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The Physical Training and Recreation Act 1937; its contribution to the provision of services for physical training and recreation between 1937 and 1960

Power, Anthony (2018) The Physical Training and Recreation Act 1937; its contribution to the provision of services for physical training and recreation between 1937 and 1960. Masters thesis, York St John University.

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Abstract

The Physical Training and Recreation Act 1937 was a modest piece of legislation permitting Local Authorities to provide and run facilities for people’s leisure time such as community centres and camp-sites. The Act established a National Fitness Council to promote healthful recreation, and offer grant aid to statutory and voluntary organisations. The Fitness Council lasted a mere two years and the Act was suspended on the outbreak of war.

The wider significance of the Act lies in the complex interaction of underlying issues that led to the determination that ‘something must be done’ to improve the health and physique of the nation.

Three factors pushed Government towards action. Chief among these was a long standing fear of the physical deterioration of the ‘race’ and the implication this held for Britain as an imperial power. Mass unemployment in the 1920s and 1930s raised fears of a loss of social cohesion. Physical training and recreation was used as a measure to occupy and divert the unemployed. The stereotype of the ‘hungry 30s’ hid the emergence of a new prosperity for those in work. A leisure ‘industry’ emerged during the period, and Government, sensing a populist opportunity, used the Act as a response.

The Act faltered between 1937 and 1939 due to inadequate funding, poor administration and the adoption of a narrow definition of fitness that took no account of wider social issues such as malnutrition, working conditions and housing. This led to the Act being characterised as a tokenistic measure by the Left and sections of the medical profession.

Despite the failure of the Act between 1937 and 1939, it influenced the provision of services for physical training and recreation, during the war, and, the post-war period of austerity and reconstruction. The legislation also helped shape the tone and content of the 1960 Wolfenden report that laid the foundations of future physical training and recreation policy.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Status: Published
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain > DA566 20th century
School/Department: School of Humanities
URI: http://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/3879

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