Meet our new YMCA Club Operations Manager, John Blackburn!

John Blackburn on holiday in summer gear in front of a rock

Award winning John Blackburn – who’s been in the industry for over 20 years – joined us as Operations Manager over the summer. Two months in, we find out what he’s achieved so far and his future plans for the Club…


Welcome to the YMCA Club! Explain your unusual accent…

Thank you! I was born in Dublin and grew up in Wexford, southeast Ireland, until the age of eight when I moved to Chelsea. Now I live in Earlsfield with my stunning Colombian wife, Cali, and our 12 year old daughter. I’m continually asked where my accent is from - South Africa, Germany and Australia are frequent guesses!


Tell us about your fitness journey…

I was an amateur kickboxer from the age of 11 to 17 so I guess that set me off?!


In 1999, I started volunteering in the gym at my college where I was actually studying architecture at the time. I soon realised however, I had no passion for buildings and started studying Sport, Health and Fitness instead.


I qualified as a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Sports Therapist in 2000 and set up my first PT business, which I sold this in 2006.


I then spent seven years at Nuffield Health where I rose through the ranks from Master Trainer, Club Manager and Regional Manager to National Fitness Operations Manage before leaving in 2015 to become a Consultant.


As a Consultant, I combined my passion for fitness with my love of spaces and experiences and transformed many boutique gyms in terms of studio design, member experience and leadership. Many of them are still standing today and doing very well.


In 2016, I created the UK's first ‘Group Exercise Centre of Excellence’ – a centre comprising of multi boutique studios all in one place. Even though I had to travel two hours from South London to Milton Keynes every day, it was all worth it, as I bagged the ‘Group Exercise Centre of the Year’ Award at the National Fitness Awards in 2017.


After that, I continued as a Consultant before joining YMCA earlier this year.


You’re no stranger to winning awards - tell me about the others…

Yes, I’m very competitive! My meticulous effort to achieve the best is my driver – admittedly, this is not always great for my social life or sleep!


I won the Personal Trainer of the Year Award three years in a row (Cannons, 2002, 2003 and 2004)

National Club of the Year (Nuffield, 2011)

Health Club of the Year (Members Choice Award, 2012)

National Team of the Year (Nuffield, 2014)


Wow – pretty impressive and such a wealth of experience. What specific experience do you hope to bring to the Club?

I bring best practice across the industry from club operations and member services, to space design and experiential awareness. I believe we can achieve something remarkable together.


Any hobbies?

Property, fitness - I play tennis and softball. I’m into ‘going green’ and recently sold my diesel car for an electric moped.


Travel and I’m trying to (or forced to) learn Spanish for my wife’s hobbies.


I organise at least two socials with friends every month – anything from virtual reality escape rooms to drinks out at quirky locations. Life’s too short not to be having fun!


In a nutshell, what’s the purpose of your new role?

To review and manage all of our operating procedures in the Club including reception, sales, the cafe and member experience. My top priorities are:


1. Improving the member journey

2. Creating a destination of choice for both employees and customers to enjoy in terms of health, fitness, social, wellbeing, sports, education, upskilling, therapy and relaxation.


What do you make of everything so far?

The Club is massive! There’s so much going on and a lot to take in, but everyone has been very supportive. It’s only been two months, but we’ve achieved so much already:


- A review of the Club Cafe and its product line.

- Expanding our sales team.

- Plans to create a digital member service.

- Creating a more productive way of working amongst my team so that they can support our members better.

- Starting a secret Club improvement project – watch this space!


I guess the challenge is being accepted as a change maker without stepping (too hard) on too many toes!  It’s all about finding the balance - so far, I’m very happy.


How will your relationship with Club members develop?

Eventually, my contact with members will be more direct. I want to hold frequent member forums to understand the voice of our customers. As I become more involved in the member journey, their experiences will be invaluable to the success of our future. I would like to thank our members for their continued support and feedback. They are the essence of the YMCA Club.


Please continue to voice your observations and let us know when you’re not happy and when you are. I have a direct, open and honest approach to my way of working and I invite members to approach me in the same way.  Please feel free to contact me on and give me any positive or negative feedback. I would love to hear from you!


What’s so unique about the YMCA Club?

The Club has a strong heritage and culture that is the backbone of its success. Using that as a foundation for the future gives us an advantage.


The Club has the potential for change. In order to stay relevant, we have to adapt and do better. There’s not just an appetite for change amongst management and employees, there’s also feedback from members who are ready to embrace change when it comes. For me, that’s very exciting.


What’s your dream for the Club?

To be the best!

Claire.Gilderson | 4 November 2019