Part One: The dawn and early development of the indoor sports centre

PART ONE provides a picture of organisational, sporting, and political activity, mainly from the 1950s to 1974/5. This period set the scene for the advent and establishment of the indoor community sports centre across the UK in the following decades. It records the pioneering stages of centre developments in this period, in terms of the buildings, organisations, and people.

Sports & Leisure Centres are a phenomenon that emerged in the second half of the 20th century. By 1960 the first centre in the UK was underway in Harlow, with extensive outdoor facilities, grant aided and managed by a trust. An indoor sports building was subsequently added in 1964, thus creating the first true, community indoor sports centre. The founding father of recreation management, the late George Torkildsen, was appointed as manager of Harlow Sportcentre on January 1st, 1961 and remained associated with the Centre throughout his life. The Sportcentre provided both indoor and outdoor facilities, and embraced a sports hall, an athletics and football stadium, cricket field and athletic track together with a ski-slope. George was the first UK sport centre manager and Harlow led the way in the 1960s, with several other centres hard on its heels. This was a pioneering period in the planning, development and operation of community sports centres. In those very early days, physical education academics and teachers and politicians played a vital role. Key strategic and policy influences included the ‘Wolfenden Report’ and ‘Planning for Sport’. The advent of a Sports Council, firstly advisory and then by Royal Charter, also created a very favourable supporting context. The 1960s saw the UK’s earliest community indoor sports centres and they became early icons. This included, in addition to Harlow, Afan Lido, the Bracknell, Stockton and Lightfoot centres, and Billingham Forum. The political and social decisions at that time included a focus on a range of leisure services. In particular, the major re-organisation of local government in 1974 proved to be one of the most influential factor in the growth of sports centres and recreation management. These were significant pre-cursors to what was to follow in later years. The formal constitution of the Association of Recreation Managers in February 1970 proved fundamental to the development of the emerging recreation management profession. The development, experience, and influence of the early centres and their managers on the national scene was ground-breaking. They opened the door for all other centres during the following decades. An appreciation of that vital, early foundation period is crucial to understanding the development of sports centres up to the present day.

Chapter 1: The early foundations

The years immediately following the Second World War saw very limited growth in the development of sport and recreation facilities in Britain. Costly swimming pools and indoor sports facilities could not be afforded against other more immediate issues in the post-war period.

Chapter 2: The first wave of centres

It is not surprising that the planning for Harlow Sportcentre, the first UK indoor community sports centre, did not commence until the mid-1950s. Starting with Harlow, new and established towns looked towards developing sports centres as interest caught on.

Chapter 3: Local Government re-organisation, sports centres and recreation management

Public administration, and especially national and local government, have been central to sports centre development over the past six decades. They remain so today as we head towards the third decade of the 21st century.