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o put the leading statement overleaf into context, it was written in the 1980s by George Torkildson, who served as Chair of the World Leisure Board of Directors. He was the first community sports centre manager in Britain and has been called the father of sport and leisure. The reference is clearly made regarding leisure facilities which, at the time were principally local authority sports and leisure centres and these facilities. These facilities enjoyed significant growth in the UK from the very first purpose built sports centre at Harlow in 1960, through to today where, according to The Leisure Database Company, there are now 2,764 such facilities with gyms.


what we have today is a

fundamentally different way of using leisure facilities

Early sports and leisure centres were very much community-based facilities designed to appeal to as many residents as possible by providing a large range of different activities. At the hub of the leisure centre was usually a bar which complemented the activities taking place for what were principally group activities with a social element. Squash clubs, badminton clubs, volleyball teams, five-side- soccer, netball matches all thrived in these facilities with the participants ending up in the bar afterwards for a drink and a chat.

On top of the club-based activities the leisure centre’s themselves orchestrated a programme of courses and activities based around school term times. Speaking from personal experience, these were so popular and so comprehensive for both children and adults that the brochures grew ever larger year-on-year and became the main item in the leisure centre printing budget (obviously pre- Internet & social media). At this time recreational sports and facilities were considered important to quality of life and communities. The benefits to both physical and mental health were often cited as a key driver as well as providing places where young people could keep out of trouble. It was no accident that Brixton had one of the largest leisure centres in the UK built after the Brixton riots of 1981 and Belfast had one of the most comprehensive range

of leisure facilities anywhere in the British Isles during the Troubles.

The link between the type of leisure

facility provided and the notion of social wellbeing and cohesion was a strong one. Recreational sports have also been reported as changing lives. It has been suggested that activities create positive outcomes such as confidence, self- respect, self-esteem, trust, self-reliance and leadership abilities.

Other more powerful social benefits have been claimed. “Over the last 15 years .., sports, outdoor pursuits and

constructive leisure activities have been a well-established feature of initiatives whose aim is to divert offenders and young people at risk away from crime” (Eastleigh, 2007).

What has changed in the programming and use of leisure facilities? Prior to the late 1980s, it was clear that the type of activities taking place in leisure facilities during this time were either organised by someone, led by an instructor/coach, or were part of a larger social group such as a club. Even the craze for aerobics-based activities along the lines of the Jane Fonda Workout routine was instructor led. At this time a gym was a few pieces of free weights located in a squash court. A number of things happened in the 1990s which were to change the way we use leisure and fitness facilities for ever. The early 1990s saw both Compulsory Competitive

Tendering (CCT) which forced many local authorities to look at outsourcing their leisure facilities in order to make them more commercially viable and less of a drain on the public purse: together with the rise of more specific health & fitness-based clubs such as Fitness First, L.A Fitness and David Lloyd. The new private sector clubs simplified the way active leisure was delivered to consumers. Primarily fitness-driven via the new ranges of stand-alone fitness kit supported by financial systems and the development of monthly direct debit payments, ‘fitness’ became the new holy grail for driving

Pictures courtesy of GO MAMMOTH

46 I body LIFE 2 I 2015

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