In September 2010, a planning application was submitted by Ebbsfleet Community Sports Centre to the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham for the construction of a brand new £8.1m sports facility in Mayesbrook Park, Dagenham.
Fast forward to March 2012 and the completed site – now known as SportHouse – was officially opened for business by a host of famous dignitaries, such as Gleeds ambassador Sir Steve Redgrave CBE, International Olympic Committee member Sam Ramsamy and Margaret Hodge MP.
As one of just three newly-built Games-Time Training Venues, SportHouse will host international athletes from Olympic handball and athletics, as well as competitors from Paralympic judo and wheelchair rugby, all of whom will be competing in this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Following the Games, the multi-sport facility will provide a lasting sports legacy for the East London area, by delivering world-class training facilities and sporting opportunities to the local community.
So where did the vision for SportHouse, come from and how will the site sustain its success and appeal when the curtains come down on what will undoubtedly be an extraordinary summer of sport for London and the UK?
Turning vision into reality
The concept for SportHouse was conceived by CEO Mike Stimson. Having previously worked in international banking and property investment, Stimson took his first step towards delivering his vision by setting up Ebbsfleet Community Sports Centre (ECSC) – the company behind SportHouse – in 2010.
“I believe that more people, in particular children, should have the opportunity to play sport and use the best facilities available,” Stimson says. “In my opinion, the sports market has been overlooked during the last 15 to 20 years and the main benefactor of this has been the health club market. SportHouse is my solution to delivering a premium, affordable, alternative sports training facility.”
Built at a total cost of £8.1m, SportHouse was part-funded by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) to the sum of £3.9m and this enabled Stimson to secure the remaining funding from Tiodos Bank.
Both elite and community use
“Crucially, SportHouse has not been developed exclusively for elite athletes,” he says. “We believe that by creating a world-class sports facility we can have a significantly positive effect on the local community and provide an environment that allows professional athletes and members of the public to train alongside each other to maximise their potential.”
SportHouse is home to the UK’s largest – and Europe’s second largest – multi-use sports hall. It also has two state-of-the-art gyms containing 300-stations, a 250-cover restaurant and bar and two full-size basketball courts.
In addition, the centre has direct access onto the existing Mayesbrook Athletics Arena which is situated next door. Also a Games-Time Training Venue, the eight-lane track was completely refurbished following a £2m investment from the ODA, at which time new long- and triple-jump pits, changing rooms, kitchen facilities, a warm-up area and a sports medical room were added.
Architecture and design
Designed by architect David La Riche from LRK Associates, SportHouse sits within 4.2 acres of the 45 hectare Mayesbrook Park. Existing buildings were demolished to make way for the new facility which includes new changing rooms and two external multi-purpose courts.
The project’s lead contractor, Morgan
Sindall, was responsible for the construction and delivery of the project. “This was one of the last Olympic projects to get funding from the ODA, so we had an extremely tight time-frame and budget to work with”, says Morgan Sindall’s managing director at the London Office, Peter Jacobs. “However, it’s been a real privilege to work on SportHouse – the facilities are going to have a life-enhancing impact on the local community and seeing the site come to life has really brought the proximity of the Olympics home to the people who live in this area.”
Elite and community support
The two gyms at SportHouse cover a combined 1,000sq m of floor space and house 300 pieces of cardiovascular and strength training equipment, including a fully-inclusive range of Cybex fitness equipment, accredited by the Inclusive Fitness Initiative (IFI) programme.
“We’ve worked closely with Mike Stimson and his team, since their visit to IHRSA in 2011, when they tested out fitness equipment from all manufacturers before choosing Cybex,” says Rob Thurston, commercial director for Cybex UK.
“The relationship between Cybex and SportHouse will continue to strengthen as we recognise the shared values between both parties; the high-performance design of Cybex equipment will help to support SportHouse’s vision to deliver a sports facility that caters for the sports and training regimes of a wide section of users of all abilities.”
