How leisure can be a regeneration masterstroke for communities

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The demand for leisure facilities continues to rise, but we all know sport can be a serious business. Whilst the traditional view of a leisure centre is informed from relics of the past, we’re now seeing these architypes break out of the box, literally and metaphorically, to deliver more wide-ranging experiences and aesthetics than before.

However, this does mean more complexity in these projects, where they certainly design for now, and the changing landscape to come.

The Marina Centre in Great Yarmouth is a classic example of ‘breaking free of the box.’ The new facility replaces its 1980s built predecessor, which was well loved over its forty-year service. It’s the lessons learned from this that have helped give birth to something completely different both in purpose and design.

An all-year-round destination

From the outset, the replacement of the Marina Centre was always meant to play a key part in Great Yarmouth’s regeneration masterplan. 

Like many English coastal towns, Great Yarmouth is a seaside resort which is keen to regain its popularity enjoyed during the last century, as UK families rediscover the joys of staycations. But it is in the seasonal effects of the tourism industry that the Town can go from booming to sleeping.

In part therefore, the Marina Centre was designed to help deliver experiences that would reach out beyond it’s walls and benefit the whole of coastal front. It would do this in two ways:

  • A wide range of exciting and accessible facilities
  • A literal connection between the beach and the ‘golden mile’

Most of the funding was delivered by the Council themselves, but injections from Sport England and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership meant this centre could achieve everything it wanted.

It now boasts two swimming pools (one competition standard and one with a moveable floor), and leisure water area including splash play and flumes, as well as a climbing wall zone, four court sports hall, spin studio, large gym, studios, spin room and a café that overlooks the pool and the beach beyond. As part of the project, the team also built a new 200 space car park, giving the centre an extra 100 spaces compared to before.

The scheme is literally built on the beach, and along with a glazed panoramic view of the beach, it enables users to move seamlessly through the centre whether they are using the main facilities or not – something people were not able to do in the old Marina Centre.

Since opening in August 2022, the centre has seen over 154,000 individual users, with even more using the centre as new access to the café and amphitheatre seating that gives views onto the golden beaches beyond. In fact, recent surveys have shown it has helped boost footfall along the coastline by 20% compared to pre-pandemic figures, meaning it is already achieving its goal of helping Great Yarmouth become an all-year-round destination.

Improving lives during, and beyond the build

The fact this place is boosting numbers on the Town’s coastline and therefore benefitting all the local businesses, is already helping to enrich lives. But wellbeing is another target area for the Council, with obesity, particularly in children, being one of their biggest challenges.

During the concept design stage, the Council really did their homework – they looked at what was happening in other parts of the country and adjusted that to reflect Great Yarmouth. Working closely with the operators, they made sure the pricing was right, so that along with accessible and inclusively designed facilities, it wasn’t pricing residents out. They continue to monitor this and they’re even offering free swimming lessons for children at the centre.

At Morgan Sindall Construction, our purpose is to create the inspiring places that enhance the communities in which we all live, learn, work, play, care and protect. So it’s a fundamental part of our DNA to deliver a project that reaches out to the communities beyond our hoarding, and long after we are gone.

During the project, we delivered more than £23 million of social value impact locally through work experience and apprenticeships, community volunteer projects, charitable work and positive sustainability initiatives. The team even designed the piling strategy around the needs to the marine life in the SeaLife centre near the project site.

The team that worked on the project were all local – they are people who could, and would, use the Marina Centre; this scheme directly impacted them. So much so, that many returned to the community in the summer to help regenerate a series of communal gardens in the Town, part of which was delivered through volunteering work where they spent an entire week painting fencings and laying new turf in the Town’s communal gardens.

What lies beyond

Based on the early surveys, it does look like the Marina Centre is proving to be the catalyst the masterplan wanted it to be, but it’s worth remembering it is just one piece of the puzzle.

What lies beyond this are a strategic series of interventions and developments that will keep this Town sailing high above its oncoming tides. 

What we’ve learnt together is that for a facility like the Marina Centre to be that catalyst, it needs the perfect balance of research, funding and design to help ensure it breaks out of its box and deliver way more than just a leisure centre. 

After all, it’s the lives it transforms beyond that matters most.