Winchester Fit for the Future is a community project run by volunteers, under the auspices of the Winchester Sport Art and Leisure Trust. It brings together local sports clubs and stakeholder organisations in the Winchester area.
We are working to secure a lasting legacy from the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. Our efforts are focused on developing sustainable and accessible community sports facilities, as poor facilities are the major constraint to improving sports provision locally, particularly for children and young people. Prior to our project, Winchester was not well placed to draw on the legacy of London 2012, due to gaps in sports provision and an ageing public leisure facility that was too small. Many of our community sports clubs lacked a base, struggled to access existing facilities, and had long waiting lists as a result.
Our priority has therefore been to secure a new sport and leisure centre to serve the City of Winchester, its surrounding District and broader catchment. We have achieved this initial goal and a new centre – with a flexible 50m swimming pool – has now been built at Bar End. It opened to the public in May 2021 – a decade after we set up the Winchester Fit for the Future project!
Starting in 2011, we undertook detailed research and analysis, consulting national governing bodies for sport and local experts. We developed community proposals for a centre to expand participation in sport, support training, and host competitions and other events. These were published in May 2012.
Our research, and that of others, indicated the need for and the long-term viability of several core sports facilities in Winchester, including:
- a 50m community pool, with dividing boom(s) and variable depth – now available in the new sport and leisure centre at Bar End
- a sports arena that can accommodate 3 competition standard netball/basketball courts – not yet available; the sports hall at Bar End is too small and has no proper viewing gallery, bleacher seating or team changing
- a gymnastics and trampolining facility – now available via a new community gymnastics centre developed by Treasure Gymnastics in Winnall (see their website)
- indoor facilities and spectator seating alongside the athletics track at Bar End – not yet available
This BBC South Today report in 2012 outlined the key challenges faced by the city at that point:
An unique relay from the London 2012 stadium to Winchester's own athletics track highlighted the chance to build an Olympic and Paralympic legacy for our city and district. We submitted a petition to Winchester City Council on 7th November 2012, encouraging them to work with clubs and other local institutions to develop a new competition-standard facility. In total, the petition gained 3434 signatures and was endorsed by 14 top athletes or high-profile members of the Winchester community. Studio Four Architects then helped us develop site plans and design concepts that reflected the Winchester Fit for the Future proposals: the most popular layout and design set a new building alongside the athletics track at Bar End and incorporated all the core sports facilities listed above, with a strong emphasis on sustainability. A short video summarising the community proposals and a vision for Bar End can be found here.
As Winchester City Council developed its own proposals, from 2013 onwards, we gave extensive feedback on these (see examples here, here and here), gave evidence to the Council’s Informal Scrutiny Group on the issues, and made many statements to various Council committees. We also worked with local clubs and governing bodies to develop additional proposals for specific facilities – such as those for gymnastics and trampolining and indoor athletics – and we put forward "commitments to hire" certain types of facility. In 2014, we set up a new charity (the Winchester Sport Art and Leisure Trust) and we even started some community fundraising, including through our 2012 Hours and SOS Save Our Sports campaigns.
This community effort culminated in the Council agreeing in 2016 to build a new centre at Bar End with a 50m pool and 12-court (3 netball/basketball court) hall. Following a sustained community effort (including our Open Letter), the Council purchased the Garrison Ground from Tesco PLC. At last, the Council had secured the right location, for a facility with a good specification! Hooray... we thought.
Unfortunately, in 2017, the Council's Cabinet opted to scale back their plans, in response to pushback from their officers, consultants and architect, reducing the size of the sports hall and removing spectator seating; even then, their cost estimates continued to escalate. The final cost of the new centre is around £43m – roughly twice the best estimate we received ourselves from affordable contractors. In 2018, the Council opted to tender for a commercial leisure operator to manage the new centre – rather than setting up a community trust or other local entity to do so – and Everyone Active was appointed in 2019. Both the tender pack and contractual agreement have been withheld from the public, and even from most city councillors, but among other things they have excluded our local swimming club from offering lessons at the new facility. Indeed, as it opens in 2021, many city clubs are struggling to secure bookings at the centre, particularly for competitive use.
So, our work continues – to identify opportunities to improve existing facilities and develop new ones. Our community sports facilities fund is being held in reserve for this purpose. We are also supporting the local boxing club as they work to find a new home in the city, and we have helped local charity The Pavilion Project in their efforts to secure a new high quality community pavilion for the North Walls Recreation Ground. We will of course support any efforts to improve the athletics facilities and synthetic turf pitches at the Bar End sports stadium, as and when these projects are progressed by the University of Winchester and/or others.
In addition to our work on facilities, the Winchester Fit for the Future project has worked to secure a sustainable legacy from the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics in other ways, for example by compiling a Guide to Winchester’s Community Sports Clubs to give local people a taste of what’s on offer locally. There are MANY great community sports clubs and other organisations in and around our City, providing low-cost and sometimes free provision for children, young people and adults. Our community sports sector needs support, now more than ever.