Edition number 19; dateline 29 April 2009
The shoulder season: slope them or stand on them
As you will already have gathered if you have come this far, at The Leisure Review we find great value in exploring the less obvious avenues. The impetus to our wanderings around all aspects of the sport, leisure and culture milieu comes not from a deliberate contrarianism but rather from a spirit of curiosity and enthusiasm. We have found many things of great interest and great importance where we would have least expected to find them and these discoveries have been all the more valuable for their unlikely provenance.
It is in this vein that we maintain a faith in the concept of a ‘sport, leisure and culture sector’, a belief in the value of getting out to talk to people and a commitment to the efficacy of a good lunch once in a while. The TLR Round Table, an occasional feature in which we gather a small number of people around a table, round or otherwise, to discuss ideas of various hues, was born of this spirit. The last example, still available on the front page this month, drew some very positive comments from the TLR readership regarding the level of the debate and the quality of the thinking being demonstrated. However, there were suggestions that the conversation stopped short of providing answers to some interesting questions. If, by way of example, there is perceived to be a problem around the issue of tax liabilities of trusts and commercial operators where might a solution be found?
While most would agree that there is only so much ground you can cover over a couple of leisurely courses and a lingering coffee, it is a fair point to make. However, it prompts the further question of from where the continuing discussion that might provide the conclusions might come. At TLR we can vouch for the difficulty of arranging diaries to get three people in the room for a couple of hours (partly why the Round Table is so occasional) so getting more for longer is a genuine challenge. There is also the issue of whether there is a genuine desire for such opportunities within the sector. Our own plans for an extended version of the Round Table have progressed slowly but our rather grandiose plans for The Leisure Review conference were sufficiently well advanced to do a bit of market testing among some senior figures in the sector. The response has been enthusiasm from a few, a measured ‘Meh’ from a few more and a simple ‘No time to spare’ from rather more. Sad to report that we are not yet in the position of taking a highly enjoyable but potentially very expensive flyer in an attempt to bring the leading lights of the leisure sector to the dappled summer lawns of a convivial conference venue but we would love to try. Suffice to say that the TLR conference will have to wait for a sudden burst of sponsorship or a rush of blood to the head in the accounts department.
There are, of course, plenty of conferences and seminars out there on plenty of very specific subjects but it seems that there is little space – and perhaps little taste – for the cross-sectoral discussion at present. The demise, temporary or otherwise, of a national body to lead the holistic sport, leisure, culture debate meant the loss of any sort of focal point for these issues but it may be that people are just too busy, too focused or too nervous at present to come together for the purpose of speculation, conversation and contemplation.
Let’s hope not. We know that there are good minds and great achievements out there in the field of leisure. With economic, environmental and social turmoil already here, there are many sizeable and worrying challenges to face but there are also real opportunities for the sport, leisure and culture sector. There is a risk that by staying at home and digging the day job we lose the chance to think big, talk long and remind ourselves what it is we are supposed to be all about. Where will a new generation of innovators, achievers and inspirers find their energy if the current leading lights of leisure are thinking silos, filling forms and eating at their desks?
The challenge is to find the answers to the tough questions on facilities, management structures, partnerships, local government finance, private sector business models, health commissioning, service procurement and all the other issues we face. We can’t do it individually and it has already taken too long to get to where we are. Leaders in our sector should not be sloping their shoulders; they should be offering them up for others to stand on.
letter from the editor
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