Joint Provision in Nottinghamshire – the most significant pathfinder in jointly provided sports centres

  • New schools underpin early Nottinghamshire Joint Provision

Nationally there were numerous school building programmes in the 1960s to cope with new settlements or expanded towns. From 1960 to 1969, Nottinghamshire County Council built 32 new secondary schools and 73 new primary schools [ref. Hansard March 1970]. Nottinghamshire’s first purpose-built comprehensive school, Ashfield School, had arrived in 1964, well ahead of the wider national decisions to create comprehensive schools from the 1970s. These developments, and the gradual introduction of comprehensive education, created the need to further develop school buildings, and provided a perfect platform for Joint Provision (JP).

Nottinghamshire County Council was the first UK Education Authority to take up the mantle of joint provision in an extensive way following the Government Circular 10/65. In the early 1960s the County had already been amongst the first Education Authorities to provide sports halls at schools, with provision in Ollerton and Kirkby-in-Ashfield.

Nottinghamshire CC worked with the small second-tier authorities in the county to build sports facilities that could be used by the adjoining new schools in the daytime and by the whole community in the evenings and at the weekends. Several Nottinghamshire JP schemes were rooted in the schools planning of the 1960s and the County Council was encouraged by Government, and the support of the Sports Council, especially that of Ralph Logan, Regional Director. Leading this work were well known professionals working in Nottinghamshire in the 1960s, including W.G. Lawson, Director of Education; John Spencer, Assistant County Clerk; David Barnes, Senior County PE Advisor; Jimmy Munn, PE Advisor; and Deputy Chief Architect, Henry Swain. David Barnes believed that PE indoors had become dominated by Scandinavian gym equipment, such as expensive climbing frames and beams, and externally by team games and favoured a broader PE curriculum that would be facilitated by sports halls and swimming pools.

  • Goodwill led the way

Nottinghamshire’s initiative first started with the planning of Bingham Sports Centre at the town’s Toot Hill School, and with Worksop Sports Centre at Valley Comprehensive School. John Spencer in his report to the County Council in November 1966 on the planned development and the joint arrangements for the two centres stated that “When we  entered into these negotiations we were rather sceptical of the chances of successfully concluding them. The enthusiasm and the help that we have received from the two County District Councils so far involved and also from the Department of Education and Science and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government has persuaded us that, given goodwill on all sides, the many difficult problems that are posed by ventures such as these came be overcome, and indeed should be, in the interests of the many people who can benefit from such schemes.”

  • Focus on Physical Education Departments

In the early stages of the Nottinghamshire ‘project’ the Physical Education Departments of four comprehensive schools in Bingham, Worksop, Balderton and Carlton were modified in partnership with District Councils to create community leisure centres. This led to the upgrading of the physical education facilities of the four schools with the provision of community sports halls, swimming pools, social and refreshment areas, and squash courts, together with viewing and reception areas. Discussions on some of the specific schemes went back to 1964.

  • Bingham Sports Centre

This was a scheme that emanated from discussions between the County Council and surprisingly Bingham RDC, a small rural council. The town’s Toot Hill School was expanded to a 9-form entry comprehensive with a VIth Form. This provided the basis for the adjoining sports centre. Bingham Sports Centre opened in 1969 and had a main swimming pool and a teaching pool, a sports hall, 2 gymnasia, squash courts and licensed bar and outdoor all-weather pitch. The scheme was reported in the Daily Telegraph in 1968. The first manager was Dave Thomas.

  • Worksop Sports Centre

Meanwhile discussions were ongoing with Worksop Borough Council for a sports centre for their town of 35,000, to be sited at a school a mile from the town centre. Worksop Sports Centre was a similar scheme to Bingham, with a sports hall, two swimming pools, squash courts and floodlit all-weather area and with more outside pitches than Bingham. It opened after Bingham in 1969. One difference was that in Worksop there was a high rate of shift work and daytime public use was agreed. Subsequently this was extended to Bingham and other centres. Alan Slynn was Worksop’s first manager.

  • Carlton Forum

Carlton Forum was developed at the 1200-pupil Carlton Cavendish School, jointly by the County Urban District Council and Carlton District Council and opened in 1970. It was the County’s third centre and the first to be fully integrated within the school complex. The Forum had extensive facilities including a 25m swimming pool and a teaching pool, a sports hall, 3 activity rooms, floodlit all-weather pitch, refreshment area, six grass pitches and a ski-slope. The facility ingredients suggested the influence of Harlow Sportcentre. During the first year of opening of Carlton Forum 311,000 active participants (excluding the school) used the facilities. By the time Carlton came along the County Architects had gained much experience and an architectural review said that the sports hall was physically and aesthetically very satisfying. Carlton Forum was celebrated in a promotional film supported by the Sports Council called ‘A Million Pounds Worth of Value’.

