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Morpeth Sport and Leisure Centre racks up industry award nominations

SINCE opening in April 2023, the new £21m Morpeth Sport and Leisure Centre has become a cornerstone of the community in the town. Continuing its huge success, it has been shortlisted for not one, but two construction industry awards.

A sophisticated example of how well-designed facilities can strengthen social cohesion and inclusion in an aesthetically pleasing hub, the centre has been shortlisted in the Public Sector Project and Community Benefit Project categories of this year’s RICS North East Awards.

Commissioned and funded by Northumberland County Council and Advance Northumberland, this project was designed by leading firm GT3 Architects and constructed by Willmott Dixon. Located at the edge of the town centre conservation area and sitting beside the River Wansbeck in Gas House Lane, the new facility acts as an exciting bookend to the existing high street.

Along with the sporting facilities – including a six-lane swimming pool and spectator gallery, learner pool, spa and fitness suites, studio and multi-use sports hall – the centre incorporates a new community services hub. This includes a double-height community library, a customer service centre, a café and soft play with connections to a poetry garden and outdoor terraces, plus a brand-new adult learning facility with classrooms for a number of courses.

Since opening, the new centre has enjoyed a 200 to 260 per cent increase in swim, gym and class visits and a 165 per cent increase in community members.

Paul Reed, director and sport and leisure lead at GT3 Architects, commented:

“We knew from the very first discussions about revitalising Morpeth’s leisure centre that there was a huge opportunity to design a new typology of public building – one which embraced social cohesion, community, and wellbeing, just as much as sporting excellence.

“Naturally, as architects, we are keen to ensure our buildings fit their context and can be considered visually as great designs, however a more important driver is that people enjoy and interact with the spaces. Our design team worked hard to create a flexible and inclusive destination, which better supported the various community and sporting groups within the area, whilst also offering new users a reason to visit.

“We’re incredibly proud of the story the numbers tell about the resulting impact on the local community and delighted that the centre has been recognised by RICS. We hope Morpeth Leisure Centre will continue to deliver tangible and enduring social value for the region, offering a new model for cohesive leisure and community delivery.”

The GT3 Architects design team also focused on carbon reduction and sustainability by introducing a large-scale photovoltaic roof array to provide reliable energy source and CO2 savings. They also included a series of building-wide heating and cooling solutions to minimise waste energy.

Paul continued:

“Our sustainability strategy for Morpeth was built on three core pillars – social, environmental, and economic. There’s little point in designing the most environmentally sustainable facility if no one wants to be there. As well as more than doubling the use of the sport facilities, the council has been able to generate additional income while consolidating its overheads and feeding into social fabric of the town.”

Northumberland County Councillor Jeff Watson, Cabinet Member for Promoting Health Lives, said: “The design of the centre is truly spectacular. It is bright, spacious and takes advantage of the beautiful views of the River Wansbeck. It is an incredible building, and a vibrant community space offering the facilities and activities that the local community want. This has been backed up by the record attendance figures since it opened a year ago.”

Jo Robison, director at DPP planning, said: “The building is an amazing success and has already become the heart of the community.

“The site was a complex one in planning, heritage and flood risk terms but through careful engagement and clever design responses, the team has created a public building that brings people together for good and we are incredibly proud to have played a part in that.”

The shortlisted projects for the 2024 RICS North East Awards will be judged in the coming months, with a number of judge’s recommendations put forward as finalists for the national awards later in the year.

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