Sports centres in Scotland – a context by Derek Casey

As in the rest of the UK in the 1960s, little had changed in Scotland in terms of sports provision since the Victorian age and the early 20th century. However, the country was changing, largely driven forward by the growth of the middle classes post Second World War. This social phenomenon in Scotland and throughout the UK led to a large percentage of the population having more time and more disposable income which in turn led to more aspiration and the demand for greater choice. This was seen in the growing participation for example, in foreign travel and package holidays. In terms of sport it was translated into the provision and use of sports facilities including sports centres. Prime Minister McMillan might have been premature and certainly was making a political point in 1957 when he said “you have never had it so good” but the perception of greater wealth was a feature as we moved into the 196os.

As Harlow was the first new sports centre in England in 1964, so Bellahouston Sports Centre in Glasgow was the first in Scotland in 1968. Totally refurbished over the years it still operates under the remit of Glasgow Life, the Trust established in Glasgow. Others followed over the next few years including Meadowbank Stadium (including a sports centre) built for the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in 1970. This along with the (better quality) Royal Commonwealth Pool were ground-breaking in their day.

By the early 1970s and especially leading up to and beyond the re-organisation of local government in 1974 new centres were developing throughout the country. However, there was growing concern about the real demand for each centre rather than being personal monuments to local politicians. While capital was comparatively easy to obtain there was little attention paid to the revenue implications.

Running parallel to these developments was the translation of the advisory Scottish Sports Council into a Royal Chartered, arm’s length organisation. It was formally established in 1972. An early decision was taken to have two distinct executive functions – Sports Development led by those members of staff transferred from the Scottish Council for Physical Recreation (SCPR) and Facilities Planning – a totally new area of expertise led by the late Dr Ivor Davies. A small unit of about seven staff members brought qualifications from architecture, geography, economics and several other disciplines. The Facilities Planning Division soon took on national responsibility for advising the then Scottish Office on the planning and funding of sports facilities. It provided, for its time, a very sophisticated advisory service to local authorities planning and building sports centres. Some funding from the Council was enough to “persuade” local authorities and schools to consult the Scottish Sports Council and in turn take its advice.

By the mid-1970s, the Division, of which I was a junior then senior officer, had built up a wide range of expertise in the planning, design and economics of provision. We also undertook extensive research. The most important piece of work was a major study of the use and economics of Sports Centres throughout Scotland. Some were several years old others relatively new; some in rather fashionable districts, others in the deprived inner cities especially in the West of Scotland. Twenty-one centres were involved in the research which centred on the type of user and their profile compared to that of the local community. In addition, it looked at capital costs, pricing policies and overall revenue implications. The final summary report made essential recommendation to find the right balance between ensuring fair and full community involvement while obtaining a fair return on the initial and continuing investment, The report “A Question of Balance” was ground-breaking and bolstered the Scottish Sports Council’s reputation in the field both in Scotland and internationally.

While use and economics were vital, there was a third element of increasing concern and that was over-provision. Each small local authority district and within them several communities were making their case for provision. In terms of new swimming pools one community in Scotland had the choice of at least half a dozen pools within a reasonable driving time. Another initiative of the Scottish Sports Council was to look at a more robust spatial planning model drawing on geographical expertise and even the way in which supermarkets made decisions on their provision. The result was the Facilities Planning Model which could take account of population size, age range, socio-economic background and several other variables to provide guidance on provision. Led by Steve Dowers of Edinburgh University and used by the Facilities Planning Division in its advisory work this proved invaluable in providing advice to providers and informing the Council’s investment decisions. Developed in Scotland it is good to see its value is still recognised more widely.

Throughout the 1970s the development of centres continued apace before the greater financial restrictions in the years of the Thatcher Government and the challenges to extant management practices. These are documented elsewhere. As in the rest of the UK, the experiences of the growing middle classes in foreign travel led to demands in Scotland not just for sports centres but local provision that they had experienced abroad – leading to the development of leisure centres. They were also demanding in sports provision the quality they were beginning to have in pubs and clubs and cinemas around the country. In Scotland the phase “Build Large – Build Well – Build Leisure” might have upset the pure sports participants particularly swimmers, but it summed up the demands of the day. With good design, both aspirations could be realised – as seen when lottery money allowed a revision to wider-spread provision in the 1990s.

Derek Casey, Chief Executive Officer, The Sports Council – 1994-2001

This function has been disabled for Sports Leisure Legacy Project.