Edition number 70; dateline 6 February 2014

The darkest days offer illumination for leisure

These early weeks of the year, when January leaks into February and the gloomy weather announces a period of morose occupation of the skies, always seem to be the darkest and for anyone involved with the sport, leisure and culture sector the impression is reinforced this year by the continual stories of austerity, its impact on local services and the gradual erosion of any sense of collective endeavour.

In this context it has been a relief to be able to reflect on the Leisure Review’s annual winter conference, which took place in Oxford just before the winter solstice, as we put this issue together. It was heartening to be joined by a group of highly experienced and well-informed leisure professionals willing and able to discuss the future of our sector with clarity, insight and even hope. The conversational mix was further leavened by the inclusion of some, let us say, less experienced (when of course we mean younger) colleagues, who lent a good deal of enthusiasm to proceedings, and some other friends with only tangential connections to the leisure sector but who came along to join the debate and stop us from taking ourselves too seriously.

The winter conference is described somewhere in this issue as a “determinedly informal” event, which is to say that it adds only minor weight to the Leisure Review administrative burden and is quorate when someone turns up to join the editor for breakfast. But, however formal it may be, this event invariably serves to illustrate the value of the personal meeting and the agenda-free discussion. Much of this issue of the Leisure Review, the first issue of volume eight, has been shaped by the conversations that took place over the couple of days we spent in Oxford. Many of the ideas that emerged then gave rise to further thinking over the next few weeks and are likely to become strong themes in subsequent issues of the Leisure Review throughout the year.

This particular Leisure Review event is not much to look at. Having started with an unhealthy breakfast, our party walked in bright sunshine from the city centre down to Iffley Road, where Jon Roycroft, Oxford University’s director of sport, gave us far too much of his time in an explanation of sport at Oxford and a tour of the facilities. This provoked further discussion on the way back into town for lunch; and further discussion during an impromptu walking tour of the rest of Oxford’s central attractions. The following morning we convened a round table debate on parks and during that discussion many of the themes of the previous day’s debate, particularly leadership, innovation and communication, re-emerged, offering some challenging views of the future for the parks and open space sector.

This issue of the Leisure Review follows this event programme fairly closely. It offers a round table debate on the future for open space management in the context of an ongoing campaign to raise the profile of parks, an article by Martyn Allison on leadership, which we hope will launch a series of articles on the subject, and a report of our insight to the place of sport within the University of Oxford. Around this sits our regular Healthy Comment column, exploring the links between leisure and health, and a reflection on the role of economics in our political process inspired by a rather uninspiring speech by a senior politician but also the summary of many of the thoughts inspired by the discussion at the winter conference.

I hope that this issue is of interest, of use and of value to you as someone working in the sport, leisure and culture sector. Thank you for taking the time to read the Leisure Review. We would welcome your views and we look forward to drawing you in to the debates on the leisure sector that we pursue within these pages. Rest assured that we will give you plenty of notice for all Leisure Review events and we look forward to seeing you at the next winter conference. Put it in your diary.

Jonathan Ives



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