The University’s planning and resources committee has approved an initial investment of over £300,000 to produce detailed designs for a scheme that may see up to £14 million committed to a transformation of sport at the University.
The scheme, which is subject to approval from the University Court, will reportedly include: a new eight-court sports hall / arena, a larger and better equipped fitness suite, a new four-court indoor tennis centre, a larger performance conditioning suite, increased changing provision, and a full refurbishment of the St Leonard’s Road sports centre and its reception areas. The University will attempt to raise £3 million from donors and alumni in addition to the investment of core funds. If approved by Court, the scheme will be addressed in three phases and is expected to take two and half years to complete.
In what will no doubt be music to the ears of regular gym users and those who feel that the sports centre is not up to scratch, the University has seemingly provided an answer to their prayers.
The plan, which has been carefully crafted by Jess Walker, the current president of the Athletic Union, and Stephen Stewart, director of sport and exercise, will provide a lasting improvement to the sporting life of the University.
Mr Stewart commented: “The University is seriously committed to improving both sporting services and facilities services offered to students. Over the last few years, we’ve undergone a number of improvements to both facilities and infrastructure, such as the appointment of three full time directors of sport, as well as an increasing number of head coaches, the creation of a student sport focused management team and the restructuring of the Athletic Union, all under the common umbrella of Saints Sport.
“This has been one of our biggest achievements because the relationship we have with them is symbiotic and so crucial to the redevelopment process, because after all, our key users are our students. The realignment has allowed us to concentrate much more closely on being student-focussed and provide for our performance sporting athletes as well as our regular users.”
Ms Walker, who is set to be replaced by Sarah Thompson in July, said: “Sport is such an important part of the student experience and can help young people build skills in team building and confidence, as well as the obvious health benefits. We have other developmental opportunities for our students too such as paid internships linked with other University departments, our volleyball outreach programme and the chance to take part in life-changing experiences such as UK Sport IDEALS, sport coaching in Zambia.
“The growth in student participation has grown tremendously in recent years, with membership of the AU being at its highest ever this year. Several years ago we could barely field a team at football, but now we can field four men’s teams and two women’s and our tennis club has grown to a staggering 300 members”.
Despite the sports centre at times hosting FC Barcelona, Manchester United, Everton and the Scottish national football and rugby teams amongst others, not to mention 56 sports clubs, it has often been regarded as a substandard facility for a student population of 7,700. The current centre was constructed in 1968 when the student population was fewer than 2,000. However, with such a plan now in place it seems the sport facilities will at last be brought up to speed.