- In 1967 Cheshire recorded only 25 indoor ‘sports premises’ in the County in excess of 3,999 ft.[i]. By 1979, a mere 12 years later, some 29 additional new indoor sports centres had been provided, an impressive achievement. But what is all the more remarkable is that 22 of these were jointly provided by the County Council, as Local Education Authority, and second tier Urban, Rural, Borough and District Councils.
- It was, of course, a period of rapid change generally, as earlier Chapters have shown – the creation of The Sports Council and Regional Sports Councils, the reorganisation of Local Government, etc. But it was also a period of rapid change in education and school buildings, again fuelled by the election of a Labour Government in 1964. The raising of the school leaving age was first talked about in that year, but not finally implemented until 1972. Anthony Crosland’s Circular 10/65[ii] had ‘requested’ Local Education Authorities to submit plans for reorganising their schools on comprehensive lines and, although not mandatory, the Department of Education and Science used its financial muscle in seeking compliance. There had too been encouragement of joint provision from Denis Howell from as early as 1964[iii].
- But these were trends and influences on all Local Authorities. What was it that made Cheshire, along with Nottinghamshire, just ‘go out and do it’ while other Authorities were hesitant well into the 1980s and possibly until the Lottery provided new opportunities in 1994? There are probably three reasons:-
- Cheshire was a very wealthy County, in particular deriving huge rateable income from the petro-chemical complexes around Runcorn and Frodsham Marshes (which it fought hard to retain, successfully, at the reorganisation of Local Government).
- A very progressive County Planning Department always keen to be in the vanguard. At the same time Cheshire was developing an equally enviable reputation in countryside planning, especially for leisure, and Wirral (Way) Country Park was the first in the country under the Countryside Act,
- As in Nottinghamshire with Jimmy Munn, the contributions of committed and passionate individual officers, in particular Cyril Ainsworth and Harry Haworth, who could carry elected members with them. Both were PE trained, battle- scarred (Ainsworth literally) 2nd World War veterans who were PE Advisers in the County. Ainsworth moved to the Regional Office of the CCPR in Manchester in 1963 and was to become Regional Director of The Sports Council, where he provided enthusiastic support for the joint provision programme. But it was Haworth who drove the joint provision programme in Cheshire until 1974, when he moved at Local Government reorganisation to be Assistant Director (Sport and Recreation) at Stockport MBC, where he continued his enthusiasm for joint provision by providing additional centres.
Providing the Centres
- The tender for work to expand Bramhall County High School to a 9-form entry comprehensive school was agreed in May 1969. It was to be the first joint provision sports centre in Cheshire, opened in 1972, though paradoxically passed to Stockport MBC at Local Government reorganisation in 1974. It is interesting to note in passing that in 1969 Cheshire was also considering wider use of primary schools. A Committee minute of 1 October 1969 records in respect of the new Tattenhall County Primary School, ‘The Council are breaking new ground. This is to be a community project with emphasis on dual use’ – a village room, library, and AV room were part of the plans.
- Even before Bramhall was underway, the County Council and second tier Authorities were planning further centres. Committee minutes from the time show:-
- 15 September 1969 – ‘Agreed that senior Councillors meet representatives of Macclesfield RDC to discuss proposals for joint sports provision at Poynton County Secondary School, and representatives of Hyde Borough Council to discuss proposals for joint provision of a swimming pool adjacent to the sports facilities at Hattersley Comprehensive School’.
- 14 September 1970 – ‘Consideration of joint provision and use of a sports complex, including a swimming bath, at the proposed Alsager Comprehensive School’.
- A meeting of the Sites and Buildings Sub-Committee of the Education Committee of 8 November 1971 is seminal. Among a host of other matters, the minutes record:-
- ‘Agreed estimated costs of £118,637 (including a contribution from Neston UDC of £115,624) for the provision of a joint use sports complex at Neston County Comprehensive School’.
- ‘Agreed estimated costs of £137,795 (subject to a contribution of £137,295 by Runcorn UDC and Runcorn Development Corporation) in connection with the provision of a joint user sports complex at Runcorn Norton Priory’.
- ‘Agreed additional expenditure of £30,340 (subject to a contribution of £29,840 by Hazel Grove and Bramhall UDC) in connection with the provision of a joint user sports complex at Hazel Grove County Secondary School’.
- ‘Agreed that approval be given to the proposed Heads of Agreement for the establishment of joint use sports complexes at Bramhall County High School and Neston County Comprehensive School, subject to the administrative details being reviewed, if necessary, after they have been in operation for 12 months
- Agreed that appropriate financial provision be included in the Education Committee’s estimates.
- The general principle in Cheshire in respect of capital apportionment was that the County Council, as Local Education Authority, would fund those elements of a project required for educational use, and the second tier Authority would fund any additions required for public use. It is clear from the above figures that some second tier Authorities were keen to join the programme and provide most of the funding even when there was no urgent educational requirement. The benefits to the second tier Authorities were the free provision of a site and access to the County Council’s technical services for the development. The County Council was unlikely to say ‘no’ to largely free and gratis provision on school sites.
- But not all the centres were like this and, for example, the capital balance for Sandbach Leisure Centre was £104k (30%) from the County Council and £242k (70%) from the Borough Council.
