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Profile: Gerry Carver – the man behind "Harlow to K2 and Beyond"

Harlow and Beyond

Published in Sports Management Sep 2016 issue 126
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Gerry Carver, Harlow and Beyond
Gerry Carver, Harlow and Beyond

An ambitious initiative, tracking the development of the UK’s sports and leisure centres over the past 60 years, will be completed soon, with the launch of a new publication, called Harlow to K2 and Beyond.

As the title suggests, the story will begin in Harlow – where the UK’s first public leisure centre opened in 1959 – and cover the decades leading up to the opening of the landmark K2 centre in Crawley in 2006.

Moving “beyond”, it will then focus on the new and refurbished centres, examining facilities which have been opened in the current decade.

The purpose of the project is to record the history of the foundation and development of centres and provide lessons from the past six decades, in order to assist future policies and sports provision.

The idea was conceived by leisure industry veteran Gerry Carver. One of the founders of consultancy L&R International, Carver’s life in leisure spans six decades and has a strong operational grounding, thanks to a number of roles in the “front line” in his early days, as a centre manager and director of leisure.

Having started his career in teaching, alongside semi-professional football, Carver turned his hand to consultancy. His work ranged from central and local government projects – as well as the European Union – to those involving Premier League clubs. He also spent 12 years as an operational planning and governance advisor to the Millennium Commission and Heritage Lottery Fund, reviewing 70 major grant applications.

Double vision
“The idea for Harlow to K2 and Beyond first came to me in 2013 when in discussion with another long-serving leisure professional, David Fisher,” Carver says. “David had first entered recreation management at Basingstoke Sports Centre in 1970, some two years before I joined Carlisle Sports Centre.

“Having been involved in the early days of the UK’s sports centres, we realised that we were on the pivotal point of six decades of sports centre history.

“Harlow to K2 and Beyond will provide a unique record of the foundation in the 1950s of the need for community sports centres, bolstered by the Wolfenden Report in 1960, and the enormous growth of such centres in the subsequent decades.

“We’ve set out to encompass the philosophies, places, people, politics, buildings and activities that have characterised UK sports centres from the beginning and got us to where we are today.”

Lessons learned
In explaining the breadth of the study, Carver adds that Harlow to K2 and Beyond will reflect and document places throughout the UK, stretching from “the Shetland Isles to Penzance”.

It will also outline the stories of the people and communities which have benefited from the centres, and the managers and directors who ran the facilities – starting with the late George Torkildsen, the legendary first UK community sports centre manager who took up his post at Harlow in January 1961.

“David Fisher and I were friends of George Torkildsen,” Carver says. “George was the first community sports centre manager in the country, the founding father of the subsequent recreation management profession and later a most esteemed sport and leisure consultant. I was privileged to have been a consultant on several of his major projects.

“I’m also in touch with some of the very first managers and directors, including Geoff Bott, who began his career in 1964 at the Leeds Athletic Institute and Denis Molyneux, another industry stalwart who first worked for the Sports Council in 1965. Their enthusiasm and support for the project has been extremely encouraging.”

An anecdote relating to Denis Molyneux is, according to Carver, emblematic of the work faced by him and his team compiling the record.

“Denis was a Birmingham University lecturer who became very important to the story of sports centres,” he says. “He was an early advocate of government support for sport and the development of sports centres. In 1962 Molyneux wrote a pamphlet in support of public funding for sport, which then opposition Labour MP Denis Howell famously waved in the air at the House of Commons, as part of his efforts to convince the Conservative government to set up a Sports Council.

“When Labour won the election in 1964, Howell was made the UK’s first sports minister and Molyneux found himself as deputy director of the freshly launched Sports Council. So that pamphlet is a crucial part of the UK’s sporting history and significant to our story, but one which we had failed to find anywhere.

“Molyneux is now 90 and lives in Australia. I spoke to him as part of this project and he managed to send us an original copy of the pamphlet So this really has been like putting together a huge jigsaw puzzle.”

The record will be finished by the end of this year and a publication date will be set for early 2017.

“We hope that all the hard work that has gone into the record will be valued by past, present and future managers and directors,” Carver says.

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