Edition number 25; dateline 29 January 2010

Chasing change: a positive message for sport, leisure and culture

Change is coming! There is nothing so sure (other than the moment you head off to that leisure centre, gallery or museum in the sky) than that there will be change ahead. Indeed at this time of the year we pretend to welcome change, embrace it, court it, tempt it with our new year resolutions. Or do we?

For most of us the new year resolution will already be broken for the best of reasons, of course: we can’t waste the food still in the cupboard, the winter bugs have got us, the cold snap has prevented us from getting to the shops to buy healthy food, the snow has stopped us getting out for a walk, run, cycle (insert your own activity). But let’s face it – the fact is we don’t actually like change. When you read or hear the word ‘change’ I bet most of you groan inwardly – and some of you outwardly – and the older you get the groan gets louder. Go on admit it. Most of us like to get on to our track then travel up and down it. We may speed up, slow down, stop at different stations in perhaps a different order but we are still on our familiar track.

Is change good or bad? Generally I like change and when I hear variations on the saying ‘if we keep doing the same thing we will keep getting the same thing’ I nod my head sagely and endeavour to change something to make a difference. However, when I the hear the words ‘we need to be innovative to make a difference’ I begin to twitch. Do you know there is even a fund called the Innovation Fund. What is innovation? What constitutes “innovative activities” and why do we all need it? Am I beginning to sound like a TOG [see Sideliner December 2009]… arghh! Is innovation the change that I usually crave or something else? Perhaps I don’t like change after all if I get so upset about the verb ‘to innovate’? Sometimes we need to go back to basics or to continue consolidating what we have and not come up with a gimmicky new idea just because the politicians want some glory or some votes.

I’m starting worry myself now. Perhaps I can say that I do like change but I need to add “just not for the sake of it”. We should change things because there is a reason. A few days ago I was looking at our local area’s Active People survey results. I am yet to be completely convinced by the validity of this survey, particularly at a very local level, but, like it or not, the figures produced are recognised by those with the money and power to make decisions, so I (and many of you) have to take them seriously. I deduced from my study (it didn’t take much deduction) that participation in the patch had gone down again. My first reaction was to say, “I don’t know what else can be done.” ‘They’ – as in the staff in the sports department that covers my patch – are good at their jobs. The participation rates in the activities being delivered are going up, if not actually exceeding expectations. What more can we, both volunteers and professionals, do?

We could challenge the statistics for one thing, and we should, but the fact of the matter is that we all still need to bring in change somewhere in our activities to attract more people to sport and physical activity. The change may or may not need to be innovative but we do need to find new ways to engage local people. I know one thing – and those of you who say facilities don’t matter won’t like this – but locally we have been without one local leisure centre and at least three local swimming pools at various times for most of the last year and participation rates have dropped. It’s not rocket science.

Back to change. As I said right at the start, change is definitely coming and I suspect Big Change will hit us all this year. Mind you, it doesn’t take someone who reads the stars or sees the future to make that prediction because even if change wasn’t inevitable we know that there is a general election approaching with some speed and all the parties are talking about spending cuts, tightening belts and efficiency savings. And you know which budgets that will hit first.

Martyn Allison of the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) recently presented some figures at a seminar I was at that said 51% of local authority chief executives in a recent survey said they would cut leisure budgets first. Coming from the cup-half-full camp, Martyn said the good news is that 49% will not, a very positive outlook which I prefer to the usual gloom. I bet many sales professionals would be happy if they turned 49% of their client visits into a sale. So there is plenty to be positive about after all. A few years ago I bet the percentage who would cut leisure first would have been nearer 90% so we appear to be winning the arguments, despite some difficulties in the industry. In addition, none of the major private providers have gone bust quite yet, unlike many in the retail sector, so perhaps Martyn’s enthusiasm is a mindset we could all adopt.

We cannot expect everything to stay the same. In fact I suspect that if we run, or perhaps jog, forward encouraging people to follow us, plotting our own course on the change journey, life will not only be better but more exciting and ultimately more rewarding. However, we still have to balance the words of Oscar Wilde, who tells us that “consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative”, with being so imaginative that no one has the chance to catch us up before we change again.

Finally, back to those new year resolutions. Perhaps the best one for all of us is “to be part of or be one of the architects of the change we want and enjoy where the journey takes us”. What’s the worst that can happen? Have fun in 2010 and remember the world isn’t due to end until at least 2012!


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.


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Kay Adkins, hot tub correspondent
Kay Adkins, tub correspondent

“51% of local authority chief executives in a recent survey said they would cut leisure budgets first... the good news is that 49% will not, a very positive outlook which I prefer to the usual gloom.”

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