Durham County Council’s Cabinet has approved the preferred sites in Seaham, Chester-le-Street and Bishop Auckland, which will support the county’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, regenerate local communities and improve the physical and mental health of residents.
The new build centres are part of the council’s multi-million-pound leisure transformation programme, which aims to develop innovative services in a sustainable way, positively impact communities and better meet the needs of residents and visitors.
In addition to the new leisure centres, the ambitious transformation programme will see facilities refreshed at the council’s current leisure centres and the introduction of new activities to reflect changing trends. The plans aim to improve the physical and mental health of residents, helping them to live long and independent lives and provide long-term benefits to communities across the county.
The preferred sites will promote further regeneration of each town as well as having a positive impact on the wider area. This will support the county’s recovery from the pandemic; contribute to the council’s commitment to environmental sustainability and a low carbon future; and, help to deliver the best possible outcome for communities as part of the authority’s Towns and Villages strategy.
Cllr Carl Marshall, the Cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “This ambitious, innovative leisure transformation programme is going to make a huge difference to residents across County Durham and I’m delighted that we can continue to move forward with these plans now that the sites for our new centres have been approved.
“The new leisure centres will transform communities and transform lives. As well as helping to regenerate Bishop Auckland, Chester-le-Street and Seaham, the programme will create benefits to the wider area and provide much-needed support to our economic recovery, particularly with a wider programme of activities on offer and more accessible leisure facilities across the county.
“The pandemic has highlighted to us all how important it is to stay healthy and active, for our mental wellbeing as much as our physical health. Our new and improved leisure offer will help people to achieve that, through improved fitness and through facilities that help communities come together and interact with each other.”
The council has considered a number of factors in deciding the best locations for the new leisure centres and will invest £78 million in the leisure transformation programme.
Leisure facilities in Seaham will be provided across a dual-site, featuring a new centre at St John’s Square and improved community and outdoor facilities on the existing site. As well as helping to regenerate the town, the improved existing facilities will maximise health benefits.
At Chester-le-Street, the new leisure centre will be developed on the former Civic Centre site. This will provide ample space for development and parking, while further sport and leisure opportunities will also be explored at the Riverside site.
In Bishop Auckland, the new centre will be built at Tindale Crescent to support regeneration. However, a proposed community hub is planned on the existing Woodhouse Close site, with new facilities co-designed by local residents, helping to further develop social and community opportunities for the town.
Residents will be able to access the current sites during construction of the new centres, ensuring no disruption for leisure users.
Father-of-three Darren Handyside, aged 53, is a strong believer in the benefits of leisure facilities. Darren suffered life-changing injuries in a car crash in 2012, which left him needing a wheelchair and suffering from mental health problems.
To support his recovery, Darren was assigned a personal trainer through the council, and when he moved to Barnard Castle, he began swimming lessons at Teesdale Leisure Centre in order to build up his strength. Darren said: “I was in a wheelchair when I first started and I wasn’t able to do very much. I would spend just 10-15 minutes at a time in the swimming pool but I then progressed to 30 minutes swimming, then again to an hour, thanks to the encouragement of the staff.
“The staff are brilliant here. Being able to meet new people and interact with the staff, who are now my friends, has made a huge difference to my recovery and mental health. They have supported me every step of the way. I was in wheelchair when I was first started swimming and though I still need a walking stick now, I know that I have come a long way thanks to the support I’ve received.”
Keira Chippendale first became interested in sport when she joined Staindrop Academy, where she is now head girl. The 16-year-old became one of the first members of her school’s new community gym and plays for Bishop Auckland Netball Club.
Keira said: “When I’m at the gym I feel really energised, focused, and happy as it takes my mind off anything that’s going on. For young people, keeping fit is very important as it doesn’t just affect you now, it affects you in the future too. It’s also good for your mental wellbeing as you’re going through school as you have so much to learn but the physical activity helps to keep your mind fit, which helps you learn.”