The previous Chapters set the scene for centres in the 21st Century. This Chapter concisely summarises the main influences on the scene for the period up to 2020, before focusing specifically on the centres that have emerged in the first two decades of this century. On entering this new era, the life of UK leisure centres had covered nearly four decades and had become a familiar feature of our landscape and were woven into the social fabric of local communities. As we have seen through the Chapters, there were huge changes in those decades in how centres were promoted, designed, developed, managed and welcomed.
Previous chapters have recorded some key benchmarks in the history of centres: –
- The first landmark sports centres from 1964.
- A huge numerical expansion across the UK in the early 1970s.
- The emergence of ‘leisure’ centres from the mid-1970s and 1980s, many with leisure pools.
- The advent of Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) and subsequently the formation of national and local trusts to manage centres.
In particular, Chapter 8 set the scene for the revolution in operational management following CCT, leading to the pre-eminence of trusts, local and national, in the operational management of centres; Chapter 9 highlighted how the overall approach to research, planning and design evolved and how it came to influence new centre developments towards the 21st Century. Research led by the National Sports Councils of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland; National Lottery funding; more sophisticated strategic and planning processes; and the role of architects all played their part. Such had been the progress up to the turn of this century, since Harlow New Town’s first steps in the 1960s, that through the 1990s a broader leisure picture had emerged, alongside the increasing need for the maintenance and modernisation of the existing and largely ageing leisure centre stock. Increasingly towards 2000 many Local Authorities focused on facility assessments. ‘Refurbish or renew’ options for their centres were at the heart of these considerations. By the 21st century the problems became a real challenge, especially in respect of the costs of operating and maintaining centres.
Centres had also started to fit into a much broader leisure industry picture. The traditional view of what constitutes a leisure facility is changing. As well as public leisure centres, centres emerged specifically for health & fitness; healthy living; family entertainment; youth activity zones; bowling; snow and climbing activities, and more. Some of these activities are being incorporated into new public leisure centres, but increasingly some are also private, commercial investments or ventures by charitable organisations.
At the start of the 21st Century, in welcoming delegates to the Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management’s 2000 National Conference, Mike Fulford, ILAM President, said “One of the results of the recent rise in profile of leisure services is that the operating environment has become more fragmented and more complex, with a wider role for central and local government”. In his last article for ‘Leisure Manager’ in 2005, George Torkildsen (1934-2005), reflected on the four decades from Harlow (1964) to the early plans for K2 in Crawley at the start of this century. As George stated, as the 21st century got underway, “Here we are today with more people in the field, more facilities, and a new profession”. What has not changed in this century is the constant discussion, review and publications on strategic approaches to public leisure provision. This Chapter takes us to early 2021, reflecting on two decades of new centre initiatives. We also very briefly record the initial impact on centres of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 (leaving others in the future to note the longer-term implications for centres and indeed society).