Part Two: Design, research, management and growth

Part One set out how the foundations were laid for the subsequent decades of rapid progress in the development and operation of sports and leisure centres.

Part Two (Chapters 4, 5 & 6) largely covers a quarter of a century of centre provision from 1976 that greatly influenced the long-term landscape of indoor community sports and leisure centres. It covers a period when the exponential growth of sports centres was phenomenal and when the buildings, particularly their design, use and costs, came more sharply into focus. [Part Three, Chapters 7, 8 & 9, is devoted to some specific aspects that also greatly influenced the development, management and use of centres before, during and after that quarter century, and deserve separate consideration].

Chapter 4 reflects how the design of sports centres quickly evolved over 25 years. It does not attempt to delve into the finer detail of the technical aspects that can be informed by reference to other relevant publications. Initially, a small number of pioneer architects influenced the design of centres. As additional centres came along, and more architects became involved, they followed the established early pattern. Having started with a pioneering design phase it then led on to new developments in sports and leisure buildings, where THE role of the specialist leisure architect grew. The arrival of leisure pools from 1974 helped to spearhead new design and facility developments. (Chapter 9 will look at how the design of centres developed after the mid-1990s).

Chapter 4 also explains how the search for information derived from the provision, use and management experience of sports centres, started a hive of research activity. From the 1960s to the 1990s, no national sports topic received more published attention than sports facility provision, especially indoor sports centres.‘Indoor sports centres – research on their use and users and its impact on policy, provision and management’ is an extensive study of the research activities and processes across the decades. It has been written for ‘Harlow to K2 and Beyond’ by Mike Fitzjohn and Malcolm Tungatt, two former Sports Council officers, who are highly experienced in the sports research field. The full study is the basis for the summary research and planning sections of Chapter 4 and 9, which reflect the efforts made in researching the provision and use of sports centres, especially their use.

The operational management of centres over the years is inevitably a recurring theme through the decades and Chapter 5 examines a wide range of issues that came to bear from the early days and over time. Operational knowledge was developed from a very low base and matured with time into a broadly accepted pattern, with some inevitable changes reflecting various influences that came along.

Chapter 6 examines the exponential growth of sports and leisure centres across the UK as the ‘leisure age’ arrived. The numerous developments and regional variations are highlighted. Local Government Re-organisation had already initiated a further surge of new centres, with around 320 centres established by 1976. This significant social phenomenon then became increasingly replicated  across the UK. The whole scene became transformed from its early foundations, and by the end of the 1990s there were over 1,800 UK centres. Chapter 6 also provides an overview of the activity and influence of managers, administrators and recreation departments across the period as well as referring to nominated ‘Legacy Legends and Gamechangers’ and some other key personalities closely involved in delivering the growth.

Chapter 4: The development of design and research

There was a huge learning curve in architecture and design from the first sports centres through to innovative developments in the 1990s. In the same period the search for information derived from the provision, use and management experience of centres started a hive of research activity.

Chapter 5: The management and operation of centres

The management and operation of centres is inevitably a recurring theme through the decades and Chapter 5 examines a range of practical, operational issues that came to bear from the early days and over time. Operational knowledge was developed from a very low, base and matured with time into a broadly accepted pattern, with some inevitable changes reflecting the various influences that came along.

Chapter 6: The era of rapid progress

The growth of sports and leisure centres across the UK was exponential from 1976 as the ‘leisure age’ arrived. Numerous developments and regional variations are highlighted. Local Government Re-organisation had already initiated a further surge of new centres, with around 320 centres established by 1976. This significant social phenomenon then became increasingly replicated  across the UK. The whole scene became transformed from its early foundations, and by the end of the 1990s there were over 1,800 UK centres.