Edition number 28; dateline 1 July 2010
What to keep from the big bag of leisure?
We are being told on almost a daily basis that we are now living in an age of austerity with belts being tightened and luxuries being foregone. So let’s imagine that Dave and Nick, our beloved leaders, swooped into my life and said not only will you have to pay the extra VAT but we will allow you to keep only one luxury item in your shopping bag: choose. What would my decision be? The first question has to be, what is a luxury item? Are my walking boots a luxury item or a necessary piece of clothing which help keep me fit and the dog walked? Is the dog a luxury? Well, if the dog is a luxury then that ends this conversation straight away because he is stopping, no way am I handing him over to Dave or Nick, or their adolescent henchman George Osborne. So for the sake of argument let’s say living creatures aren’t luxury items as I could never argue for people having to throw their furry friends out on the street. After all if that happened my next-door neighbour would immediately flood the village with a myriad of horses, chickens, snakes and other strange creatures, dogs notwithstanding.
As I continue to contemplate my most cherished luxury item – the motor-home, the camera, my bike or even Friday evening’s curry – dark thoughts began to enter my head about the choices we will have to make over the coming weeks and months in our professional lives. On the face of it, all leisure activities are luxury items so perhaps the whole industry should be ditched; but it isn’t quite as simple as that, is it? Millions of jobs are wrapped up in what we do and taking them all away would not be a great boost to the economy. So I challenge you, what one item will you keep as your favourite item in the leisure bag? And while you contemplate this challenge here, as you might expect, are my thoughts.
First to be tossed out of my bag is the arts; lock, stock and barrel or am I being a little hasty? I’m a sporty type and just don’t ‘get’ a lot of arts ‘stuff’ but am I being a little selfish by excising one whole part of our leisure family? Like many, I can leap on the arts very quickly as a target to reduce spending as I did recently when a local town announced that it was spending an enormous amount on yet another lump of rock, sorry, statue. I ranted for a quite a while about how I could spend that money on helping people take health-giving exercise but, as I thought about it a little more, I began to consider how I would become equally irritated if the environment in which I lived and worked was not made to look and feel nice. If our ancestors had followed the same logic that I was using we would certainly not be living in the environments we are today. So it seems I am ‘for’ ensuring that some money is kept for the visual environment but do I allow the arts to keep it or give it to our parks brethren? The arts of course isn’t just about the statues and paintings; it involves the theatre, dance and so on with many of those activities being used very successfully for therapies so can I really toss the whole lot out?
Next up for consideration then are parks and outdoor spaces. Well, the government has already beaten me to the Peak District National Park, which has announced that it needs to make 5% cuts this year. It looks like they are targeting jobs to make the cuts but as we are not sure which jobs I don’t know what services will be reduced or removed. Our outdoor spaces are often an easy target to save money as the logic goes that people are more important than things like parks, flowers in hanging baskets and dry stone walls. But the reality is that people gain enormous amounts from outdoor spaces and it is important that they look like they are taken care of. My cri de coeur is that if our environment is looked after it gives us pride and a reason to be positive. Outdoor spaces are also the gym for some of us, being just as vital as that swimming pool down the road or any number of David Lloyds. In my local area we only have one leisure centre and one swimming pool for the approximately 100,000 people who live within our local authority boundary. If we didn’t have our trails, outdoor sports parks and parks we would have even more unfit and very unfit people. Again, like the arts, experiencing outdoor spaces has been proved to be very beneficial to mental health as well as physical wellbeing. Would so much of London be devoted to parks and open spaces if they weren’t so vital to individual and community health. I’m not doing very well here am I? I seem to be keeping at least some of the arts and at the moment I would probably advocate putting even more money into our open spaces.
Perhaps museums and historical monuments will aid me in my quest to cut money. Surely they won’t be the one item left in my shopping bag. However, yet again I am torn. I absolutely love history and what we can learn from the past. I find the environments of museums and historical places very relaxing and see them as places to stimulate learning. In addition, many of the parks which surround ‘our’ stately homes are again vital for all of the reasons stated above. In turn they are also places where learning about the environment, wildlife and traditional skills are on offer as well as being farmed environments adding to the economy. However, on the other side of the coin, I have just been alerted to the winners of the Blue Plaque scheme for this year in my county. I am sure that this doesn’t cost a whole lot of money but I think in this quest for just one thing left in my leisure bag, the blue plaques are unlikely to be at the top of my list. Nice as they are, I don’t consider them a vital part of my life. At last a bit of something out of my bag but it isn’t much is it?
