The Frank Lee Centre : A brief History

Although the first hospital building at Hills Road was opened by the Queen in 1962 most of the beds and service facilities remained at Trumpington Street until the early 1970's. The building of what was known as Stage Two at Hills Road was begun in 1968 and it was about then that Sir Frank Lee who was vice Chairman of the Board of Governors suggested that a Development Trust should be set up, the control of which would be independent of the Exchequer. Its objectives were to finance the provision of recreational facilities for the staff, of improved facilities for patients and their relatives, and the funding of medical research.

After discussions with the then Mr. Francis Pemberton and the Board of Governors, an appeal committee was set up which later became the Board of Trustees. There was a great deal of enthusiasm for the project since Addenbrooke's was the only new teaching hospital in the UK building on a virgin site; the two and a half acres for the recreation centre had been given by the Pemberton Trust to the Development Trust and no other hospital was able to contemplate the provision of such facilities for its staff. A lot of staff, members of the Board of Governors and members of the general public worked hard to raise funds. Raffles, bring and buy sales and public appeals were launched and a retired accountant was appointed as an appeal organiser (his salary was paid by the Pemberton Trustees). In the space of about eighteen months enough money was raised - about £170,000 - to enable the first part of the Frank Lee Centre to be built. This comprised a swimming pool, two squash courts and most important, a general purpose room and bar. As well, two tennis courts were included which were paid for from the small allocation of NHS capital funds provided for staff recreation out of the Stage Two funding. It should also be recorded that Cambridge University made a significant contribution in respect of its students' use of the proposed Centre and the Medical Research Council made a loan.

At this point I should say something about the originator of scheme, Sir Frank Lee. He was vice Chairman of the Board of Governors of the United Cambridge Hospitals (that is all the hospitals in Cambridge with the exception of Fulbourn Hospital) from 1967 until his death in 1971. He had been Permanent Secretary at HM Treasury and on his retirement from the Civil Service in, I think, 1966, he was elected Master of Corpus Christi College. He was a very wise man, and of course extremely experienced in the ways of Government. We were lucky to be able to recruit him as a member of the Board and he brought not only experience but much humanity; he had a great awareness of what ought, and could be done to help those who worked in stressful jobs. Sadly he died in office in 1971 and Sir Francis succeeded him as Chairman of the Development Trust; he steered through the completion of the first components of the Frank Lee Centre which was opened by Lady Kathleen Lee in 1972. As a tribute to the memory of Sir Frank the main contractors of the new Hospital, Mowlems, commissioned the plaque in the entrance hall of the Frank Lee Centre.

With the bar, swimming pool and squash courts completed a committee was set up by all those eligible to become members of the social club and therefore able to use the facilities. Those eligible were, and still are, all those members of the staff of the authorities permanently based on the site at Hills Road, together with the staff of the other hospitals in Cambridge not at Hills Road. This latter group included the maternity hospital at Mill Road, Brookfields Hospital and Douglas House all of which were destined to move to the new site in due course. Within a fairly short space of time other categories of membership were devised, namely associate members, that is partners of full members, retired members and, later, honorary members. This latter category was reserved for those who had given substantial voluntary service to the Club.

The Social Club was responsible to the Trustees who gave the Club a fairly free rein to run the Frank Lee Centre as they judged best. The Trustees were principally concerned on two matters; 1 - that membership was confined to those entitled to have it as I have defined above, and 2 - that membership fees were not raised to the extent that less well paid members of staff would be discouraged from joining. In those days this category was particularly student nurses whom the Trustees believed were among the most deserving of the new facilities available but the principle remains that all staff should be encouraged to join.

A great deal of entirely voluntary work was done be those elected to run the Club and as a result the Centre prospered. Income rose, donations were received and as all the 'profits' were only available for use for Club purposes the Trustees were able to begin an expansion programme. First to be added was the badminton hall which was of course available for multiple uses. This was followed by two further squash courts (one was subsequently removed when Profiles was built) the Hexagon extension with its own bar, and this was followed by the enlarging of the kitchen and the provision of the snooker room and further toilet facilities. Inevitably as the Centre grew staff were required to run it on the extended hours that were necessary to fulfil demand. A Manager was the first of these appointments, the first being in post from I think about 1980; other staff soon followed.

The structure of the management of the Frank Lee Centre had its most significant change when Hexagon PLC was set up as a company under-written by the Trustees to administer the facility. The staff of those working on the Hills Road Site remained as an advisory body to reflect staff views and needs and a Manager was appointed by the Company to run the Centre as a business within the original aims of the Trust. If there is a common thread running through this brief description of the history of the Frank Lee Centre it is that there has always been change, and probably always will be change. It is a tribute to Sir Frank that the original objectives which he set were such that these changes could be absorbed whilst the recreational facilities continued to grow in the Centre named after him.

Graham Cannon