Belfast City Council planned an investment of £105M over ten years to transform its seven leisure facilities. It forms part of its overall £400M physical investment programme. The Transformation Programme won the leisure category at the inaugural RICS Social Impact Awards, Northern Ireland. The first phase of the programme focused on the re-development of the Olympia Centre (see 2017). The first new centre to be developed under the programme was the £20M Lisnaharragh Leisure Centre, which opened in 2019. It has a 25m 8-lane pool with 250 spectator seats; a learner pool with movable floor and diving provision; confidence water for small children and toddlers; 140 station fitness suite and exercise studios; spin studio; 4-court sports hall; multipurpose room, café and outdoor 5-a-side pitches. The Avoniel Centre redevelopment (see 2021) focused on creating outdoor leisure provision. Belfast’s Templemore Baths from Victorian times (1893) was also part of the transformation programme. It had been saved from closure in the 1980s. The Baths were recorded as the only remaining UK Victorian Baths that still had its interior fabric and fittings intact. The partnership of Council and Heritage Lottery Fund seeks to preserve and interpret the buildings heritage but provide a modernised leisure facility – Templemore Swim & Fitness Centre – due to re-open in 2022. The £17M project funding comes from the City Council and from the National Lottery Heritage Fund (£2M). The original pool, laundry room, and slipper baths are being restored, and an additional 25m six lane pool, spa and fitness facility and interpretation space added. The seventh Belfast facility upgraded in the scheme was Girdwood Community Hub. It opened in 2016, combining community facilities, a dedicated youth space, leisure facilities and educational outreach and training facilities and had originally been developed with a grant related to the Peace Process. The replacement for the Brook Activity Centre and a new Andersonstown Leisure Centre followed (see 2020).
Two long established centres were in the news in 2019. Dunstable Park Sports Centre (1974) and Rhyl Sun Centre (1980) were both replaced with modern centres. The new Dunstable Leisure Centre is home to a new Dunstable Library as well as a leisure centre with a 25m pool, 100-station health club, crèche, cafe and flexible spaces for community services. It did see the loss of a green bowls hall provided in the old centre (one of the sporting changes coming around in a number of new and refurbished centres). The Rhyl Sun Centre (1980) was an extremely innovative and iconic leisure attraction. It was an indoor waterpark with Europe’s first indoor surfing pool. When it opened it cost, then, £4M. It was a ‘tropical village’ with a monorail, slides, the surf and wave pools. The Centre was an asset to the communities of North Wales and also for tourism. A 2008 Report had estimated the Centre needed £11M to safeguard it. It closed quite suddenly in 2014 when the Council stopped its £200k annual subsidy. The building was demolished in 2016, by which time planning was in process for a replacement facility. Named appropriately SC2 and costing £15M, the new Rhyl waterpark is located on the promenade and stretches across 1200 sq.m. The new centre opened on April 12th, 2019. The project was mostly funded by Denbighshire County Council with Rhyl Town Council contributing £2M and the Welsh Government £800,000.
At a cost of £40M, Chelmsford’s Riverside Leisure Centre is perhaps one of the most expensive centres in its era. Construction started in 2017, based on the original building, but the costs soared from £25M due to asbestos removal. The building is eco-friendly through its energy saving, BREEAM award, technology throughout. The facilities are extensive and embrace a 10-lane 25m pool with a moveable floor and adjustable barriers for division. It’s only one of three UK pools with those dimensions used for training and competition. There is a toddler-friendly sensory splash zone, a fun pool with a flume, a 130-station gym, health and fitness studios, soft play, an Ofsted-registered crèche, a cafe and a terrace overlooking the River Chelmer. The architects sought to use the centre building as a strong focal point to connect to the city centre and enhance the riverside walk. Despite Monmouth Leisure Centre only being two decades old, Monmouthshire County Council embarked on £7.4M scheme to revamp the Centre given changes in sports and leisure demand. Section 106 funding from a nearby housing project contributed half a million pounds. The Centre is adjacent to a school. The swimming pool element was nicknamed ‘the ship in a bottle’ conversion, as to meet funding limits a planned pool building was cancelled and it was decided to convert the existing sports hall into a 5-lane 25m x 11m swimming pool and a health spa – a UK first. The rest of the centre was completely remodeled – “a complex and complete strip out from top to bottom,” said the contractors. A three-floor extension houses a new vibrantly coloured soft play area and there is a fitness gym, two squash courts, a spin studio, a dance studio, toning suite, meeting rooms and cafe.
