Leisure Services

The portfolio of Leisure Services covers a wide range of things that are often highly valued by the public. Manchester City Council owned and was responsible for parks and gardens, public baths and laundries, sports halls and leisure centres, public halls, including the city’s major concert venue, the Free Trade Hall, plus libraries, art galleries, museums and theatres. The Committee also had responsibility for allotments, cemeteries and crematoria and the organisation of a range of festivals and events.

In the period 1984 to 1997 that this chapter covers, the services were the subject of numerous changes to the management and committee structures, driven in parts by CCT and the overall budget cuts required. Repair and maintenance needs, beyond the funds available, led to closures and public outcry and protests. The protests for Victoria Baths were particularly well organised. The chapter also has a large section about Heaton Park, the franchise for the golf course proving particularly challenging on a political level, but also initial proposals being objected to strongly by the public.
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A Mishmash of Services
Changes to the Management of Leisure
Cuts in 1991-92
Change of Name
Parks and the Incident of the Dead Donkey
Cuts in 1993
Another Restructure
City Pride and Manchester Irish Festival
Heaton Park


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Editor’s Comments

I found this chapter troublesome to split into sub-sections because of the so many different strands. I have ended up using an extra layer of sub-headings because I felt it useful to highlight the changes of subject area, but in some cases a sub-section only has a paragraph. It feels to me that the section about Heaton Park could almost be a chapter in its own right, especially if Kath is right that this series of events were what led to Graham Stringer’s loss of leadership. However, although she says that is her belief, I don’t feel she has really got across why that would be so.

On a personal note, what Kath hasn’t mentioned about Victoria Baths is that when she first moved to Manchester, when I was eight, that was our nearest swimming pool, via a walk through Whitworth Park. The house we moved into didn’t have an inside toilet or a bathroom – that was in 1973. We had a mortgage and a grant from the Council. The grant was to put a bathroom and toilet inside the house. I remember while the work was being doing when we first moved, we had to go to Victoria Baths to have a bath. They had cubicles that had a standard bath inside and coin machines for the hot water, like you still sometimes get at camp sites. The four of us of – two adults and two children – went and used one bath full of water (not all in it at the same time!).

We also used to go swimming there regularly, by bus from school, but also in the holidays a group of children would go by ourselves on foot through the park. When I have done the route as an adult, I feel it’s quite a long way for children under 10 to be going by themselves, but it wasn’t thought anything then. I remember very clearly one school swimming lesson having to sit out at the side because Mum had sent me to school with my PE kit not my swimming kit. Later when I was a masters student at UMIST in 1988-90, I went to the Turkish baths there a few times with my friend, on a ladies only day. It was such an experience and is an amazing building. I’m not surprised that there was an outcry and passion for it to be saved.


[1] See Appendix 23A for the list of all chairs and deputies

[2] David Owen remained the Director of Libraries and Theatres for many years, having earned and retained the confidence and respect of councillors.

[3] They later won £2 million funding for its partial renovation from the BBC programme Restoration (the total required costs were £7 million).

[4] Editor’s note: The relatively small attention paid in this chapter to athletics is partly related to Kath’s lack of interest in it but also it’s covered in more detail in chapter 26 in the context of Manchester’s Olympic bids.

[5] Pat Karney adopted the policy he had implemented in 1984, when he was Chair of the Direct Works Committee, of allowing other members of the committee to chair the meeting from time to time to gain experience. In October 1992, Mary Humphreys, newly elected that May, chaired the Committee; in March 1993, Sheila Smith; and in June 1993, Gary Betney, newly elected a month previously.

[6] The direct services division in Education was also disestablished and an Adult, Youth and Curriculum Division established, with Briony Clayton being appointed as its head.

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Further Reading

  • History of Victoria Baths: Timeline  and story of closure and Friends Group
  • ‘Manchester sets out to explore television and art’ by Tom Morris, Independent, 25 August 1992
  • There is a brochure for Boddington’s Manchester Festival of Arts and Television, presented 9-26 September 1993 in the National Archives
  • Article about Manchester City of Drama 1994 by Sabine Durnat, Independent, 17 March 1993,
  • As of 2016, Heaton Park Golf Course is operated by Mack Golf. “Mack Golf operates Golf Courses across the UK & Ireland. Each course is a public golf facility, meaning it is open to all who wish to have a game.”
  • History of Heaton Park on MCC website and Wikipedia and manchesterhistory.net (Manchester View – all images copyright David Boardman).
  • Heaton Park Golf Club (old site?)
  • ‘Manchester’s Heaton Park and its historic hall to get £800,000 revamp’, by Chris Slater, Manchester Evening News, 30 March 2015.
  • Friends of Heaton Hall  on facebook

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