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'Space-age' Leisure Centre opens doors to the public

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

'Space-age' Leisure Centre opens doors to the public thumbnailNEWRY, Mourne and Down District Council Chairperson, Councillor Roisin Mulgrew, MLA's, Councillors and Senior Council Officials proudly unveil a plaque to mark the official opening of the new state of the art Newry Leisure Centre.

"WHAT we were striving for here was excellence and that is what's been achieved," said Chairperson of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council (NMDC), Roisin Mulgrew, as she accompanied me on the reveal tour of Newry Leisure Centre.

On the eve its grand opening last Thursday, the Democrat received a sneak-peak guided tour of the magnificent, state-of-art 22million complex from Kieran Gordon, Head of Indoor Leisure strategy for NMDC, and Roland Moore, Head of the Outdoor Leisure Strategy for the council.

Whilst it can often be very easy to enter into the realms of hyperbole, I can assure you that in the case of this fabulous new facility, any accolades or praise that come its way are well-deserved as, right from its inception at the planning stage, through to the execution of that plan, and to the cutting of the ribbon at it's unveiling on Thursday, it has been a resounding, unequivocal success story for everyone involved in the project.

From the sheer physicality of the building - it's dimensions, the sports halls (replete with retractable stadia seating for 354 spectators), the studios, multi-purpose rooms and the soft play area - to the phalanx of classes, lessons, membership packages, as well as the Core Cafe, which will prepare a swathe of healthy and nutritious meals, it's abundantly clear that a painstaking, methodical degree of effort, endeavour and detail has been exerted to ensure that it is truly a centre for the entire community.

This, explained Kieran, has been at the heart of everything the council have strived to achieve.

"This building has been designed in accordance with Disability NI requirements and we're hoping to be the very first leisure centre in Northern Ireland that achieves the full Disability Sport NI Excellence Accreditation," said Kieran.

"That has been the main ethos that's been overriding every decision that we've taken within this facility.

"From the design features in this building, right from the accessible spaces and the circulation spaces, our toilet areas, even the Braille and the font on our signage, the colour and reflective elements.

"You've also got different coloured elements have been achieved between the wall and the floor, so that a visually impaired person can see where they're going.

"We run all of our design features through a company called LeisureWatch, who help us design these types of centres with the more vulnerable adults and children in mind. The key has to be inclusivity and we need to break down barriers and hopefully that's what we'll do.

"We have been earmarked here as a Disability NI Disability Sports Hub, which we're massively proud of. We're also delighted that the Irish Football Association have committed to it as well with a new up-and-coming sport called Futsal, so we're hopefully going to be a centre of excellence for them."

Ushering us into the main sports hall, Kieran said that the versatility of its design enables the hall to stage anything from football to netball, basketball to volleyball, futsal to boccia and much, much more in the hope of attracting national and international competitions and events to Newry.

"The beauty about this space is that it has the flexibility to be divided up to so many different functions.

"We should be fit to attract regional and national competition. It links into one of the council's corporate objectives of wanting to get more people into the district and promote this area as a key destination."

Innovative acoustic curtains, which enable the hall to be divided up to stage events simultaneously free from distraction from each other. Kieran showcased the near space-age remote-controlled removable flooring - which wouldn't look out of place in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey - to unveil the trampoline pits.

Explaining the benefits of the cutting edge technology, he said: "In most traditional leisure centres if anyone from a wheelchair perspective wants to the use the trampoline, they have to suffer the indignity of getting hoisted up on a trampoline sometimes up to five foot high."

Francie Craven, a gymnastics and trampolining coach who, before his retirement, worked for 34 years at the old sports centre, added, "The initial thinking behind it was that the kids now that are enjoy the trampoline are getting older and heavier obviously they're growing up. You can't get them up onto the trampolines.

"Now we don't have to, we can just wheel them on."

Whilst the council have aimed to provide a top-class, multi-purpose, pan-generational facility for the area, Kieran said that value for money for the ratepayers investment was also integral to every decision.

"From a pricing point of view, these things aren't going to be pitched at at significant prices, we had a very clear and transparent pricing strategy. We're not the highest and we're not the cheapest, we're hopefully going to be providing a premier facility for affordable prices.

"Our membership options range from 3.60 per year, right up to 29.95 [monthly]. 3.60 gives an OAP unlimited access to the swimming pool for the year.

"For the gym you have membership packages that start at 15 a month, right up to 29.95 a month for a full paying adult. That gets you the gym, group exercise classes, your inductions, your fitness assessments, the swimming pool."

There is also a 'Buddy Scheme', whereby a disabled member of the Leisure Centre can bring in their carer, or Buddy, to help assist them with their workout, for free.

Kieran added, "We're hopeful that there's something there for everyone, from OAP's right up to Buddy Card systems and the concessionary rates that we give for students."

Council Chairperson Roisin Mulgrew is hopeful that the facility will become a beacon for the entire community.

"It's absolutely superb and reflects the 22million that has been spent by the council on the new leisure facilities within Newry city centre," she said.

"Our theme, as we go forward with the community plan, is 'Living Well Together' and this facility caters for absolutely everybody, irrespective of their ability or disability.

"To come in here and see that we have facilities that are not replicated on the whole island of Ireland, or England, Scotland or Wales. Every sign includes Braille, we have the sunken trampoline pit which will allow wheelchair friendly access.

"But the whole point of the facility is that any family could come in here, and every single member of that family - from a newborn baby to a grandparent - could find something to do, and that is very exciting for the city.

"There's a huge amount of thought that goes into these things, they take a long time to deliver because there's no use in throwing up something that's average.

"Being physically fit has a knock-on effect on just about every part of our medical life; in terms of diabetes, our cholesterol, our heart, our lungs function, so coming into a facility like this, and in providing a facility like like this we hope will have a knock on effect improving the quality of people's lives."

 Roland explained that the council consider themselves to be mere custodians of the centre.

"The council is absolutely committed to improving people's wellbeing by giving them opportunities to be active, not just in this facility but also in investment in outdoor play-parks and sports facilities.

"This is the community's leisure centre and we're here to manage it for you. We want as many people through this door to help them become active."

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