Edition number 66; dateline 6 September 2013
Bright ideas for darkling days
It was heartening to talk to Mark Sesnan about the success of GLL for the feature marking the 20th anniversary of the foundation of what has become one of the largest leisure trusts and one of the most inspiring success stories in the sport, leisure and culture sector.
At a time when the ethos of public service continues to be disparaged and the simple fact of not being rich seems to have been criminalised it is reassuring to find that there are still some individuals and organisations who are able to see the value of something other than financial gain. This is not to say that GLL and similar community-focused organisations are not effective and efficient businesses – given the political and economic currents in which we are obliged to swim, any organisation that aspires to longevity and growth is obliged to adhere to sound management principles – but to have ambitions beyond the delivery of shareholder dividends these days feels like altruism.
Much of what Mr Sesnan has to say reads like a restatement of the principles of leisure management that were common currency when I first became interested in the sector. Twenty years later such opinions are not uncommon but it seems that they are not so widely or confidently voiced. Perhaps there are not the vehicles or platforms for such views that there once were. Perhaps the received wisdom of the current political and economic orthodoxy has muted their expression. And yet in the face of such orthodoxy the values of the sport, leisure and culture sector – public service, community development, positive and supportive environments – seem more relevant than ever.
On the national political stage we hear little of big ideas beyond the financial imperative which dictates that to be wealthy is to be right and to be anything else is feckless failure. Only occasionally do the tiny ideas that currently pass for national policy let a little light in on the political process. We hear little now, for example, of one of the prime minister’s great whims, the happiness index. Launched hopefully as an indication that there was more driving the Cameron government than the pursuit, preservation and celebration of inherited wealth, the initiative promptly sank without trace as the government machine came to the uncomfortable realisation that the nation includes a number of people beyond its immediate social circle.
This happiness quotient notion lifted the lid on a whole box full of less comfortable notions – public service, community development, positive and supportive environments among them – that did not fit the government’s agenda or its abilities. The lid was quickly replaced, the box sealed and put safely out of the way.Like 1993, these are dark days and it is sometimes hard to maintain one’s faith in the ideas embodied and preserved within the sport, leisure and culture sector. Talking to people like Mark Sesnan is a reminder that these ideas are valid, reasonable and right; and that each of us is not alone.
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