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, mainly from the early 1970s, covers around twenty five years of activity that greatly influenced the long-term landscape of indoor community sports and leisure centres. Chapter 4 addresses the design of, and research into, centres and reflects on a period when both the buildings and their use came sharply into focus. The designing of sports centres quickly evolved. The period saw new developments in leisure building, especially the design concepts and the fitting out and equipping of centres. The search for information derived from the provision, use and management experiences of the early centres started a hive of activity in the planning of, and research into, sports centres.

Initially, a very small number of pioneer architects influenced designs. With no UK precedents for designing sports centres for the community the early architects particularly drew on European examples. Thereafter most followed the established early pattern, but over the period many adopted the ‘leisure centre’ label as opposed to ‘sports’ or ‘recreation’ centre and started to break new boundaries in the designs and facilities presented. The centres designed by S&P at Whitley Bay and Rotherham, and by Faulkner Brown at Bletchley, had initiated a new wave with the UK’s first ground-breaking leisure pools. (Chapter 9 looks at how the design of centres developed after the early 1990s).

From the late 1960s to the early 1990s, no national sports topic received more published attention than sports provision, especially sports centres. ‘Sports centres – research on their use and users and its impact on policy, provision and management’ is a full study prepared for ‘Harlow to K2 and Beyond’ by Mike Fitzjohn and Malcolm Tungatt, two former senior Sports Council officers, highly experienced in the field. The study is the basis for the planning and research sections of Chapter 4 (and Chapter 9), which reflect the progress made in researching sports centres, especially their use.

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. Likewise, the recruitment of management and staff initially broke new ground. Later Chapter 7 deals specifically with the important changes which started in the late 1980s and, after Compulsory Competitive Tendering was adopted in the 1990s, continued through the next decades. These changes impacted upon important issues related to centre objectives, policy and finance and therefore the management and operation of centres.

Local Government Reorganisation had contributed towards a further surge of new centres, with around 260 centres established by 1976. This significant social phenomenon then became increasingly replicated across the UK. Chapter 6 examines the key influences and developments on the sports centre scene. There was closer scrutiny of the reasons for this massive provision and operation of sports centres, in the format that had become common, and there were questions about whether the intended aims and objectives of centres were being fulfilled.

Chapter 6 also highlights the vital role of the two major, influential organisations – The Sports Council and the Association of Recreation Managers. In so doing the chapter reflects on some of the places and people that helped deliver the huge progress. It also examines other major influences and developments on the national and regional sports centre scene over this period.

By 1997 there were approximately 1,750 sports centres of various kinds across the UK. The whole scene had become transformed from its early foundations, and by the late 1990s the sector was heading towards the 21st century and a further challenging phase.

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

Introduction to Chapter 6