PLANS to carry out a massive refurbishment of Stratford Leisure Centre were first tabled by the district council back in 2012.
A host of consultations followed before building work began towards the end of last year.
Less than ten months on, the project has finally been completed and the centre is set to be officially reopened by Olympian Becky Adlington on Saturday (October 3).
Keen to get the lowdown on its £5million transformation, Observer deputy editor Laura Maltby went for a sneak preview of the new facilities with centre manager Gareth Wagg.
WALKING through the doors of the newly-revamped leisure centre, it’s hard for your eyes not to be drawn to the multi-coloured climbing walls that stand loud and proud at the front of the new entrance.
Along with a new studio offering interactive classes, two fully refurbished swimming pools, and a completely revamped sports hall, the climbing walls are one just one of many changes to the council-owned building.
“People might say £5million is a lot,” admits Gareth. “But it’s been a huge transformation and when you break it down, it’s actually been money well spent.
“Equally, the centre has not undergone such a large refurbishment in its lifetime and with many parts of the building reaching the end of the road, something had to be done.”
The chance to be part of such a huge refurbishment was actually what drew Gareth to leave his post as manager at neighbouring Shipston Leisure Centre around two and a half years ago.
And has the experience lived up to his expectations?
“Definitely,” he laughs. “Of course, it was harder to see the light at the end of the tunnel when the building was in the demolition phases.
“But as a manager, you rarely get the opportunity to be involved in such a large-scale project and I feel like I’ve been given a new centre to work with, which is very exciting.”
So what’s been the biggest challenge? And were there any doubts over whether the transformation could be pulled off on time and in budget?
“I think we always had faith we could complete the project within the anticipated time frame.
“The development team had weekly meetings so if something was running slightly behind or we had any issues, we were made aware and took steps to address them.
“Given the age of the building we were extremely lucky there were no showstoppers and we could maintain a ‘business as usual’ approach during that time.
“The real challenge was the logistics of keeping the centre open while the works were being carried out and if anything gave me sleepless nights, it was that!
“Fortunately our users have been really understanding and we’re incredibly grateful for the patience they’ve shown.
“Hopefully they, along with many others, can now start to enjoy the new facilities and will see it has all been worth it in the end.”
Of the new facilities, it is the climbing walls, which gets Gareth’s thumbs up. He believes the eight new clip and climb walls – a Midlands’ first – will be a big hit for both young and old.
“We’ve already booked our first climbing birthday party,” he confesses. “And the open day is full as well.
“It’s such an inclusive product with endless possibilities and I believe it is going to be one of the centre’s most popular draws.”
Gareth is also a fan of the new interactive Les Mills classes, which will allow beginners to have a go at group exercises without the pressure of being surrounded by others.
But by far the biggest positive, he says, is the wealth of opportunities the centre will now afford to the people of Stratford district.
“We partner with a lot of schools and clubs but whereas, historically, they may have just swam here, we can now look to offer more sports and activities.
“With the new facilities there’s something for everyone – from tots’ swimming lessons right up to pensioners’ badminton – and that’s a huge plus not only for us but for residents too.”
And although the refurbishments have been a long time coming, Gareth firmly believes they were worth the wait. He added: “Everything is now much more up-to-date and the centre is lighter and brighter as a result.
“The new facilities will not only help us cater for a growing and more active population but also mean we can offer a huge range of activities in the heart of town.
“The centre has effectively been given a new lease of life and I believe it’s the start of a really exciting time for the people of Stratford.”