Edition number 31; dateline 3 December 2010
Taking it all back (stately) home
Well it’s been an interesting couple of months in the world of leisure: World Cup bids, FIFA scandals, government spending reviews, the demise of the School Sport Partnerships and now its possible revival and, not least, snow and lots of it. Feeling fraught with the general upset around me and the fact that I cannot get my vehicle off the drive, I decided to look closer to hand and look around my local area for inspiration. It should be safer. As long as I avoid the next village where angst emanates from the local sports college, I should be OK.
My thoughts began to turn to other local ‘leisure assets’ starting with Hardwick Hall (the one with “more glass than wall”) which stands proudly on a hill over-looking the M1, Chesterfield and the coking plant works at Wingerworth. It is not that I want to paint a negative picture of this magnificent building and estate but I do want to indicate that it is not something which is hidden in some surreally beautiful valley and only seen every 100 years like an East Midlands Brigadoon; it is part of our local landscape. Hardwick’s pal, Bolsover Castle, just along the road overlooks the old Coalite chemical factory and what was Markham Pit but which is now the industrial estate you whizz by at Junction 29a on the M1. Why would my thoughts turn to these buildings? For one, they are significant leisure facilities that are close and easily accessible. I appreciate that living on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border I am perhaps more blessed than most with the Dukeries (lots of big parks and houses) on one side and stately homes, led by Chatsworth, on the other but I bet all of you are close to one of these fabulous places whoever may own them.
Before those of you who are slightly to the left of our current, blue-tinged leaders start huffing and puffing about how these places are all wrong, I am not turning this into a fight on behalf of the landed gentry (or whatever we are calling them this week). No, I am merely pondering on the role of these large estates in our leisure world. The first thing we tend to think is that these facilities are rather stuffy museums and that we only visit them on high days and holidays. A quick look at the National Trust’s news archive for this year will debunk this myth. Apparently 2010 has been a record year for them in terms of visits, they are fitting solar panels to some facilities, they were involved in the Glastonbury Festival and they even “have an ‘App’ for your phone”. In addition, they have activities involving walking, healthy eating, photography, art and cycling, as well as innovative ways of encouraging us to interact with history in the museum part of their portfolio. I have also learned that there is to be a £2.5million restoration of Kinder Scout (not sure how you restore a mountain but I believe it is something to do with sheep grazing problems), another National Trust property. Kinder Scout was the site of the Mass Trespass in 1932, a very significant event in terms of allowing us all the freedoms to walk in the countryside we have today, so it is big, beautiful, scary and historically relevant.
Beyond the National Trust, many other large estates and facilities host significant events in our leisure world with everything from the Blenheim Triathlon to the various festivals involving motor sport and horse racing at Goodwood. We also go to these place to fish, get married, sing carols, attend country fairs and buy farm produce. They bring tourism, jobs and are very often our green lungs.
So why are the majority of us not engaging more with these places in terms of our work? I am sure some of you can already cry “I am” but I bet there are lots of you who are cannot, particularly those of you from the ‘sporty’ part of our industry. Let’s get back to Hardwick Hall, where I started my journey. The manager of the hall recently approached the local football club (where I am often found lurking) and talked to us about the trust’s 10-year campaign (is there something there we can learn in terms of long-term planning?) to increase its involvement with local communities. We threw a few ideas around and we are now planning a football tournament next summer which will be played on a grassy area in front of the hall. We are also going to decorate a Christmas tree next week with things which represent our organisation after taking a walk with our Walking for Health Group around the park. I know that my cycling club is also partnering with the estate and many members use the ‘lovely hills’ to thrash their bikes up. I am sure that my involvement with these fabulous leisure facilities will only grow and grow as they are keen to work with us and, more importantly, provide cheap (if not free) leisure opportunities for thousands of people – yes thousands not hundreds!
Go on: stop thinking your local estate, park or stately home is something to be put away in a time bubble to be largely forgotten. Knock on their door, find out what they are up to and I am sure they will be delighted to become a much more active part of all of our networks. They have been a central part of all of our lives for hundreds of years. They used to be the only place people looked to for work, rest and play so let’s invite them back into our family to learn from their history and bring our innovations to them – and theirs to ours.
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
Kay Adkins, hot tub correspondent