George Torkildsen was the founding father of recreation management and a pioneering ambassador for leisure. George was the first indoor community sports centre manager in the UK and went on to become the most influential manager, motivator, thinker, writer and consultant across the sports and leisure scene over a period of 40 years. He was appointed and commenced in post as Deputy Manager at Harlow Sports Centre on January 1st, 1961 (initially the Centre’s Trust Board was legally the ‘manager’). George soon became the designated manager.
From 1961-64, George worked tirelessly to develop sport and recreation within the Harlow community. A significant step was to form the YSA (Youth Sports Association) the success of which was due to George’s ability to bring together sports clubs, coaches, volunteers from the community and most of all to inspire the young people of Harlow to get involved. In 1964 the Harlow Sportcentre sports hall was opened 3 weeks ahead of that at the Crystal Palace National Centre, making it the first indoor community sports centre in the UK.
George’s own formative career was not in leisure at all but in the army. Born into an army family, his early pre-war years were spent in India. George joined the army (RAOC) in 1952. He came top in selection Board exams and was posted to the war office. A potential army career soon switched to physical education. From 1955-57 he trained as a PE teacher at Loughborough and then gained a 3rd year diploma of education with distinction. His first appointment was at Brays Grove Comprehensive School Harlow and he taught swimming at a school pool in the evenings. In 1960 he organised and ran a town wide playscheme over the school summer holidays on eight sites, funded by the YWCA. There his talent was spotted for the developing Harlow scheme.
George’s expertise was built on a solid base – a first and then second degree; a Fulbright Scholarship in the USA; a Churchill Scholarship in Sweden; a Doctorate in London – all contributing to his understanding of policies for leisure and their effective implementation. George and Ron played important roles in the founding of the Association of Recreation Managers in 1970.
George became a trustee of the Harlow Sportcentre Trust in 1977. He met Ron Pickering through Picketts Lock Centre and the two formed a consultancy – the Pickering Torkildsen Partnership. When Ron died it became the Torkildsen Barclay Partnership. As George’s consultancy work developed, he continued to be based in part of the centre and acted as advisor to the Trust. His consultancy work and success spread worldwide. From 1996 to 2004 he was Chair of the Board of Directors of the World Leisure Organisation (WLO).
George was a prolific writer of articles and for many thousands of students he will be best remembered as the author of the classic textbook, Leisure and Recreation Management. First published in 1983 and now in its sixth edition, the book quickly became the standard text for studying leisure management. It is still the only textbook that covers all the key topics taught within contemporary sport and leisure management courses.
Consistently over the years, George was a true educator and willingly shared his experience and expertise – through his books, his lectures and through example in many development projects in many different countries. For those working with George, early respect soon deepened into admiration. Admiration – particularly for his voluntary contribution to so many causes. This voluntary work spanned from many local charities in Harlow to national activities such as the NPFA.In 2005, shortly before his death, he conceived an International Innovation Prize for leisure management projects, known now as ‘The George’. In recognition of his lifetime contribution, the WLO established The George Torkildsen Literary Award for annual presentation.