The Achievements of Town and Parish Councils

Some smaller councils, both Parish and Town Councils, have played a part at times in pioneering centre developments. Parish and Town Councils have always been active in the sphere of community leisure, though generally this has tended to focus on small-scale local provision such as allotments, recreation grounds and sports pitches, children’s play areas, public open spaces, the arts, village halls, community centres and the like. However, these tertiary councils do also have powers to provide recreation and leisure centres and a small number have.

A few Town and Parish Councils, with significantly fewer resources than larger councils, were equally dynamic and efficient in providing dedicated purpose-built facilities to meet the increasing leisure needs of their resident populations and outside visitors.

Two of the better-known examples are at either end of the country; one in the north-east at Great Aycliffe in County Durham and the other on the south coast at Fawley in Hampshire.

  • The Sports and Leisure Complex at Great Aycliffe (known as Oakleaf Sports Centre since 1990)

The Sports and Leisure Complex at Great Aycliffe was built by Great Aycliffe Town Council. The architects for the project were employed by the Aycliffe and Peterlee Development Corporation.

The Complex was formally opened by HRH the Prince of Wales on 31 May 1978. The land on which it was built was transferred to the Town Council by the Development Corporation, for the specific purpose of providing a sports centre on the edge of the town, with outside facilities, which would complement the existing indoor facilities provided in the town centre.

The first phase of the construction cost approximately £500,000, and included an indoor bowling green, bar and refreshments facilities and a multi-purpose sports hall. An indoor cricket school was provided with grant aid from the Sports Council and it was initially intended that outdoor cricket facilities would be available also.  However, outdoor cricket was provided elsewhere in the town and it was therefore decided to create football pitches and a 9-hole golf course instead. A kitchen, function room and squash courts were subsequently added. In later years, a separate golf shop and floodlit driving range were added and, at an even later date, the golf course was extended to 18 holes.

A message from the Mayor of Great Aycliffe, Councillor Flynn, in the Official 1978 Programme to mark the opening observed that “the Town Council of Aycliffe are probably the leaders in the field of recreation at Local Council level and certainly the envy of many larger Authorities”.  The continued success of the extensive facilities, which have had significant re-investment, and are still run in-house by one of the most active and forward-thinking councils in the sector nearly 40 years after initial opening, bears witness to the original aims.

  • Gang Warily Leisure Centre, Fawley

Gang Warily opened on 16th February 1986. Initially this then state of the art Recreation Centre’s facilities included a four-badminton court multi-use sports hall, a general-purpose activity room, bar and café areas, eight changing rooms and associated office and service accommodation. The building cost £600,000 to construct and was part of a larger 86-acre site, which was developed later to provide a wider range of sports facilities and outdoor amenities.

The genesis of the project was in 1977 with the purchase of the site, formerly gravel workings, for £55,000. The Parish Council was wealthy in those days from rateable income from the Esso Refinery being based in the parish. Consequently, it was possible to fund the scheme without borrowing. Funding came from the rates, the sale of land for housing and a Sports Council grant. Whilst this latter was a modest £10,000, reference to articles written at that time evidence the considerable support, advice and encouragement freely given by the Sports Council and other public bodies. Gang Warily is an exemplar of what can be achieved by even a relatively small local council given a clear business plan, enthusiasm and much hard work.

Incidentally the Centre was named Gang Warily, which means ‘go carefully’, as the land on which it was built was the Drummond Estate, which initially sold the freehold of land to the Parish Council and ‘gang warily’ was originally part of the Drummond motto.

The following Town/Parish Councils, for example, also actively provide and/or manage sports and leisure facilities within their community.

  • Woodley Town Council in Berkshire runs the Woodford Park Leisure Centre.
  • Peterlee Town Council in County Durham own and run the Pavilion Sports Centre.
  • Stratton St Margaret Town Council in Wiltshire own and run the Grange Leisure Centre.
  • Southwater Parish Council, West Sussex own and run the Southwater Leisure Centre.


Chris Rolley – Former Town Clerk East Grinstead Town Council and Consultant

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