Edition number 64; dateline 4 June 2013

Time to move on and 100,000 reasons so to do

What could you do with £100,000? A few minutes during a recent editorial meeting at TLR Towers produced the following list, compiled at speed.

You could create two new grass pitches for anything from rugby league to lacrosse. Rent a church hall for an hour every week, pay a facilitator and organise sitting exercise sessions for up to 20 inactive people at risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke or depression every week for 66 years. Employ Plain English and customer care trainers to each do three days of training with every county sports partnership to ensure that when staff talk and write to their customers they do not sound like “random sports development jargon generators”. Fund five blind football programmes for blind and visually impaired adults, each lasting three years. Let 3,333 volunteers have free safeguarding courses. Qualify 625 Level 1 basketball coaches. Have 11, 764 pool parties at Bradford on Avon Swimming Pool. Run after-school badminton clubs every week for an entire school year in over 100 schools. Fund the WellFit Gamesley physical activity programme for three years and so help this sink estate’s 3,000 residents get more active, be healthier and feel better about themselves, and so help counter the slide into alienation, anti-social behaviour and incarceration, either in their own homes or at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

Or you could give it to an organisation purporting to represent the people who work in the leisure sector – or at least some selected parts of it – as part of an ongoing, alchemical effort to create a credible, viable and sustainable professional body from unpromising base elements.

The Leisure Review has been criticised over the years for what some perceive as a sceptical approach to the lengthy and expensive process of creating a coherent professional voice for the leisure sector from the three organisations that agreed to come together all those years and all that money ago. Our reaction has always been to restate that we are fully supportive of the creation of a strong and effective professional body to lead the development of the sector, something that we have been happy to put in writing on the numerous occasions that we have had cause to write to the various chief executives and chairs of the various guises that the new organisation has adopted during its journey. Having never had a reply to any of these letters, we are not really sure whether these sentiments were welcomed but we have always been sure of something: the creation of a strong and effective professional body to lead the development of the sector was always a work in progress.

However, it was not really any concern of ours. No one at The Leisure Review was a member of the various organisational incarnations and while we waited for the promised body to emerge we went about our business of trying to report on all areas of the sport, leisure and culture sector, highlighting best practice, inspirational individuals and promising opportunities along the way. Every so often we would check in at Lower Basildon, Reading, Melton Mowbray, Loughborough or wherever the circus had settled to see what progress had been made. Occasionally we felt moved to make an observation that things did not seem to be going as planned and that an awful lot of money seemed to be flowing into a lot of pockets with little evidence of any benefit to the wider leisure sector but we were repeatedly told by people closely involved with the process that we were wrong, that we should stop rocking the boat and that we should be unquestioningly supportive of the efforts being made. Such phone calls made a nice change from the letters from the organisation’s solicitors threatening legal action over the future of the National Sports Development Seminar (remember that?) so we took them in the spirit in which they were intended and did our best to ignore the whole thing.

This was a policy we tried hard to maintain. Through the process of chartered status, the appointment of a chair with FTSE 100 experience but little knowledge of the leisure sector as most in the sector understood it, even through the ongoing attempts to outsource every aspect of the organisation’s activities, we looked the other way as best we could with only the odd item hitting the TLR news page just to remind the wider sport, leisure and culture sector about progress towards, and imminent arrival at, what we have been continually assured was the strong and effective professional body that we had been promised.

However, with the realisation that the rumours of Sport England providing grant aid of very close to £100,000 to enable the Chartered Institute of Management for Sport and Physical Activity to continue on its hapless way are actually true, and with The Leisure Review now approaching its sixth anniversary, we have had to conclude that we have reached the end of this particular road. We must now all accept that the process of creating a professional body that is fit for purpose has failed and that if it is to continue it must do so purely as a matter for CIMSPA members without further recourse to public funding.

Well done, everyone, for trying but you have failed. Time to move on.

Jonathan Ives

For background information see news item 'CIMSPA still “viable” despite revenue funding', Edition number 73; dateline 4 June 2013


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