Alongside museums and historical places sits tourism. Surely this is a key contender to be left well and truly on the shelf of our leisure supermarket? If people want to come to our area, let them come – why do we have to do anything to encourage them or even make them happier when they arrive? They don’t have to come, it is their choice. Again though I am scuppered in these negative thoughts by a report which claims that seaside tourism jobs alone contribute £3.6 billion to the economy and this figure is rising as we all want to holiday in good old Blighty. Tourism is vitally important for many communities and affects many sectors in leisure including camping and caravanning, activity centres, museums, shops, leisurewear, arts and even sport. So I have talked myself out of another one.
I have already stated my bias for sport so should I leave the whole of this section of leisure in, to the detriment of the other areas? Well, like most of the country, I am quite happy to toss the England football team out at the moment. Does this mean that I am thinking about jettisoning all high-level performance sport? Well I am not sure I can be that hasty. I know that many councils (or perhaps it is more the councillors) often remove support to performance sport in the first wave of cuts as it doesn’t directly impact on most individual voters in their areas. But is this being a little short-sighted? Being successful in international sport has a huge impact on the country which comes from the general feeling of anticipation and excitement in the lead up to and during a major event, it can have a huge economic impact on a local area, for example the East End of London, the east side Manchester and wherever in Glasgow that they are putting the Commonwealths. Perhaps most importantly it is the pinnacle of achievement for which those of us at the start of our sporting journey can aspire to. So can we just toss performance sport into the dustbin?
Alright, alright let’s have a look at grassroots sport. Why should we continue to support people playing sport who are doing it just because they want to enjoy themselves? “Ha ha”, I hear you cry. “You are going to have to toss your beloved sport out of the leisure bag!” No, I have a lifeline for sport. Organised sport is a vital place for people who have been enthused to take up activities for health but now want to continue it and it is also a vital place for people who are moving along the performance pathway towards high performance. Without this area of sport the whole system will collapse. Grassroots sport has to remain in the mix.
Finally, what about physical activity? The former chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, recently described exercise as “nature’s cure” because it reduces the risk of more than six chronic diseases, including diabetes and breast cancer. In his annual report on the state of public health, published in March 2010, he says, “The costs to health and the economy from a lack of exercise are greater than those caused by alcohol abuse, smoking and obesity because of the number of people affected. Inactivity pervades the country [but] being physically active is crucial to good health. If a medication existed that had a similar effect on preventing disease, it would be hailed as a miracle cure.” He goes on to recommend an annual fitness test for all children with official warning letters being sent to parents if their child is found to be below the agreed level. This is pretty hard-hitting stuff, which makes it virtually impossible for me to toss it from my leisure bag. Perhaps physical activity is moving away from leisure into being something which is vital to us as human beings, not that far behind food and shelter and not a luxury but a necessity.
I think I have set myself an impossible task here as it would be quite wrong just to keep one leisure item and throw all the rest out to fend for themselves. We need leisure and, as the advert used to tell us, we need help to “work, rest and play”. Human beings are physical, social and mental creatures and we in leisure need to stand our ground when the hatchets are raised above our heads, as we provide opportunities for people to do all of these things. Indeed in many cases we are the only lifeline for people who wouldn’t normally be able to afford the “play” part of life. We are just as vital as all the other services offered and need to shout up. But we also need to have a good hard look at what in our own area of the industry could be done more efficiently, or indeed, could be lost without too much angst. Sorry, Blue Plaques.
To finish, I will share with you what the nation said when asked which luxury item they would keep when all others were taken from them. The top answers included “my mobile phone”, broadband and fresh vegetables. Not sure any of those would be on my own list. The bike, I would argue, is a vital mode of transport so stays but not as a luxury. The curry will have to go – it isn’t good for me anyway – so it is now between the camera and the motor home. And what about the holiday, the weekend bottle of wine, the digital radio? Someone wake me up from this nightmare...
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.
It appears that Kay Adkins is a Twitterer and is keen to meet with fans of the the Tub in hyperspace. We are reliably informed that TLRTubster is her electronic pseudonym.
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
A luxury item in your shopping bag of leisure pursuits or a necessity?