2019 Sedbergh Sports and Leisure Centre
Stafford Borough Council opened the new Stone Leisure Centre at Westbridge Park and next door to a new M&S store. It has the now familiar core mix of 25m pool, fitness gym and studios, but not a sports hall. The cost was £7.6M, partly funded by land sales. Slough’s new centre, The Centre, replaced the long established Montem Sports Centre, it has a huge 115-station gym and in keeping with so many new centre’s, three group fitness studios, a 25m 8-lane pool, a teaching pool with moveable floor, a 4-court sports hall, a sauna and steam room, two spa treatment rooms and a cafe. Bradford invested £17.5M in a centre, Sedbergh Sports and Leisure Centre. It replaced the nearby
2019 Richard Dunn (1978)
(1978) which had been named after ‘a local lad who made good’ – Richard Dunn, a heavyweight boxer who was British, European and Commonwealth champion and fought and lost to Muhammad Ali for the world title in 1976. The Richard Dunn building adjacent to the site remains disused at present. The centre, as elsewhere, has the usual mix of 25m pool, flexible teaching pool, studios, 80-station fitness gym, sports hall and cafe, plus 3 outdoor pitches.
The New Barnet Leisure Centre and Barnet Copthall Leisure Centre amounted to a £44.9M investment by the London Borough of Barnet. The New Barnet centre, as a community hub, has what we have seen becoming the core pool package of 25m pool and learner pool, though no sports hall, but additionally it houses a library, spaces for children and young people and an outdoor multi-use games area. Barnet Copthall has two 25m pools. One is a 6-lane community pool and the other an 8-lane competition pool. Barnet Copthall also has studios and a 5-court sports hall. Saracens Rugby Club also use the Centre. The original Dover Sports Centre (1976) was closed in February 2019 as the new £26M Dover District Leisure Centre opened. ‘Dry’ facilities include a 4-court sports hall, 2 squash courts, multi-function room, exercise studios including spin cycling, 120-station gym, clip ‘n climb wall and café. It has a 25m 8-lane competition standard pool with seating for 250 and a 15m learner pool with moveable floor plus sauna and steam room and 2 outdoor 3G 5-a-side pitches. Sport England contributed £1.5M. In 2019 Coventry’s new £36.7M waterpark and leisure centre, Wave, replaced the City’s Grade II Listed 1966 50m international pool complex (see also 2020). Within its circular design the Wave waterpark has a wave pool with six thrilling slides, a splash pad with jets and small slides for toddlers and a ‘lazy river’. It also has a 25m swimming pool, gym, climbing wall, squash courts, dance studio plus, and poolside café. With its investment in the Alan Higgs Centre in 2020, the Council invested a total close to £50M in pool-based community facilities. The wavepool churns 20M litres of water every day and the building is illuminated at night. The Wave expects 1.3M annual visitors.
Runnymede is best known for the sealing of the Magna Carta 800 years ago but in February 2019 Runnymede Borough Council opened Egham Orbit Leisure Centre and the following month the Duke of Kent performed the official opening. Orbit replaced Egham Sports Centre which closed shortly before Orbit opened and was subsequently demolished. Orbit has a sports hall, 25m 8-lane pool with moveable floor, Otium spa, 100-station gym, group exercise studios, soft play and cafe plus outdoor tennis and netball courts and 3G 5-a-side football pitches. We have seen Birmingham Council is implementing leisure centre developments. In 2019 it opened its fourth centre, the £8M Ladywood Leisure Centre, after Erdington, Northfield and Stechford. It has one of the largest public fitness gyms in the Midlands with 130 stations plus exercise studios, a 25m 8-lane pool, sauna steam-room and café. After 2 year’s construction, Test Valley Borough Council opened the new £16M Andover Leisure Centre on the site of the previous centre in early 2019. Yet again we see the same pool, fitness gym (165 stations), studio facilities and cafe as many of its contemporary centres. An important difference to many is the 8-court sports hall and Clip ‘n Climb installation.
