Harry Hitchin

Harry Hitchin

Harry Thomas Hitchin 10 June 1919 – 25 September 2009
President Institute of Baths Management 1970 – 1971

Obituary published in RECREATION The Journal of the Institute for Sport and Recreation Management December 2009
Noel Winter pays tribute to Harry Hitchin, a commensurate professional and family man

Although small of stature – indeed to quote his own words as ISRM president at the close of the Golden Jubilee Conference when handing over to the incoming president – ‘I am a rather short man’, Harry Hitchin will be remembered by most as a giant among those who have given their time and energies to forward the cause of sport and recreation, and in particular shape the affairs of the ISRM. Born in June 1919 in Gloucester, Harry entered the profession at the age of 18 as a trainee manager in the City of Bristol Baths Department. In his first years he was successful in winning a competition for a place on an external course at Bristol University, during which he gained a diploma in public administration. During the war he served with the RAF, and although it disrupted his career it didn’t prevent him meeting and marrying Iris in1944.
In December 1952, with two daughters Caroline and Lesley and facing the imminent birth of his son John, Harry moved from Bristol to London to become head of the Baths Department in the London Borough of Hammersmith.
Leading by example
It was the following year that he presented the first of many papers to the Institute’s National Conference. Over the following years he presented papers to conferences as well as other prominent organisations involved in the planning, design and management of sport and recreation, both in this country and abroad. The difference, however, between Harry and many other conference speakers was that he practiced what he preached, and that first paper was a blueprint of the work that he would carry out in Hammersmith over the next seven years. In 1961, Harry became the general manager of the City of Manchester Baths and Laundries Department, an appointment he held until 1974 when he took early retirement. A man with a prolific output of the written word, Harry was also an excellent speaker – and it was in Manchester that Harry was able to give full rein to his ability to see and forecast the future. In 1963, at the Institute’s Blackpool Conference, he presented a paper entitled ‘Baths Design and the Future of the Baths Service’. The paper provided a systematic discourse on the shortcomings of design and management at that time and, what he saw as the future for baths which, in addition to being sports facilities in their own right, would also be a part of a complex providing not just swimming but also a multitude of other sporting and cultural activities. It concluded that Institute members, as a result of their comprehensive training, should be well equipped to take on the management of these facilities.
Master plan for Manchester
Two years later at the Scarborough Conference in his paper ‘Swimming and Recreation – The Case for Regional Planning’ he again pursued the same line but also revealed his master plan for the City of Manchester, which had been approved by the City Council and involved the closure of 24 of the existing 25 swimming pool establishments within the next 15 years.
These would be replaced by a major sports facility, including a 50m pool and international standard diving pool, eight district sports centres and a network of small teaching and play community pools in either schools or neighbourhood centres. As at Hammersmith, Harry was forever looking at the economics of the services for which he was responsible, and in addition to his plans for swimming and recreation he also had plans for the 17 public laundries. Strategically sited laundries were to be modernised with automatic machines and tumbler dryers, while the others were to be closed or replaced with smaller units. A similar fate awaited the slipper baths where, again, rationalisation was to be carried out with the better-used suites updated and the others closed. Lastly, there was a programme to replace or modify all the hand-fi red coal steam boilers with gas or oil. Harry took early retirement in 1974. By that time, although everything didn’t always go to plan, three district sports centres had opened in Wythenshawe, Cheetham and Moss Side, a drill hall had been converted to a sports centre, a cinema was being considered for conversion to a sports centre, plans had been drawn up for a neighbourhood facility that included two 25-metre pools, and the number of pools in schools had doubled. Harry was also working tirelessly for the Institute as a member of the national council, the examination board and various working parties. Not content with this workload, in 1971 Harry became first honorary secretary of the Institute of Sport & Recreation Management.
Not part of the plan
Harry liked to plan his life, and being President of the Institute was not on his agenda. However, in 1970/71 as a result of illness of the president elect, he was the unanimous selection of the national council to become president during the Institute’s golden jubilee year. Thanks to the persuasive powers of Iris he accepted – and, as was Harry’s usual way, his presidential year was a success. Upon his retirement Harry started his own consultancy but continued to serve on the national council, in the latter years in the role of Honorary Consultant. Harry has been the brain behind many of the Institute’s most successful initiatives including ‘Practical Leisure Centre Management Volumes1 and 2’. He would cajole members to write sections on matters in which they had particular expertise, and then he edited the volumes. His consultancy work on swimming pool accidents led to this becoming one of the causes dear to his heart, and his work in this direction led to the production of ‘Diving in Swimming Pools’. This work has helped achieved a remarkable reduction in swimming pool diving accidents since it was first published in 1988. Harry has been a recipient of the prestigious FR Botham Award, and the President’s Medal, and in 1990, the Institute’s Diamond Jubilee Year; a special presentation was made to him in recognition of his services. Perhaps, however, the one that would have given him most pleasure was linking his name to the ‘Award for Valued Service’. Harry was the consummate professional in everything he did and always looking to the future. He had a keen brain and a prodigious capacity for work, and he was always willing to help and had unlimited patience. Despite his self-imposed workload, he was a family man and incredibly proud of his children.

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