  • The Grove Sports Centre and other centres

The Grove Sports Centre opened in the Newark area on the Grove School site in Balderton 1971. Its first manager was Bryan ‘Griff Jones. The Centre set a significant precedent with the inclusion of a licensed bar. Of those first four centres, three of them had late inclusions of squash courts – Bingham, The Grove and Carlton Forum. The Carlton change was on the day of signing the contract, which explained their strange place in the design! Worksop could not be persuaded and bitterly regretted it when squash took off.

Other centres opened in the County included one at Chilwell Comprehensive School which opened in 1974 and is now known as Chilwell Olympia. The main school was a smaller version of Bingham, as was the sports hall, but no pool was provided. (The large ‘Silhouettes Fitness Suite’ was refurbished in 2004). Calverton Sports Centre (now run by Gedling BC) was developed in 1974, sharing its site with Colonel Frank Seely Comprehensive School. It was provided with a 18m swimming pool, a sports hall, squash courts, gymnasium, a fitness suite and an all-weather pitch. The Dukeries Leisure Centre opened later, in 1981, on the site of the Dukeries Comprehensive School in Ollerton. By the mid-1980s, eighteen joint provision centres had opened in Nottinghamshire, with the county collaborating with each of its seven district and borough councils.

  • Rushcliffe breaks new ground with leisure pool

Rushcliffe Borough Council, in the south of the county, added to the County’s success by jointly opening Rushcliffe Leisure Centre in West Bridgford in 1976. Rushcliffe Leisure Centre was unique. Whilst including the usual sports facilities, it also incorporated the first joint provision leisure pool in the country, a main games hall, a sports barn, a youth centre, a teacher’s centre, school classrooms and offices, as well as adopting the previously existing school concert hall for community use. Later, Wester Hailes Education Centre in Edinburgh would emulate Rushcliffe with its own leisure pool. The County and Rushcliffe BC followed with Keyworth Pool and East Leake Leisure Centre, both in 1976.

  • The Sutton ‘Town’ Centre

The Sutton Sports Centre was delivered by the County Council, jointly with Ashfield Council at Sutton Centre School which had opened in 1973. Sutton-in-Ashfield in Nottinghamshire (population 40,000), was a mining town in decline. There was a need to attract industry and to inject life back into the community. The district council developed plans for a civic centre and a new pedestrian shopping centre and Nottinghamshire CC planned to build a comprehensive school. The two authorities resolved to work in partnership. The school was built in the town centre, adjacent to the shopping precinct, and was to share its building with an ice rink (see Chapter 6 – Ice Age), bowls centre, a theatre and a sports hall. Ken Harlow was the first manager. A day centre for old-age pensioners and handicapped people, the youth employment and probation offices, adult education, a youth centre and creche were all in the same building as the school. The school opened in 1973 with the leisure side eventually opening in 1977. The school later became Sutton Centre Community Academy.

  • Socio-economic factors

The varying socio-economic structures of the communities in Bingham, Newark, Carlton and Worksop and their dramatic response to the width of social, cultural, recreation and further education opportunity created throughout the year, influenced not only the school building programmes, but social planning concepts in many parts of Britain. Fully integrated education and recreation management, therefore, opened vast new areas for the development of community recreation and community education. The removal of an age requirement previously associated with the use of school facilities. enabled considerable impact to be made on families, particularly the under 5’s.

  • Joint Management Committees

As with the Monmouthshire JP centres, thanks to the original vision and influence of Jimmy Munn, a significant development in the Nottinghamshire schemes was the establishment of Joint Management Committees. These had responsibility for community use throughout the year, during and beyond the school day. The Head Teacher’s role in each case was principally concerned with the school programme, while being an ex-officio member of the Joint Committee and working closely with the Manager responsible to the Joint Committee, which had the important function of promoting the widest possible range of valid opportunity for all age groups.  Within the management concept, the school was allocated priority use in all facilities at all times.  The partners in these early Nottinghamshire schemes elected to place the responsibility for the day to day management of the centre in the hands of an officer and staff responsible to the Joint Committee, not the Education Committee alone, while having the power to allocate controlled community situations within the school timetable where spare capacity created opportunity.

