Some history and my memories of recreation management – by Geoff Bott

I started my first job as a sports director in 1964 when I was appointed by Leeds City Council as Principal of the Leeds Athletic Institute. The council embarked on an innovative scheme and set up an old Victorian “E shaped” school as a sports activity centre. It’s design provided three large halls and twelve other rooms, all of which became operational seven days a week from 7 a.m. till 10 p.m. and saw a range of activities including Badminton, Gymnastics, Fencing, Judo, Volleyball, Trampolining and various fitness classes. This proved so popular that a massive expansion occurred when it was agreed I could take over 33 schools across the whole of Leeds and organise and run what we now know as further education evening classes. We covered an extra 20 sports, not least of which was water-skiing on a Sunday morning in Roundhay Park.

My job was to set all this up and then administer all the classes including seeking and employing tutors, enrolling students, and many other jobs – all of which I’m sure became the forerunner of the leisure centre era.

I was able to move on to become Director of Billingham Forum in 1967 with huge confidence and experience and took with me my deputy from Leeds, John Williams.
Billingham Forum was another innovation, a total new-build, and the first large multi-purpose centre in the country. In addition to the large Sports Hall, and various other smaller halls, there was a Swimming Pool, Theatre and an Ice-Skating Rink – a totally new concept to have so many possible activities under one roof !

Leeds Council kindly allowed me to move on early to Billingham during the final building stages so that I was able to oversee the finishing touches and help to interview and appoint the initial 100 staff. This included the appointment of John Williams as Deputy Director, without whom I would not have been able to then work additionally as Consultant to many local authorities who were also thinking of building Leisure Centres – in Bath, Lee Valley, Irvine in Scotland, and best of all Jersey with the conversion of the Fort Regent Castle in St. Helier.

Billingham Forum led the way in design and construction for leisure centres, and it became the model for future centres, hence it welcomed many visiting architects, and sports, theatre and arts management people not only from across this country but from various places abroad, including Russia and Australia.

After seven years at Billingham, I was ready to move on again and started applying for a number of jobs. Bournemouth was one of these, but the cost of housing and the lack of Deputy Head teaching posts for my then wife proved prohibitive. This was the same in Lee Valley, however, I felt lucky and worthy of the job in Northampton having been interviewed by the Local Authority Chief Executive, the Finance Officers, and management officers from industry.

My role in Northampton, to which I was appointed in 1973 extended way beyond the sports and activities aspect of the Leisure Industry. As Chief Officer for Leisure and Recreation, I ran not only the Sports Centres and Swimming Pools but also the Parks, Arts Centres, Museums and Cemeteries – as someone said at the time “you’ll be dealing with all aspects of leisure, up till the longest state of leisure people have when they’re underground” !

I did fifteen years in Northampton, and when council policies were about to change with jobs and facilities going out to public tender, I decided it was time to go.
I still had one year before being of pensionable age, but managed (with some difficulty) to achieve an acceptable agreement from the Council and departed on 31 August 1988.

I have since lived a fairly quiet life, playing golf, acting as Deputy Chair of British Gymnastics until 1993 and visiting friends and family, but unfortunately now blighted by ill-health having had a heart-bypass operation in 1998 suffering with Diabetes, and worst of all a trapped nerve in the spine – due I’m afraid to my sporting interests and Rugby playing days as a youngster !

A few highlights to mention (though there were many) :

  • Meeting the Queen when she opened Billingham Forum in October 1967
  • Being asked in 1973 to present Life Membership to the Ten Millionth visitor to Billingham Forum
  • Being faced on my very first day in Northampton with the Heads of Department that I would be overseeing!
  • Setting up the Chief Leisure Officers Association
  • Being invited by Stockton Borough Council and Tees Active, along with John Williams, to attend the re-opening of the newly refurbished Billingham Forum in 2011.

Geoff Bott
May 2015

This function has been disabled for Sports Leisure Legacy Project.