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Has the function of leisure changed over the last 100 years

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Arguably the changes in the way leisure has been perceived began in the 19th Century with the introduction of the Museums act in 1849, the Libraries act in 1850 and the Recreations Ground act of 1852. This showed the government’s realisation that leisure pursuits were a legitimate and profitable way of raising capital. It could also have been the government acting on a change in social norms. Research might have shown a growing number of people visiting leisure facilities.

However, it was another 55 years before another notable leisure-related change in statute occurred. The National Trust Act of 1907 was brought in to help the ‘permanent preservation for the benefit of the nation of lands and tenements (including buildings) of beauty or scientific interest and as regards lands for the preservation… of their natural aspect features and animal and plant life.’ This meant that areas of beauty or scientific interest were protected against wear and tear that might occur due to increased human interest. People were beginning to travel to areas of the country in their spare-time for the purpose of leisure.

Prior to the First World War, people had begun to travel to Europe for holidays. In 1913 three quarters of a million British tourists had travelled to Europe, most of these middle class. By 1919 a daily air service between London and Paris was introduced which shows a reactive act on the part of airlines due to growing numbers of people going on Holiday to European countries. One year before War broke out in 1938 The Holidays With Pay Act was introduced to extend paid holidays to workers not already covered by collective bargaining agreements. All of this changed however with outbreak of War across Europe. During this time the Government encouraged people to ‘Holiday at Home’.

In 1937 the Physical Recreation and Training Act was introduced to ‘ provide for the development of facilities for, and the encouragement of, physical training and recreation, and to facilitate the establishment of centres for social activities.’ The aspect of fitness had now become important and the implementation of facilities in the country in order for people to become ‘fit’ was crucial. This was not the sole intent of the act, people enjoyed physical training and playing sports and a facility that allowed them to do this was a lucrative way of encouraging it.

These acts and changes in social norms were compounded by other factors. The United States was at the forefront of leisure as a moneymaking opportunity and many ideas were exported from them, including Cinema and new types of music. Cinema was seen as the most popular form of entertainment for over 50 years before the advent of Television later in the century. The influence of American society in the UK perhaps comes from Cinema with 60% of films shown in 1939 being of American origin.

New technology played an enormous role in the period up to World War II, with the advent of Cars and Motorcycles (by 1939 there were 2 million cars on British roads) giving people the ability to travel further to parts of the country, TV and radio meaning advertisements and new music could reach parts of the country that could not be reached before. The BBC Television service began in 1936 transmitting from Alexandra Palace to just the London area so, Radio was still the largest form of media prior to the War.

The end of World War II saw the growth and maturing of the Welfare state. Essentially the government was beginning to ‘look after’ the population more so than it did before the war. In terms of leisure it meant the addition of it to the portfolio of welfare services so that it was more readily available to all social classes.

The Art Council was formed in 1946 with 4 main objectives:

1. Support and encourage arts practice from all cultures

2. Champion the excellent and the challenging

3. Provide more opportunities to experience the arts

4. Speak up for the arts in all their forms

This could have been responsive or ad hoc, but it served to show the government branching out to other forms of leisure in this case something that the upper classes have more access to.

1949 saw the introduction of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. ‘To make provision for National parks, to confer powers on the Nature Conservancy Council and local authorities to create and maintain nature resources; to create and record public paths and to preserve natural beauty.’ In a way this is an extension on the National Trust Act but it also gives the local authorities power to create nature resources and public paths, which would probably mean this is a responsive act to a growing number of people visiting this type of attraction.

By 1950 the first package holiday to Europe was organised By Horizon Travel to Corsica. British tourists were able to travel to Europe again and indeed, felt safe to. Travel allowance had risen to �100 in 1954, which perhaps showed people beginning to save money to Holiday and it starting to become an important part of the year for them to travel abroad for recreation. Economy-class air fares were introduced in 1958, this shows a growing number of people travelling to Europe by air and also the Airline companies trying to expand their market to people that may not have been able to afford previous air fares.

The Sports Council was set up in 1965. This was the Government’s first reactive act towards Sport being taken as an essential part of the country’s welfare and economy. The timing may have had something to do with the forthcoming World Cup to be hosted in England, but it was also brought in to counter anti-social behaviour and to promote moral qualities. In modern terms success in sports has become important: ‘our mission is: to foster a healthier, more successful nation, through increased investment in sport and active recreation.’ The up to date Mission Statement of the Sports Council.

There were several compounding factors in this period. Traditional manufacturing industries were on the decline and the service sector was growing. This meant that UK leisure companies were open to multi-national investment especially the home-based leisure and tourism companies. The government then followed suit in 1974 by investing more money in the leisure industry. The demise of traditional manufacturing industries meant the break-up of working-class communities. The working classes would work together and play together, now new communities were formed with different social and economic classes influencing the groups and individuals. In terms of media, ITV ; BBC2 had been added to BBC1. This meant a lot more programmes for people to watch on Television but also companies could advertise at specific target audiences.

The late 70’s saw a squeeze on local authorities and Arts council spending as well as urban disorder have an adverse effect on Leisure activities. It also saw leisure companies diversifying across the sector in an attempt to save money. During the 80’s leisure was seen as a social palliative to the rising unemployment and was therefore encouraged. Towards the end of the 80’s and the beginning of the 90’s there was a massive growth in commercial provision. 1992 saw the introduction of the Department of National Heritage, which was then changed to The Department For Culture, Media ; Sport in 1997 (DCMS). Leisure had it’s own department for the first time.

Another big development was The National Lottery. Introduced in 1994 it now provides grants to various government councils and Local Authorities to improve and help its members and constituents. The Arts Council alone has received �1,164,562,050 since February 2001. This number is sure to increase.

In conclusion, Leisure as a function has changed enormously over the last 100 years. With the advent of new technology some forms of leisure have increased their portfolio of activities immensely. 100 years ago art was considered to be drama, stage shows, architecture and so on. Now it encompasses many different forms. Broadcasting, Film Prodcution and Video were all aspects of the Art Council that received funding in the last year. These have only been considered arts in the last century.

The Government, private companies and investors have also discovered the profitable side of leisure. Sport is big business nowadays, especially football with huge sponsorship deals and vast sums of money being paid for players across the globe. During the recession leisure was seen as a palliative to rising unemployment and was encouraged to keep the mood of the nation up. From this information it can be concluded that over the last 100 years leisure has evolved from something that is the opposite of work to something that is vital in our everyday lives.

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