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University of Cambridge proposals could create sports hub for town and gown at West Cambridge site

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Lacrosse player at Selwyn College as part of the University of Cambridge sports pictures exhibition. Picture: Elodie Giuge
Lacrosse player at Selwyn College as part of the University of Cambridge sports pictures exhibition. Picture: Elodie Giuge

A new swimming pool, indoor tennis centre and additional indoor facilities form part of the long-term strategy for sport at the University of Cambridge and the wider community.

Sport, physical activity and wellbeing are at the forefront of plans to develop a greater collaboration between town and gown, the Cambridge Independent can exclusively reveal.

The blueprint to create a sports hub at the West Cambridge site, home to the University of Cambridge Sports Centre, has been on the agenda for a while but is being refreshed following the success of the recent development at Wilberforce Road.

The sportsground that includes the university running track is also the base for hockey and, last year, saw two new pitches built at the venue – taking the total to three – thanks to the generosity of a donor whose sons had enjoyed their time at Cambridge City Hockey Club.

“I think it’s been a real success because it’s worked well for the city club and university clubs, it’s also given a breath of fresh air to the ground as a whole,” said Nick Brooking, Cambridge University director of sport. Wilberforce Road is also the home of Cambridge & Coleridge Athletic Club which, like the hockey, has a thriving junior section.

“We’ve got work still to do there. We still need to put some more work into the pavilion to improve changing rooms and other aspects off the field.

“Culturally, it’s been a real message that university sport is trying to be outward facing and inextricably linked with the community.

“Clearly, our students, student clubs and university staff will come first but, in this day and age, it will only work if you do things in partnership.”

Facilities for not just the university students and staff but also inspiring the wider community, young and old, is at the heart of the plans.

Therefore, any future development will be a joint venture between town and gown.

That brings to the table the question of a new swimming pool, with current city provisions under pressure because of demand.

Pictures from the University of Sport exhibition going into the University Library. Picture: Elodie Giuge
Pictures from the University of Sport exhibition going into the University Library. Picture: Elodie Giuge

“It’s clearly in the city council sports facility strategy, as Wilberforce was to create a hub site for hockey,” said Brooking.

“It’s a clearly identified priority for the extra water space the community needs. The ideal location for them and for us is that it’s based here at the West Cambridge sports centre – both in terms of its links to an existing sports operation so it’s effective in that respect and geographically.

“It would stop a lot of people having to pile through the central Cambridge traffic to go and swim. People coming out of the city would be going against the traffic or cycling or walking out from town.

“At the same time, our own students won’t have to go miles and miles to a venue where they can swim, play water polo fixtures or do their triathlon training.”

With the growth of the city and the popularity of tennis, the pressure has built on the demand for more indoor courts.

Provision was based on the original feasibility development plan for West Cambridge, and nothing has changed.

“The city council, in their strategy, picked up the need for more courts so we’re also looking at that at the moment,” said Brooking.

“The key thing for us is that the university use will have priority in terms of programming, but the students are only here for a relatively small part of the year.

“Their needs wouldn’t sustain a facility on its own so we absolutely will be hand in glove with community use. It’s got to be a strategic approach to sport provision to make the most of what the opportunities are.”

Another aim is to create more space for indoor activity at the sports centre.

With Trumpington Boxing Club and the university’s boxing club using shared space along with town and gown martial arts clubs, the hope would be to have more indoor space for ‘combat’ sports. This, in turn, would free up more room for activities such as fencing, group exercise classes and general sports use.

It would create a sports hub at West Cambridge as part of a wider sports corridor for the community that would start at Grange Road, include Wilberforce Road and also ‘humanise’ the West Cambridge site as it develops.

“There is a masterplan for the site, it’s got a long way to go in terms of building out,” said Brooking.

“It’s a little bit sterile at the moment, I think it’s fair to say. There’s not currently a social gathering place with activities so whether you want to use the gym, take up a new sport, go for a swim or just come and meet friends – this could and should be a great place.

“The sports centre was always identified as the community facility and – looking forward – if you think about the desire to attract commercial research as part of the West Cambridge development, we need to be thinking about providing not just a gym and sports hall but the thing that most people want in Cambridge – a swimming pool.”

Sports consultants Strategic Leisure, who worked with Cambridge City Council and South Cambs District Council on their joint Sports Facilities Strategies in 2016, will be working with the University Sports Service to carry out demand analysis, revenue and capital modelling and will be consulting with a wide range of stakeholders including student and community clubs, colleges and staff over the next six months.

With the Strategy for Sport approved in 2017, the ambition for improved sports facilities and programmes to enhance the student sporting experience now features in the university’s fundraising campaign.

Cambridge University Cricket Club in action at Fenner's.
Cambridge University Cricket Club in action at Fenner's.

Grange Road and Fenner's

Plans are afoot to breathe new life into some historic sports venues in Cambridge.

Grange Road and Fenner’s have their places in rugby union and cricket folklore, but are starting to show their age in places and both have dated pavilions, with inadequate changing rooms.

“They are two fantastic, historic, heritage-rich sports grounds from back in the day, and back in the day they were ideal,” said University of Cambridge director of sport Nick Brooking.

“For the standard of the players, and especially for the women players who now play at Grange Road, what we have at the moment is not suitable. It’s still very much based on the male rugby of the 1970s.”

It is a similar story at Fenner’s, where, when he played for Essex at the start of April, Sir Alastair Cook was getting changed in facilities similar to 1960s school changing rooms.

“There is something that says that’s what’s great about Cambridge – the heritage, the history, the amateur ethos – but you have to be serious about sport these days and what’s expected,” added Brooking. “To continue to attract and inspire people to play sport, you need to give them a sense of place and a venue that’s appropriate.”

In the next two years, the university rugby club will celebrate its 150th anniversary and the cricket club its 200th birthday, and both milestones are central to fundraising campaigns.

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