now we are able to give squash coaching to all Year 5s and 6s in the 3 Primary schools of Thame all year round. It can be difficult for small businesses to afford to hire an experienced member of staff, employing an Apprentice means we can afford the extra pair of hands and we can train them to fit the needs of our business.”

“Now that Ben’s here and has been able to take over coaching the kids, I have more time to devote to marketing the business and growing our customer base. I also have more time for admin now that I’m not coaching all the time.”

“Ben’s Apprenticeship covers the cost of his coaching qualifications and the external training he gets takes the pressure off us a bit and things like maths and English are taken care of.”

Ben's story

Ben completed A Levels in PE, Business Studies and History at Lord Williams School in Thame before joining Racquets. He says: “I liked the idea of going to uni but for all the wrong reasons! I knew that an Apprenticeship would enable me to earn money instead of getting into debt. I am also aiming to go pro this year and working here means that I get to pursue my goal and I have the benefit of my bosses also being my coaches!.”

“My role involves coaching kids and I do all the group sessions. Lots of kids approach me and ask for individual coaching too once I’ve coached them in a group. It’s a flexible and fun working environment and I love working doing something I enjoy.”

“Rob from Icon Training comes in to see me once a month. We do about 3 hours work and he also sets me things to do. The questions are all about the club and the business, so I find it easy to integrate the job and the learning parts of my Apprenticeship.”

“My advice to anyone thinking about an Apprenticeship would be to make sure you consider your options and find something you enjoy. The best thing about an Apprenticeship is that you’re earning money while you’re learning and gaining experience in the workplace.”

Support for small businesses

If you’re interested in employing an Apprentice to help grow your small business and would like some help to get started, get in touch on tel: 01865 323477 or email: info@oxfordshireapprenticeships.co.uk, we can come and visit you in your workplace and talk it through with you. Visit our employers page for more info.

There's a fantastic range of workshops and one-to-one sessions taking place in Thame this Small Business Saturday (3rd December), offering advice and support for small businesses on topics such as finance and digital marketing. Visit the Thame Centre First website for details and booking: www.thamecentrefirst.org/small-business-saturday.html