Edition number 23; 30 October 2009
Wanted: an attitude inversion
I heard recently that people who are around 50 years old today are expected to live until they are 120 years old but that those who are currently under 16 are, as a generation, unlikely to live longer than their parents. The Liberal Democrats want us to work longer, the Conservatives will introduce a fee for living too long and the Labour government’s increases in the pensions age makes older people think they are a burden. Young people are the future, of course, but must they all wear hoodies and drink lager in the street and do old people have to be shuffled off their mortal coil quite so quickly to accommodate them? Young legs good, old heads better you would think but the generations seem to be constantly clashing.
Why do we have this consistent tension between older people and younger ones these days? I have recently started investigating my family tree and I began to wonder about my grandparents and their brothers and sisters. I used to love spending time with them, listening to their stories. My grandmother and I would often chat about how she used to get on the train in our village (O tempora, O Mr Beecham’s axe) to go to Nottingham to dance to Joe Loss and his orchestra at the Palais. And before I was three years old, Granddad and I used to set off to watch the trains that took the coal away from our area and the ones that took the rich people to London. As a youngster older people were a very important part of my life; I mixed with them and no doubt caused them grief. But I do not remember hearing that young people were more important than anyone else or indeed vice versa. We were all important. Does this latter-day tension stem from jealousy or is there some other explanation for the attitude inversion?
I have also been looking back at the leisure facilities that were available in my local patch. In our group of villages when my grandmother was young we had three miners’ welfares, all of which had football and cricket pitches, bowling greens and indoor spaces. There was also a railway workers’ club providing similar facilities, plus the local baths (now called a swimming pool, young ’un), five schools catering for the under-11s and one for the older kids, all of which had playgrounds and/or sports areas. Although some of these spaces remain, the community has only restricted access and we definitely do not have a swimming pool. Apparently we are not sufficiently statistically significant, despite having a much higher population than some places with shiny new aquatics facilities I could mention.
Many of the sport and leisure facilities were managed by the miners’ welfares. We only have two left but we are lucky to have them; doing my day job I drive past many that are boarded up. Having said that, the ones that are left take very little interest in their surviving outdoor spaces and leave the grounds maintenance to the almost-independent sports clubs that use them. As soon as the club loses the will or finances to maintain them these facilities turn into a wilderness, which is not something that would have been allowed to happen 50 years ago. I know this from not only reading parish council reports (I know – I have a sad streak in me) but also directly from my grandmother. I know she was one of many people who walked around the local villages knocking on doors and asking for donations towards the new sports ‘rec’ – and getting them. Perhaps her spirit lives on in your own Tubster but would she get the same response today? Would she be told that the council, the government or just “they” should provide for us? Is this tension (remember what set me off on this ramble) based on the different values we seem to have now in terms of who should provide what?
Getting back to my theme of old ’uns and young ’uns, we have to stop it. Stop what, I hear you cry. There is nothing wrong with a bit of teasing but we have to stop this all-out war. We need to learn from each other. I have some photos taken at a recent event which has been running for over 45 years. Many of the volunteers in my photos were at the early events, if not the first one. Clearly they could not now be described as in the first flush of youth but they just will not let go (arrrrgh!). In fairness to them there are not that many willing to learn from them to take over and we all need to remember that we need older people, younger people and all of those in between.
I think there will always be tensions between generations. When we are young we always think we can do better than those who came before us and the older ones always look back through rose-tinted glasses to reminisce about how wonderful things were when they were in charge. I think we in leisure are in a great position to encourage more learning between different groups. We have our colleagues in heritage and museums who can help us find things from the past that really worked so that we can perhaps re-use some of those ideas and feed off the passion which was generated. Did you know, for example, that the Much Wenlock Games, which still run today, are a forerunner of the modern Olympics? And just up the road from me in Ashbourne they still play the great grandaddy of soccer and rugby every Shrovetide (Pancake Day, young 'un). We have colleagues in education who can help us combine all of these areas of work and also help us work with younger generations more effectively but without closing out others.
But what it takes is the will. It is far too easy to be parochial about your town, your hobby or your age group. There is nowhere more prone to the playing of politics than a golf club or, dare I say it, a triathlon association. Because we compete on the links, pitch or court we think we need to do so in the bar, clubhouse or committee room. Young people have huge energy, a willingness to learn and are not hide-bound by convention. Old folk have wisdom, a willingness to teach and experience of what works and what does not. Surely a combination of the two is a marriage made in heaven, not an ongoing fox in a hen house scenario.
Kay Adkins is an executive board member of a county sport partnership, chair of a CSN and a member of the interim board of the National Skills Academy for Sport and Active Leisure. Kay is also managing director of KAM Ltd, which offers a range of support services in the sport and leisure industry working in volunteer/workforce development and facility development.
To find Tales from a Tub in previous issues please visit the Comment page.
Tales from a tub
the last word in contemplative comment on the leisure industry
Generations apart together