  • Nottinghamshire – a recreation management birthplace for pioneering managers

Nottinghamshire was also the ‘birthplace’ for many sports and recreation managers and directors. The first manager of the first centre, Bingham in 1969, was Dave Thomas (first Vice-Chairman of ARM and later Director of the National Sports Centre for Wales). Carlton Forum and Worksop were advertised together, so next was [Major] Chris Field as Manager of Carlton Forum (later Director of Leisure for Greenwich Borough). Worksop’s managership went to Alan Slynn (later Manager of Worthing Sports Centre). Then Bryan ‘Griff’ Jones became The Grove Centre’s first manager (later, Manager of Bletchley LC). Other appointments included ‘Tiny’ Whitworth (ex-Marines Officer) who followed Chris Field as Manager of Carlton Forum. ‘Tiny’ later became Rushcliffe BC’s Chief Recreation Officer. John Binks was Deputy Manager of the Grove Centre, then Manager of the Bury St. Edmunds LC. Bryan Hughes was Recreation Manager at the Grove Sports Centre, then Deputy Manager of City Sports Centre, Lincoln, and went on to manage Rushcliffe Leisure Centre. Roy Claydon was Assistant Manager at the Grove (then later at Bletchley LC and The Oasis, Swindon). Ken Harlow (later Chairman of ARM) was appointed to manage the Sutton Centre. These appointments, alongside the foundation of ARM in 1970, were amongst significant personal milestones in recreation management at that time.

A social planning framework for the UK

The varying socio-economic structures of the communities served by the first Nottinghamshire centres, and the dramatic community response to the width of social, cultural, recreation and further education opportunity created throughout the year, influenced not only the school building programmes, but social planning concepts in many parts of Britain. Fully integrated education and recreation, therefore, opened vast new areas for the development of community recreation and community education. The removal of an age requirement previously associated with the use of school facilities, enabled considerable impact to be made on families, particularly the under 5’s. In 1964 Harlow Sportcentre had forged a new path for the UK in the provision of ground-breaking indoor sports facilities. Nottinghamshire and its District partners similarly forged a new ‘metal’ – the jointly provided sports centre.

A new age – updating and replacement

Today, within Nottinghamshire there are numerous leisure centres, now owned by District Councils, or in just a few cases, still by the County Council. Many of the joint provision centres underwent refurbishment as time went on. Carlton Forum (now run by Gedling Council) refurbished swimming pools, for example, in 1992 and the sports hall in 1999. However, it is over 40 years since the joint provision centres opened and most have reached the end of their life and been replaced in different locations by the District Councils. Joint provision agreements have ended as centres needed replacing and re-siting, and as a result of the changes in school management and local government, (as recorded in the Chapter).

New centres have replaced or been planned for many of the centres including Bingham, Worksop, The Grove, and Rushcliffe, Meden School Sports Centre in Warsop, for example, owned by the County and then run by Mansfield DC, closed in 2017. The few County Council owned centres that remain include the Private Finance Initiative lease contract schools – with leisure centres at East Leake and Bassetlaw (two) and Rushcliffe Leisure Centre, as below.

  • New legal complexities arising from Joint Provision

Rushcliffe Leisure Centre was Illustrative of some of the complex changes and complications both in Nottinghamshire and nationally regarding centres previously jointly provided. Rushcliffe Comprehensive School opened in 1969 and the Leisure Centre in 1976, under a traditional joint provision agreement. By 2016 the Centre lay within the freehold border of Rushcliffe Academy Trust since the school gained Academy status. However, at the school’s request, the Leisure Centre was excluded from the freehold land transfer when the school had first converted to foundation status; its subsequent conversion to academy status replicated that land ownership. The Centre was still owned and maintained by the County Council and was occupied under a Joint Use Agreement between Nottingham Gymnastics Association (NGA), Rushcliffe School and Rushcliffe Leisure Centre and operated by Parkwood Leisure on behalf of Rushcliffe Borough Council. NGA occupied the Gymnastics Centre attached to the Leisure Centre, which was also in the freehold of the County Council. Rights of access to the Gymnastics Centre and the Leisure Centre were protected through the land transfer to the academy trust. This great complexity led to several other difficulties to address. For more see Nottingham CC Report).

  • Users have the last word…

Grove Leisure Centre closed for the final time in April 2016. Martin Picker, director of development for Active4 the operators, who had worked at the Grove since 1989, commented “We have had some odd requests from customers as to items they’d like to take home as mementos. We have been giving them footballs, rugby balls, and the floats they learned to swim with.”

USER ONLINE QUOTE: “Today was the end of an era! The Grove Leisure Centre closed for the final time. It’s been a big part of our lives for over 40 years :- the mum’s activity sessions when there was a crèche in the youth club, we did trampolining, keep fit, played ‘pirates/shipwreck’ in the activity hall. Then we went to a keep fit evening class where I met 3 close friends and loads more. Then we started badminton, 12 of us every Tuesday, we played for years and never really improved! My boys learnt to swim there, also judo, roller skating and Saturday morning junior activities. We joined the gym 20+ yrs. ago, also taught 3 of our grandchildren to swim there. Also, we remembered the New Year’s Eve dances when we sneaked in our booze and hid it under the table. Lots of great memories and we have even got a couple of souvenirs! Hope the new place is as good – it certainly looks the part!”

This function has been disabled for Sports Leisure Legacy Project.