My first impressions on arriving in Westminster to start the resettlement course the army had sent me on were ones of disappointment. My fellow students were not, as I had expected them to be, a class of fairly young and athletic sportspeople, but a set of mature people from different walks of life. “What am I doing here?” I wondered as I cast a glance around the room. They soon revealed themselves as the course began, however, as each of us in turn had to speak about ourselves for two minutes, saying why we were there and what we hoped to achieve. I was quite shocked as one by one we all found out about each other. These people were all at the top of their game in one of the public service institutions of the day. Senior managers from the Nationalised Industries such as The National Coal Board and British Rail, A Sister from a Leading Hospital, myself and other Representatives from the Armed Forces as well as representatives from The Local Government Association and from International Sports Organisations. The course was about running a public institution or organisation. It was about financial management, about being accountable for taxpayers’ money, about checks and balances. In summary we would learn about avoiding overspending or making unnecessary purchases; about seeking the best prices for necessities that would benefit our organisation; investing in equipment and maintenance; updating and improving existing facilities so as to keep ahead of the competition; using space gainfully and creatively; making the most of limited equipment and about staffing, shift systems and deciding realistic wages and salaries which would also ensure that employees are paid their worth. It was also about relationships with trade unions. This last aspect was alien to army life so I found it a challenge to start with, but my co-participants were so friendly and helpful towards me that after the ice-breaker had introduced us to each other, I began to develop warm relationships and friendships with them. The tutors were top managers from successful private industry such as the Decca Record Company at Tulse Hill, who covered the sales and distribution process, and Goblin Company who produced the Teasmade machines. The course was the first of its kind in Britain and I felt privileged to be a part of it. It was designed as an attempt to improve the performance of public institutions to make them as successful and efficient as the best private industry of the day.
The financial management course lasted a few weeks and we also went to Mill Hill, Victoria and Battersea. Then those of us like myself who were specifically interested in Sports Management, went on to Loughborough, Cardiff and Exeter Universities, and also Roehampton University to do further aspects of sports management. At Bromley College, South London, for example, we learned about the marking out of areas for different sports, both indoors and outdoors. Leisure and recreation was the focus of a lot of attention in the late seventies where Leisure Centre facilities were being developed on the model of The Sir Michael Sobel Centre in London. A lot of public investment was being made in such facilities as these and adventure playgrounds, indoor and outdoor facilities for team sports all over the country. I had seen much more of this already in Germany, but they were much more advanced than in the UK and most of what I had seen was the result of private investment by big companies for their workforces. I had in mind The Ahorn Sportsplatz in Germany where Willie Lenz, a fellow footballer from Tus Schloss Senelager, had just been made manager. The Ahorn Centre had been created by Heinz Nixdorf for all his workers’ health and happiness at Nixdorf Computers. It was a state of the art Leisure Centre where not only his workers but all German international athletes and sports people could go and train or play their sport. It was a tremendous concept that I believed was the way to go for the future. Heinz Nixdorf employed the top sportspeople in Germany to run his centre. They were world champions. I wanted and expected to find centres like this in England but instead, I found that the Sir Michael Sobel Centre and others around the UK were run by local government, and staffed mainly by people with no international sports experience. It was a let-down.
The part of the resettlement course that was on health and safety was in Wigan. It was here that I met fellow participants Dave Hall (who at that time was head of the new Development Corporation in the New City of Milton Keynes) and Brian Jones (who was head of technical and recreational services for the Milton Keynes Borough Council). Health and Safety was an area of particular expertise for me, having done so much of it in the army. I think I impressed a number of people with my ideas, knowledge and confidence. I got to know the two Milton Keynes Participants, from whom I soon learned that the New City of Milton Keynes, located in the centre of the country, had an exciting future and was just beginning to take off. Brian Jones was keen to sell me the idea of Bletchley Leisure Centre as a place to be with a great future. He said to me that if I needed a job when I left the army that I should get in touch with him. We exchanged cards and he posted a lot of literature and brochures about Milton Keynes and Bletchley Leisure Centre to me when I got back to Germany at the end of the course.
The final examinations for the course were held at the University of London. I had been exempted from some of the components of the course which I had already obtained equivalent qualifications for in the army when I was awarded a Diploma in Physical Education by the International Federation of Physical Culture in 1967. While I was still in the UK on the resettlement course, I had written to eleven of the local authorities in the country requesting an interview for a post in recreation management, and soon, back in Germany, I received interview invitations to seven of them, including the Sir Michael Sobel Centre and another at Picket’s Lock, one in Suffolk, at Leiston, as well as ones in Luton, Stantonbury, Woughton and Bletchley Leisure Centre in Milton Keynes. I had a lot of things to consider. Juppi Peitz and Oscar said I could stay in Germany and work for them. I toyed with the idea of setting up my own business selling sports clothing and equipment, but I had my children’s education to consider. I wanted them to complete their secondary education in England under the English system which up to then had been provided for them by the army. If I left the army then this would no longer be the case. I decided to take up the invitations to the interviews in English Leisure Centres. None of the centres I visited compared with the Ahorn Centre and after my visits to the Luton Centre I was not impressed at all. The ones in London were also lacking in various ways. I liked the interview panel in Suffolk but although they wanted me to take the job I felt it was too focused on cat shows with limited potential for international sports events. I got offered jobs at all these centres. At Bletchley, however, although it offered the worst pay of any of the others, I could see the enormous potential for staging international sports events in the venue. It was one of the largest Leisure Centres in the country with impressive sports facilities and was by far the best of the three in Milton Keynes. They offered me the job and although it would mean a massive drop in salary for me, I decided to take it up and leave the army. I could suddenly see an exciting future and was champing at the bit to prove my worth in the world of British Sport and Leisure.
If you want to know how I attempted to achieve my ambitions in high level sports management and entertainment, follow me on my “Jane Joseph author” page on Facebook. Earlier parts of the story are also found on this Sapodilla Press website. If you want to find out what happened in my later life when I returned to help develop my birth country Guyana in South America, then order “The ElDorado Affair” by Jane Joseph ISBN 978-0-9932409-0-4 published by Sapodilla Press available in paperback or Kindle format from Amazon.co.uk, order it through Waterstones or your local book store via Nielsens teledata or read it in Kindle format ISBN 978-0-9932409-1-1 available worldwide on Amazon