Richard Brickley worked at Fife Institute for over 30 years and has continued his link with the building as Disability Sport Fife President. Here he recalls his days at the centre, which will close this weekend.
While working at the University of Glasgow I attended a conference in 1975 at the University of St Andrews where the key speaker was the late Mary Urquhart, the Fife Director of Leisure and Recreation. Like so many others at that conference, I was inspired by Mary’s presentation and the picture she painted of Fife’s approach to leisure and physical activity including sport. Mary referred to the fourth “R” in education and labelled it “recreation”. Her presentation messages were innovative and thought provoking and as a young teacher with only seven and a half years experience in school, college and university I immediately wanted my next job to be in Fife. By chance, not long after, an advert appeared in the Glasgow Herald for a senior post at the Fife Sports Institute and off I headed to the Education Offices in Wemyssfield, Kirkcaldy for my interview following the successful submission of an application.
Prior to my interview I had a pre-meeting with the Institute Principal, Jim Penman, who would become a close colleague for 25 years. Like Mary, Jim was passionate about the Institute as a Regional facility and it did not take long for him to explain to me that it was the ethos that made it special and not just the excellence of the facilities. I met the staff team at the time and quickly realised that Fife had made a big effort to ensure that staff members matched the facilities in quality, skill set, experience and diversity. Everything about the Fife sports Institute in 1975 was vibrant, positive and fresh. I desperately wanted to join the team and experience some of the energy source that so excited the other Fife people I met during those early years. David Wilson, Alex Devlin, Jimmy Russell, Alec Jack, Magnus More, Graeme Donald, just some of the immensely talented people who contributed so much to the life of the Fife Institute during those early years and made it such an attractive place of employment. Fortunately I was offered the post and I moved to Fife with my family and set out on a journey that was going to offer me so much pleasure and professional satisfaction.
From 1975 until I retired in 2006 I enjoyed my time as a senior staff member at the Institute. Since 2006 until the present time I have retained my involvement in Institute life as the President of Disability Sport Fife, courtesy of partners Fife Council and the Fife Sports and Leisure Trust. For over 37 years I have had the privilege and pleasure of meeting so many interesting local children, young people, adults and families as patrons of the Fife Sports Institute. It has been a privilege to work with so many dedicated staff members in every section of the building who believe and promote the Institute ethos of “sport for all”, regardless of age, ability, ethnicity, disability or gender. Equity, quality learning environments and the safeguarding and development of young people and vulnerable communities through physical activity, including sport, have been key Institute objectives since it was first opened back in 1970. Throughout my career in Fife I have met and worked with politicians of all parties who have offered support, encouragement and a level of commitment of the very highest order. I have worked under senior officers such as Dave Somerville and Jim Penman whose vision, management skills and commitment to all communities have been exceptional.
Working with teams of Physical Education teachers, coaches, leaders and volunteers it has been my remit to encourage the promotion and development of physical activity for individuals of all ages and abilities with a disability, vulnerable groups and individuals recovering from injury or illness. The physical, psychological and social benefits that result from engagement in quality physical activity are well researched and the Fife Sports Institute staff team put these well tried and tested principles into practice. What was achieved at the Fife Institute over the years was the envy of many other Scottish areas. Fife can be fiercely proud of the positive outcomes that resulted from such a major investment in quality facilities and staffing. The number and quality of high performance athletes with a disability alone who have gone on to represent Scotland and Great Britain at every Paralympic Games since 1984 is just one indicator of the Council’s commitment to inclusive sport. The Fife Sports Institute became the base for so many individuals of all levels of ability with a physical, sensory or learning disability to learn and new skills in a welcoming and appropriate environment. Fife is particularly proud of its 22 Paralympians, most of whom trained at the Fife Sports Institute or were introduced to sport while attending a discreet or inclusive session led by a Fife Sports Institute member of staff.
The many older adults who have come through the doors of the Fife Sports Institute in the last 40 years have contributed so much to the Institute way of life. Many are committed to regular exercise classes and so many put so much time back into the community as volunteers. Individuals like Joe McCafferty who has put so much time into football coaching continues to turn out each year in the Glenrothes 10K as part of the Running Festival, are role models for their peers and those much younger. Graham and Margaret Galloway, who are regular yoga practitioners and squash players inspire so many of us through their commitment to regular physical activity. There are many others like these “regulars” who put so much back into the Fife Sports Institute but at the same time are eager to tell you they owe it so much. So many specialist teachers have contributed to this area of Institute work and made a difference to the quality of life of an ever increasing section of the local older adult population. Referrals classes, cardiac rehabilitation services, smoking cessation groups and lots of other initiatives have assisted so many individuals within Fife communities and introduced them to a way of life and sometimes a change of behaviour that has improved their quality of life.
Many high performance sports people have trained at the Fife Sports Institute and have followed a sporting pathway that has enabled them to represent their country in international sport. Each week hundreds of young people are learning to swim and over many years that represents a lot of learners. Daily physical education is available to pre-school children and there is always a wide range of exercise opportunities for patrons of all ages and abilities. Past users will remember with fondness the Friday night pool discos or Saturday evening teenage and family sessions established to engage young people in meaningful physical activity. Generations of school pupils from throughout Fife will have visited the Institute for a schools sports competition, Scottish Country Dance Festival, Fife Fives, Club or Schools Swimming Galas or to watch top class sport. The impact of the Olympiad has been particularly significant and generations of committed volunteers have offered so much to so many local athletes of excellence. Many well established national events for disabled athletes and players originated at the Fife sports Institute because of the excellence of the facilities at the time and the commitment of the Council to inclusive sport. Seven days per week from 7 am until 11 pm for 42 years the Fife Sports Institute has offered quality learning, diverse participation opportunities, exceptional development of many sports and lots of fun and enjoyment for so many.
It is typical for a new member of staff to become entrenched in the Institute way of life very quickly. So many present and past staff are fiercely proud and passionate about the important role played by the Institute in the lives of so many Fife people. Parents of young families return to pre-school services or “learn to swim” classes and often make a point of telling staff how much the Institute meant to them as young people growing up in Fife. The loyalty of so many Fife people to the Institute and their desire to quantify the role it has played in their lives is commonplace. The Fife Institute has always had something for everybody regardless of age, ability, ethnicity, gender or disability.
In 1981 the Fife Sports Institute was recognised during the International Year of Disabled People for the quality and extent of services offered to a traditionally marginalised section of the community. To this day large numbers of patrons with disabilities feel fully included and comfortable as regular users. Successive generations of staff have believed in the ethos of “sport for all”, regardless of the position they hold on the staff team. Successive generations of patrons have expressed their gratitude for the role the Institute has played in their life. The visionary officials and elected members in Fife in the 60s who planned, prepared and delivered such a special facility with such a strong ethos of equity and inclusion should be fiercely proud of how it has shaped up over these past four decades. Like so many others I have been privileged to work in a superb environment with outstanding people and serve an appreciative public. I have no doubt that the Fife sports and Leisure Trust will ensure that the new building when it opens in 2013 will make a similar impact over the next 40 years. There will be mixed emotions at the end of June when the builders start to pull down the original Fife Institute of Physical and Recreational Education (FIPRE). Thereafter all we shall have are memories and some of them are really special.