On the football scene. Burnley entered the leisure centre ‘premier league’ when Prime Minister Theresa May opened Burnley FC’s new £4.5M Leisure Box in 2019. The Leisure Box is Burnley and Pendle’s new community leisure facility, based at the iconic Northlight site in Brierfield. Operated by Burnley FC in the Community (Burnley FC’s official charity), it has seen the old warehouse section of the former Brierfield cotton mill transformed into a 133,000 square foot leisure facility. The Leisure Box was made possible thanks to investment from the Premier League, The FA and Government, through their charity, the Football Foundation. Burnley FC in the Community netted a £611,732 grant from the Football Foundation to support the internal fit-out of the facility. The works included the implementation of an indoor 40m x 30m third generation (3G) artificial grass pitch (AGP), a sports hall, cricket lanes, a gym, a café, classrooms, a youth club space and a dance studio. The Box provides brand sport, health and wellbeing opportunities for all sections of the community. Pendle Borough Council itself completed a refurbishment of Pendle Leisure Centre in 2019. The work, part-funded by Sport England’s Community Asset Fund, includes an extension to the gym, refurbishing the reception area and dryside changing facilities, replacing the sports hall floor, and updating the lighting.
2019 Haverhill Sports Centre
As we see with Burnley’s Leisure Box, the occasional innovative conversion can still arise. However, one of the UK’s most successful and long-lasting conversions is that of Jubilee Hall in London, operated by the Jubilee Trust. The Jubilee Hall was built in 1897 as part of London’s fruit and vegetable market. When the market left Covent Garden in 1974, local people campaigned to save Jubilee Hall to use as a low-cost community-based recreation facility. It became a successful central London centre from 1978, based on fitness gyms. It has developed as it has gone along. However, in 2019 the Trust agreed a £650K investment, including a £150,000 grant from the London Marathon, which enabled a remodeling of the Grade II listed building to maximise its triple height ceiling and natural light, and to create additional exercise spaces. A Les Mills immersive cycling studio and new community café were also added. The Jubilee Trust operates three other London health, fitness and sports centres in Hampstead, Southwark, and the Westminster gym in the Houses of Parliament (won on competitive tender). Haverhill Sports Centre was an early, pioneering joint provision centre in Suffolk. It was the brainchild of Sir John Hill, Chief Education Officer for West Suffolk County Council and opened on October 1st, 1971. It served the local community for nearly forty years until a £5.2M refurbishment (see 2009). 10 years later in 2019, under the leadership of St. Edmundsbury Borough Council, a further refit costing £1.5M was completed. The gym was extended, and a new studio space added. Alongside, the Samuel Ward Academy sports hall was enhanced and linked through a community use agreement.
Wychavon District Council’s Evesham Leisure Centre (first opened in 2009) had an extension and refurbishment and was re-opened in January 2019 by local Paralympian Rebecca Redfern. The £3M project saw the fitness gym extended, and provided two new exercise studios, a treatment suite, meeting rooms and made other improvements. It brought the overall investment in the site to £13M. Leiston Leisure Centre was redeveloped in two phases by East Suffolk Council in 2019, following Deben Leisure Centre’s refurbishment in September 2018. The work builds on the Council’s 2014 Leisure Strategy to invest £10M in centres. Waveney Valley Leisure Centre, Bungay, and Lowestoft’s Waterlane Leisure Centre were to follow in subsequent years. The new and improved Leiston Centre opened fully in August 2019 after undergoing a £4 million redevelopment. The redevelopment is a good example of the scope of many refurbishments and was completed over two phases, with Phase One reopening in June 2019 and Phase Two reopening in August 2019. Phase One included the swimming pool, which had many improvements, including new lighting and retiling of the pool surround, and a new addition – a thermal suite with a sauna and steam room, feature shower and relaxation area. The reception area was rebuilt with an enhanced view of the pool and an enlarged soft play area. Phase Two included a new spacious fitness suite, two new dance studios and a cycling studio, as well as improvements to the squash courts and the sports hall. A major £11M project led by Bath & North Somerset Council to transform the ageing Keynsham Leisure Centre began in May 2018 and was fully completed by September 2019. The squash courts, sports hall, main pool hall and 60-station gym were refurbished, and a new teaching pool added. The council secured £500,000 of funding towards the project from the National Lottery through a bid to the Strategic Facilities Fund, which is administered by Sport England.
Northumberland County Council’s Wentworth Leisure Centre in Hexham completed refurbishments with a greatly enhanced gym and a newly designed modern reception and café and the conversion of the bowls hall. The project cost £698,000 and was financed by Northumberland County Council as part of ambitious £65m county-wide investments to upgrade and transform sport and leisure facilities. The centre now boasts one of the best gyms in the North-East with upgraded changing rooms. Allerdale Council’s Keswick Leisure Pool had a £180,000 overall gym refurbishment completed in early 2019.