History of the Rec Club

The Rec Club has been a sports and social club since 1968

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The club opened on 4 December 1978 as an initiative by Hampstead Health Authority, who wanted to provide a sports and social club for the staff of the Royal Free Hospital.

The main building was funded by the Royal Free special trustees, a committee of hospital consultants and benefactors of the Royal Free Hospital. The swimming pool was funded by the hospital’s league of friends. The chairman of the special trustees (which later became the Royal Free Charity) was Sir William Wells and he was also the first chairman of the Royal Free Recreation Club. Sir William’s deputy, Albert Bernard, succeeded him and the current chair, Dave Thomas is only the fifth in the club’s 45 years.

The first Rec Club manager was Tom Gunning who was succeeded by Keith Hunt, MBE, the club’s longest serving manager, for over 20 years. The current manager, Craig Johnson, is only the sixth in the club’s history.

Initially, the club was predominantly a social club (with a bar and eating facilities) for the hospital staff, with only 5% of its membership open to the local community. But over the past 20 years habits have changed.  The decision to close the large bar and eating area and convert the space into a fully functioning gym was taken in the late 1990s and coincided with the hospital’s decision to close its on-site bars. Again, the cost of this investment, at more than £500,000 during the 1999-2000 financial year, was met by the charity’s special trustees.

The emphasis on fitness, health and wellbeing promoted by the club from this time saw membership grow significantly among the local community and staff and patients of the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust. The club’s and trust’s strong relationship was further enhanced during the Covid pandemic when the club had to close,along with all other leisure centres. In conjunction with the Royal Free Charity, the club re-purposed itself to provide essential support to the hospital staff woth a free supermarket and wellbeing services such as rest areas and massages. The club also, in conjunction with local health bodies, became a vaccine centre for the local community for nine months as part of the national vaccine roll-out.

When government restrictions were relaxed, the club could fully reopen and once again provide a welcoming and modern fitness centre in a safe environment to the trust’s staff, patients and the local community.