The sports hall
But althought SportHouse has an excellent range of facilities, it’s the 5,000sq m, multi-use sports hall that enabled the site to qualify for the title of Games-Time Training Venue. Designed for maximum versatility and flexibility, the clear-span space can be configured as four full-size handball courts or futsal pitches, six netball courts or 54 badminton courts at any one time.
The flooring used in the sports hall – which was laid in just five weeks – was designed, manufactured and installed by Gerflor, a specialist in resilient flooring solutions. “The sports hall features 5,000sq m of Gerflor’s Taraflex™ Combisport flooring,” says Darren Wood, Taraflex sport manager for Gerflor. “This floor system will help deliver community through to elite athlete performance, while offering users both safety and comfort.”
Contributing to the individuality and distinctiveness of the venue, the flooring has been produced in London Blue, a colour mixed exclusively for the London 2012 Handball Arena and SportHouse.
Temporary flooring has also been provided in accordance with the requirements of the London 2012 Organising Committee for the Olympic Paralympic Games (LOCOG), to support the training needs of the wheelchair rugby athletes.
From autumn 2012, SportHouse will also include a spectator arena, within the sports hall which will be capable of accommodating between 200 and 2,500 spectators. The arena will be used for national and international sports events, club competitions and local school and college activities, as well as for concerts and live music events.
Ensuring sustainability and commercial success
While SportHouse will undeniably contribute to a lasting sporting legacy, the long-term success and longevity of the venue will ultimately come down to its ability to attract regular members.
“The success of SportHouse is based on the level at which the local community engages with the club and its facilities,” says Nicola Addison, director of sport and leisure consultancy HBA, which was appointed as part of the leisure consultancy team for ECSC and has acted as the advisory body on aspects central to the project’s delivery. “We set ourselves an ambitious target, but we achieved a 95 per cent conversion rate from membership enquiries, so we signed up more than 1,000 founder members after just seven weeks of pre-sale activity,” she says.
The commercial strategy behind SportHouse is value for money, with the most expensive gym membership priced at £39 a month. Unlike many gym memberships, the minimum sign-up duration is just six months; discounted memberships are also available for off-peak use, as well as corporate and joint memberships.
“With memberships starting from £1 a day, the SportHouse commercial model delivers a world-class training venue for a cost directly in line with that of local authority sports facilities,” says Addison.
SportHouse also offers a ‘pay as you play’ option; users can pay for one-off visits to the gym as and when required.
The HouseKey – SportHouse’s annual access card – provides guests with unlimited access which includes the use of the ClubHouse restaurant and bar, the ability to pay for single-use gym sessions and bookings for the sports hall. To complement the affordable monthly gym memberships, HouseKeys are priced at a maximum of just £40 a year.
In line with the facility’s Olympic legacy strategy, SportHouse is already looking beyond this summer’s major international competitions. The facilities have become a focus of attention from a number of national governing bodies including the English Handball Association, The FA and England Netball, which have all expressed interest in being involved in the longer-term use of the site.
Alongside this, the venue is already being used as a training camp by the Brazilian and Norwegian women’s Olympic handball teams during London 2012 Games time and it will play host to a senior international futsal match between England and Denmark later this month.
“What makes SportHouse unique is its ease of accessibility, which is reflected in its portfolio of users, says Stimson. “Visitors are just as likely to see an international elite squad training in the gym as they are a local school team hiring out a five-a-side court in the sports hall.”
What’s next for ECSC?
For Stimson and his team, SportHouse is just the start of bigger and better things to come. The hard work and dedication will carry on as the venue continues to prove the unique commercial model underpinning the success of the site.
“With the first SportHouse up and running,” he says, “ECSC is already exploring similar opportunities both internationally and across the UK. We’ve already been approached by a number of key individuals who recognise the value that a site such as SportHouse can deliver to a community. However, for the time being, our current focus remains on ensuring our management team at SportHouse continues to deliver a first class, fully-inclusive, commercially successful sports facility in the heart of East London.”
Lauren Applegarth is a freelance writer