- In total Cheshire opened 22 joint provision centres between 1972 and 1979:-
- Bramhall 1972
- Christleton 1973
- Cheadle Hulme (Woods Lane) 1973
- Neston 1974
- Norton 1974
- Poynton 1974
- Knutsford 1975
- Malpas 1975
- Hazel Grove 1975
- Broomfields, Warrington 1975
- Rudheath, Northwich 1975
- Alsager 1976
- Sandbach 1976
- Frodsham 1976
- Shavington 1976
- Great Sankey 1977
- Coppenhall, Crewe 1977
- Holmes Chapel 1978
- Middlewich 1978
- Great Boughton 1978
- Victoria, Crewe 1978
- Brookvale 1979
- Further details of the locations of each and the providing Authorities are shown here. Three were transferred to Stockport MBC in 1974 (Bramhall, Cheadle Hulme and Hazel Grove) and two have been closed (Norton and Victoria, Crewe); but the remaining 17 still operate in the current four Unitary Authorities in Cheshire in 2019 (Halton, Warrington, created 1998; and Cheshire East, Cheshire West & Chester, created 2009), albeit several under different management regimes.
- In addition to these centres, seven other centres were provided in Cheshire by direct provision between 1972 and 1979, all of which also continue in operation in 2019:-
- The Oval, Bebington, 1973, provided by Cheshire County Council and passed to Wirral MBC in 1974.
- Congleton Leisure Centre, 1974, and extended 1976, provided by Congleton Borough Council.
- Upton Recreation Centre, 1976, formerly the Cheshire Officers Club.
- Northgate Arena, Chester, 1977, provided by Chester City Council.
- Bollington Leisure Centre, 1977, provided by a voluntary community organisation.
- West Kirby Concourse, 1977 Responsibility had passed to Wirral MBC in 1974, but all the initial planning had been undertaken by Cheshire County Council.
- Macclesfield Leisure Centre, 1979, provided by Macclesfield Borough Council.
The Facilities at the Joint Provision Centres
- The simple principle underlying provision has been outlined at paragraph 7 above. It is unsurprising, therefore, and entirely to be commended, that there was local variation according to the respective needs of the two parties. All, without exception, had a sports hall, mostly 33.6m x 24.4m. Ten had 25m swimming pools. Eleven had squash courts, a great fad of the day – normally 2 courts, but sometimes more. A few brought practice halls, gymnasia, drama/music workshops, and outdoor facilities such as all-weather pitches, hard play areas and tennis courts into the mix. Most included social facilities such as cafes/vending areas/coffee bars and licensed bars.
- Details of the facilities at each centre are shown here.
The Agreement Between the Partners
- The Local Authorities involved used a template agreement, with minor variations according to circumstances, for the provision and management of the centres. That for Sandbach Leisure Centre (1976) is shown here. It covers such matters as:-
Clause 2 – Site and building ownership vested in the County Council. Clauses 3/4 – Apportionment of capital costs.
Clause 5 – The County Council to be responsible for the construction and upkeep.
Clause 6 – Apportionment of annual maintenance costs and income between the parties.
Clause 7 – Car parking.
Clause 8 – Provision of a Joint Management Committee comprising 4 members appointed by the School Governors and 4 by the Borough Council (see Schedule 2), and for the appointment of a Manager on the recommendation of this Committee to the Borough Council (see job description at Schedule 3). The Headteacher of the school, the Manager, officers of the Borough Council and officers of the County Council had a right to attend meetings of the Joint Management Committee but not to vote.
Clause 9 – Appointment of staff.
Clause 10 – Provision of income and expenditure estimates.
Clause 11 – Times of use for the school and the public (see details at Schedule 1).
Clause 12 – Duration of Agreement for forty years, subject to a 2-year break clause, and provision for a review after one year of the Joint Management Committee and the Manager by the two parties.
Clause 13 – Dispute resolution.
- But there was room for minor variations within the broad template. At Holmes Chapel for instance, the 4 ‘public’ seats on the Joint Management Committee were split with 2 for the Borough Council and 2 for the Parish Council. Over time, many centres also introduced user representation.
Managing the Centres
- The following is not intended to be comprehensive, nor necessarily to apply to all the Cheshire centres, but rather to give a flavour of the special issues of joint provision centres based on the minutes of the Joint Management Committees of two centres.
- Unsurprisingly, the centres faced all the issues common to any Leisure Centre: appointments of Managers and staff, and turnover; programming; coaching; charging; maintenance; budgets; organisation of special events; health and safety; and so
- But other issues were identified which were probably unique to school based public facilities:-
- Educational reorganisation, particularly when a girls school went co- educational, necessitating the remodelling and reallocation of changing accommodation.
- Restrictions imposed by Licensing Magistrates, which restricted the use of the bar area (not the bar !!) by the school between 11am and 3pm.
- The need for consistencies of practice between the Joint Provision Centres and directly provided centres in the same District, particularly in such matters as the appointment of Managers and pricing policy.
- Difficulties with, and increased costs of, cleaning resulting from school use of the centre social area during the day, and from use by third parties, such as the Youth Service.
- Concerns regarding loss of income and inconvenience to block bookers when the school used the hall for evening events.
- Concerns regarding damage to school buildings when it was shut, but the Leisure Centre open, and the possible need for CCTV.
- Wishes by the school to remove some areas from the Joint Provision Agreement so that the school could develop unilaterally, eg a computer room.
- At another centre, as recalled by a Councillor who participated at the time, after about 20 years operation the suggestion was floated that the Borough Council should withdraw from the Joint Provision Agreement altogether because it wasn’t meeting the needs of the deprived community in which it was located and that the £400k revenue costs could be better deployed elsewhere. In the event it did not happen because it was overtaken by educational reorganisation.
[i] Recreation in Cheshire: Survey of Existing Facilities for Sport and Physical Recreation, 1. Preliminary Report, Cheshire County Council, May 1967
[ii] The Organisation of Secondary Education, Department of Education and Science Circular 10/65, 1965
[iii] Provision of Facilities for Sport, Ministry of Housing and Local Government Circular 49/64 and Department of Education and Science Circular 11/64, 1964