During the period leading up to the First World War, the CHA used a variety of centres, some for only two or three seasons. It first of all leased property but eventually purchased its own. In the Lake District, Newlands Mill at Stair, purchased in 1905, was typical of the early centres. According to Leonard, “We converted the drab, dirty, old mill into a place of sweetness and light”. For many years it provided holidays at 22s 6d per week (£1.12½p). But it was Spartan. Washing was communal. You made your own bed. The ladies helped to wait at table. The men cleaned the ladies boots as well as their own.
By 1913, the CHA had thirteen British centres, of which four were owned by the Association, catering for 20,000 guests. CHA holidays were very organised, based on weekly programmes of walks of varying standards. Sleeping was in male and female dormitories. No intoxicating liquor was allowed. Prayers were held every morning with a service on Sundays and Grace before meals. The evening get-togethers, organised by the host and hostess, were an essential part of the CHA philosophy, with guests invited to sing, recite or discuss some topic of popular interest. The CHA’s communal ideal was further emphasised through the insistence that domestic helpers at the centres were treated as equals and encouraged to join in leisure activities.
From its inception, the CHA sought to enhance social mixing by providing subsidised or free holidays for people who could not afford its modest charges through its Free Holiday Scheme, which was subsequently to develop into its ‘Invited’ and ‘Assisted’ Guest Schemes. The viability of the CHA as a voluntary association as distinct from a holiday club depended on its shared values and sense of identity and upon the ability of members to meet regularly beyond the annual holiday. Local groups were an essential part of the organisation. They arranged annual re-unions, weekend rambles and a range of other leisure activities, such as trips to the theatre and places of cultural interest, reading circles and talk’s evenings, even amateur dramatics.
However, Leonard and the Association’s patrons always lamented that the CHA failed to reach the core working class constituency to which its founders aspired. The recruitment of an increasing number of new members during the period leading up to the First World War led to conflict between the expectations of new members and the ideals of its founders. New members rebelled against the discipline of early rising and communal rambling. As the Association’s holidays became physically less arduous and there was a gradual retreat from simplicity, Leonard resigned from the CHA in 1913 to form the HF in a renewed effort to establish holidays that would be genuinely working-class in appeal and composition. Nevertheless, the split with the CHA was reasonably amicable, with the HF taking over the CHA’s centre at Newlands in the Lake District and a centre at Kelkheim in Germany. The objects of the new organisation were similar to those of the CHA but with a greater emphasis on International Relations. There was no thought of competition between the two organisations.