Past, Present and Future: Memories of a Past Treasurer

By Sandro Carnicelli

2020 marks 45 years of the Leisure Studies Association but also my time to depart the Executive Committee. I have been part of the Executive for eight years (I think) and as Treasurer for seven. The aim of this blog is to reflect on that time – especially the challenges we faced– and to encourage academics to keep embracing the LSA and engaging with this amazing Association.

In 2015, Bob Snape (at that time LSA chair), Tom Fletcher (at that time Secretary and our current Chair) and I published a paper in the Brazilian Journal of Leisure Studies with a remarkably similar title to this blog post. Fatherhood and the Pandemic have taken their toll so, to save energy, I felt it appropriate to reflect on (some eagle-eyed colleagues might say ‘plagiarise’) that. In particular, this blog had got me to thinking about what made me put so much energy and my own personal time into this Association for almost a decade.

I still remember my first LSA Conference in Leeds (2010). I was a PhD student in New Zealand and very excited about my first international conference. Brazil was knocked out of the men’s FIFA Men’s World Cup a couple of days before. When I got to Leeds it was almost time for the semi-finals and I remember the desperation to find a pub to watch the game. It was a great evening. I have always enjoyed the informality of LSA and LSA socials. But the thing that stood out for me at the time (and continues to stand out) about LSA was the kindness of people. In 2010, special mention should be bestowed upon Professor John Horne. Clearly very well known then and now, I remember John’s enthusiasm for learning about the work of PhD students, and for integrating us into the academic community. I left Leeds having learned so much, and really feeling welcome by the leisure studies community. That feeling of belonging stays with me, and is a key part of my professional identity.

In 2011, while I was travelling around the world before taking up my 1st academic post in Scotland, I stopped in the UK to attend the conference in Southampton. Again, I was overwhelmed by the kindness of people I met. I vividly remember the keynote from Chris Rojek and meeting other long-serving members of LSA, including Myrene McFee (the administrator at the time), Rob Burton, Andrew Smith, Sally Everett (Treasurer at the time) and Karl Spracklen.  They all made me feel so welcome and encouraged me to keep re-engaging with the Association.  In 2012 I became member of the Executive Committee during the conference at Edinburgh University. It was at that time that I became privy to some of the wider issues (mainly financial) facing the Association. In short, the income from membership, publications, conferences and royalties of the Leisure Studies Journal were not enough to cover the working costs of the Association. Without immediate intervention, the Association was at serious risk.

In the following years (2012- 2014) we did a lot of administrative groundwork to implement adminstrative changes. The 2014 conference that I co-organised with Professor David McGillivray and Professor Gayle McPherson, while excellent in its own right, was probably remembered most because of the results in the semi-finals of the Football World Cup; namely Brazil’s 7-1 drubbing at the feet of Germany (a sad day for this Brazilian). The conference was very significant to the LSA because, for the first time in quite a few years, it turned a significant profit. We were very pleased to be able to donate around £5000 to LSA. To put that into perspective, at the time, LSA had less than £10,000 in the bank. The dire financial position of LSA led to significant administrative developments. We had to terminate the agreement with our administrator, which meant that all LSA activities, including those pertaining to membership, finance, publications, strategy etc., were now performed by the Executive; made up entirely of volunteers.

It is here where I want to stress the wonderful work of the LSA Executive in streamlining our efforts. Among other things, we liquidated physical assets (namely books, newsletters etc) through a combination of charitable giving and via the establishment of an LSA archive at Leeds Beckett University. Thanks predominantly to Paul Gilchrist and Tom Fletcher for this. We developed a membership plan with automatic renewal and worked with conferences to embed membership on the registration fees of the conference. The automation of the systems done by Stefan Lawrence, Louise Platt, and Katherine King contributed significantly to advance the efficiency and the management of the organisation. Indeed, efficiency is a significant priority. Another way of reducing costs was better planning Executive costs. We have endeavoured to find more affordable meeting venues, cut down travel costs, avoid hiring facilities and instead, use free available university spaces. In recent years Louise Platt has been very kind to organise our meetings in Manchester. It is worth stressing again that the Executive are all academics, with our daily jobs, many of whom receive no deployment time from our institutions to undertake this work. We are committed volunteers to LSA (something our Lifetime Member Professor Robert Stebbins understands very well).

All these difficult decisions and changes helped the Association to recover financially. In September 2017 – around 5 years after we formally introduced management changes – we had around £55k in our accounts. This was a very welcome situation and meant that we were able to actively invest in our field. In 2017, at our conference in Leeds, we launched the LSA’s Research and Enterprise Grant Scheme. I remember fondly awarding our first grant to PhD researcher Annaleise Depper. The amount was fairly negligible – perhaps £1000 – but it allowed Annaleise the opportunity to host a public event, which without our help, would not have been possible. The Grant scheme developed and currently led by Ian Jones has gone from strength to strength, and is an excellent example of LSA investing in our field and supporting the leisure community. In recent times we have made further financial investments. In 2018 we invested in a new website with a dedicated Members Areas, we further increased the amount we were investing in the grant scheme, and commissioned a company to digitise our back catalogue of books. The latter are now free to members via the website.

In the last two years we have been maintaining the level of investment in the field, supporting members, conference organisers and giving prizes to undergraduate and postgraduate students for their research. In presenting my last Treasurer report in October 2020 we had over £78k in our account. Such financial stability ensures we are able to keep investing in the field and keep supporting our members. We are a small Association, but we are a tight community and, as an Executive, we feel our members are well supported. We hope so, anyway.

It is up to the committed and enthusiastic members of the Exec to see what is next. In them we trust. But in a world with so many complex issues to be resolved, leisure studies still has a key role to play either in understanding leisure behaviours contributing to climate change, the importance of leisure to reduce inequalities or the relevance of leisure associated to sport, events and tourism to the economy and cultural development of societies. Maybe it is time to more actively engage with public policy, maybe it is time to work with parliament(s) to ensure ‘leisure’ is not forgotten, maybe it is time to encourage and support our members to take their amazing work to a different level, maybe it is time to invest in amplifying academic conversations with more seminars, day-events, and it is definitely time to work closer with our friends from leisure Associations around the world. I can re-assure you that our current chair, Thomas Fletcher is doing brilliant work on that front. There is a lot of work ahead of us to make sure leisure is not forgotten, to make sure that leisure is valued.

I have had a blast during my time on the Executive. It is a pleasure to hand over the role of Treasurer to Briony Sharp; one of the brilliant new academics in our field and a very committed LSA member.

I wish the Executive team all the best and I hope we can all catch up soon at the next LSA Conference.

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