The first ‘benchmark’ in the operational management of centres came as early as September 1968 when a Recreation Managers Symposium was held at Billingham Forum. This was a forerunner to the forthcoming formation of the Association of Recreation Managers. This was to be a new professional institute that, initially, was almost entirely focused on sports centre management. This is the earliest known national event to focus on operational issues for sports centres. Needless to say, the record of the event illustrates both the infancy of centre management and the inevitable low starting base of knowledge and experience around that time.
Nonetheless the event was ground-breaking. The list of key speakers and participants reads like the earliest ‘who’s who’ of centre managers and included George Torkildsen, Ron Pickering, Brian Barnes, Geoff Bott, Denis Molyneux, Bernard Warden, Ian Douglas, Alex Laidlaw, Nick Thomas, John Williams, Denis Woodman, Brian Kilby, Bill Leadbeater, Geoff Whitson, Len Thomasson, Brian (Jack) Fidgett, Jack Kelly.
In addition, the event drew on information from some of the earliest centres – Harlow, Afan Lido Billingham, Bellahouston, Bracknell, Cwmbran, Lea Valley Regional Park, Bingham and Stockton YMCA.
The Symposium focused on three themes considered important at that time, and key issues were identified: –
- Programming and User Control:
- Number of people in the building
- Security and police relations; bouncers used for dances etc.
- Planning and design of entrance and exits
- Non-participants: Billingham up to 1400 in building: 40% participating & at Lea Valley young non-participants don’t like direction and leads to vandalism, mainly in toilets
- Operation of membership schemes: at 8 centres
- Scales of Charges and Conditions: no sensible formula, each new centre looks at others as guide; council price rises more sensitive to criticism than private sector.
- Training for Recreation Management: the focus was largely on the work of a Sports Council Working Party on Recreation Management at that time, especially potential course content, entry qualifications, previous experience and course length.
Everything was so new! So much of it we just take for granted today, but all three themes produced new issues and challenges for the first centre managers to ponder. The conclusions of the Symposium included: the wide distribution of operational information; the need for a new committee and newsletter for such co-ordination; the committee would comprise: Leadbeater; Warden; Barnes; Bott; Torkildsen.
Some important foundations had been laid for the future, both for centre operations and also the professionalisation of centre and recreation management generally.