Oban centre’s chairmen are three of a kind

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Atlantis Leisure has been celebrating 25 years since it first opened.

And to date it has had three chairmen, who here speak about their time in the hot seat.

Hugh McLean – chairman 1992 – 2002.

‘Everyone can do something.’ This was, and still is, the mantra, the
underlying the convictions of Hugh McLean, a founding member and the first chairman.

Not a man given to burning out after a hard job is done – his commitment to Atlantis continues through his current involvement in more recent innovative health projects H20, Healthy Options and the developing Healthy Town initiative.

So when he reflects on 25 years of Atlantis, what does he think?

His pride is obvious but it is not pride centred on his own contribution.

‘The success and value of Atlantis, since its conception in 1991, is in the story of how the community pulled together to create these fantastic sports facilities for Oban. Yes, it was essential that we had a core group of experienced and talented people who dedicated time and effort to keeping the vision on track but without the passion and belief of the wider community in the town, Atlantis would not be the success story we have today.’

Atlantis has become a significant player in the life of the town and for Hugh (and the other founding members) its importance is not just its physical presence and its facilities. ‘It has become a vital symbol of what Oban people can achieve for themselves and through their own efforts.’

Crucially, it has inspired other projects in the own such as Oban Phoenix Cinema and Healthy Options and has been recognised across Scotland and as far afield as Australia as a leading example of how to develop a successful community–led social enterprise.

Hugh’s passion may have begun in a small way – born partly out of the frustration of running his children to Glasgow every week for tennis lessons – but once joined and inspired by others, he began to see a much wider potential, a bigger vision. ‘That,’ he says, with a heartfelt smile, ‘was the great gift of working on Atlantis – the working with others and working with the community. We all own the success together.’

Roy Clunie – chairman 2002 – 2007

‘What’s really exciting about this 25th celebration is that Atlantis has become a community anchor for Oban and the wider area around the town.’

Roy is an Oban man with worldwide knowledge and experience of community and social enterprise developments extending more recently to Africa and Pakistan. All of this exciting new interest, these amazing new experiences, he puts down to being inspired by the time he spent helping to found, launch and consolidate Atlantis Leisure.

He describes one vital legacy of the first 25 years of Atlantis as ‘demonstrating that Oban has made a special place which allows things,
amazing things, to happen’.

Roy was a founder member and the second chairman and believes as strongly now as he did at the start of his involvement that once you get the town behind an idea, that idea can become a reality.

Atlantis’s achievements to date are a coda for and constant reminder to the town that ‘Oban is a place where dedicated individuals can achieve their vision’.

His own background as a farming co-op worker, print business owner and community activist allowed him to give a strong and influential contribution to the way the vision for Atlantis was developed.

But, along with his fellow founder directors, none of whom had direct experience of working in or developing sports facilities when they started meeting to plan Atlantis in 1991, he says: ‘Yes, Atlantis took a lot from us, more than any of us realised it would at the time. However, we have all been on a long, amazing and rewarding journey. My own plans for work and my life have been changed by it in a really fundamental way.’

Since its opening, Roy is proud that Atlantis has grown up from being a sports and leisure centre and has become a place that enables people in Oban to change their lives, to achieve some dreams, to become healthier and happier.

It has become a central plank in the town’s social life and health improvement plans – both at an individual level and as a founding partner in the emerging Healthy Living Town initiative. He believes Atlantis has been a great ambassador, persuading many people in the town and across Scotland that ‘keeping the community believing it can do things is a vital element in maintaining community health and self-belief’.

His birthday wish is that Atlantis should, during this significant year of  celebration, be proud of what it has enabled and believe in itself as an ‘engine for transformation in the town’.

Most importantly, it must use this period of time as a springboard to work closely with the community on discovering, exploring and unlocking new opportunities for the town.

Neil Matheson – chairman 2007 – current

As a leading and highly successful Oban-based businessman, you might expect that the original motives behind Neil’s interest in Atlantis were driven by a desire to make it into a profitable business.

That would not be doing justice to the passion he feels about his local community, nor would it explain why he has remained closely involved since 1991 and been chairman for the past 10 years.

He describes his involvement neatly. ‘Getting it on its feet was exciting; getting it to walk was challenging; keeping it going is fascinating.’

By any measure of success, Atlantis has performed beyond the original imaginings and anticipation of its founder members (Neil was one of them), and so leaving it to the care of others after helping it to stabilise its business performance would have been an option.

Neil, however, is made of different fibre and still demonstrates the passion, determination and relish for increasing the success of one of Scotland’s most successful social enterprises.

Like Hugh, Roy and others, it started with a desire to solve the problem of having very limited sports facilities available in the community, and the necessity for many young people to travel out of town (a long way out of town) to practise their sports at proper facilities.

The initial ideas spiralled into full-blown ambitions for something much bigger and more complicated.

‘Thinking about building the sports facility was just the start and possibly the easiest part of our task. Persuading and enthusing the community was a bigger and more important challenge.

‘And developing the skills and capacity to release its greater potential for the town has required a great deal of effort and determination. People are the key to any successful organisation and, over the years, we have had some amazing people contribute to the success of Atlantis.’

Neil is a determined individual, with strong personal and business commitments to Oban’s ongoing development. His time with Atlantis has enabled him to put plenty back into the town, but it has also allowed him to benefit from working in a totally different business model to his own  businesses.

The challenges of running a community-led business are sometimes the same but quite often very different to those experienced in a private company.

Some private sector business leaders do not transition into and operate well in social enterprise environments but Neil has both  contributed meaningfully and experienced the benefits at a personal and professional level.

Neil is passionate about the local community, and takes great pleasure in seeing a busy centre that offers an incredible range of activities and opportunities for all ages.

‘What started out as a project with a clear and realisable ambition (build a building), has become a personal commitment to developing a legacy for the town and has given me a deeper insight into the strength of the communities in Oban.

‘After 25 years, I am really proud of Atlantis and I look forward just as much to the future achievements Atlantis will contribute to Oban.’

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