By George Bond
Maiden Castle will soon undergo a major redevelopment of its facilities, in a move that will allow the site to grow its reputation as the hub of Durham sporting activity, both as a university centre and for the wider community.
The build, which remains subject to planning permission, will allow for the accommodation of 2200 students returning from Queen’s Campus, as well as an increased international student body.
Current student participation in sport at Durham is 75%, which Team Durham are keen to boost up to 80%. This, combined with an ever-expanding student body, generates even greater need for an expansion of Maiden Castle’s facilities, which currently run close to full capacity.
Maiden Castle is used by over 2000 community members across more than 20 clubs, such as ParkRun and Durham City Harriers AC. Free coaching from local clubs is provided to the university’s athletics and fencing clubs, as just two examples of where community partnerships benefit students.
Also prominent in Team Durham’s minds is the need to ensure that facilities enable clubs to perform out of their own facilities. For example, bleacher seating and specific ceiling heights are a necessary requirement for basketball, badminton and volleyball to compete at the highest level.
The rebuild comes as one of the first funding moves of Durham University’s new 10-year strategy. Speaking to Palatinate, Quentin Sloper, Director of Experience Durham, expressed his immense gratitude that sport had taken a high priority on the university’s strategy, noting the significant benefits this would have for levels of sporting participation and ability for students and locals alike. Contributions and fundraising from Durham’s alumni community will also play an important role in the project.
The rebuild includes a vast array of changes to existing facilities, as well as several new developments. The water-based astroturf, used primarily for hockey, will be re-surfaced, whilst the sand-based astroturf will become water-based, as well as being shifted closer to the main road. Both pitches will now accommodate sports beyond hockey, including ultimate frisbee and baseball.
Moving the location of the current sand-based surface will allow for a new indoor squash and tennis facility to be added onto the end of the existing main building, which will house four courts for each sport. Similarly, the football pitch inside the athletics track will be converted into Maiden Castle’s third rubber crumb astroturf.
The main building at Maiden Castle will also see major changes. The café will double in size, with the extra space allowing for a more private section. It is hoped that this will allow students to work at Maiden Castle in a more conducive academic environment. Also doubling in size will be the car park, which already suffers from overcrowding and will now be able to deal with the extra traffic from the increased student body.
The strength and conditioning facilities will also be expanded. The current fitness suite will become a martial arts dojo and boxing hall, with a desperately-needed 100-station suite being added alongside. The new fitness suite will also include spaces for dance and aerobics, affirming Team Durham’s commitment to state of the art health and wellbeing facilities.
A climbing wall will also be added, with the existing sports hall becoming the new home of college sport. College sport is indeed one of the key focuses of this project, being described by Mr Sloper as the “crown jewel” of Durham University sport.
One of the key additional facilities at Maiden Castle will be a 12-court indoor hall adjacent to the main reception, which will accommodate the likes of netball, badminton, futsal, volleyball and basketball. This was particularly necessary given the volume of both university and college sport which is currently played away from Durham University facilities or at Queen’s campus.
Sport labs will also be introduced, which will host elements of the academic Sports Degree programme. This will be highly beneficial in terms of the labs’ sports science capabilities, allowing students to interact with professional sports scientists and elite athletes on a regular basis. The labs will feature a 30-metre gate track, used for sprint timing and analysis.
There will be a new cricket centre installed on the edge of the existing pitches. This will include facilities for indoor college cricket, which currently take place at Durham School. The centre will also act as the university club’s pavilion for matches at Maiden Castle, which has until now mostly been the team’s second home after the Racecourse.
Similar projects have recently been undertaken at Nottingham and Birmingham, for roughly the same cost. However, these have almost exclusively involved replacing existing facilities, leading to temporary reduced access for students. Team Durham instead plan on constructing the new buildings first, which will allow them to move their operations there for a short time whilst the existing main building undergoes its renovations. Maiden Castle’s rebuild will also, of course, be focused on increasing the number of facilities and adding to the site, rather than merely renovating what already exists.
Converting Maiden Castle into a hub of sporting and community activity was a high priority for the project leaders, which shows in their push to move as many facilities as possible to the site. Team Durham are eager for Maiden Castle to become the UK’s premier university sports park, in turn reducing the need for teams to travel far and wide to find sufficient facilities.
In order to ensure that the rebuild specifically meets student’s needs, Team Durham will be running several consultation days throughout the next month. Students are highly encouraged to put forward their thoughts on how Maiden Castle can best be improved, as well as the kinds of activities offered. This is especially important given the number of new students that will be arriving in Durham. Team Durham are anxious to not be prescriptive in their changes, and instead want to respond to what the student body desires most.
Consultation days will cover every sport and are by no means restricted to those currently involved in university or college teams. Students will also be heavily involved in Maiden Castle’s new branding concept, which will aim to present Durham as both an elite performance university, and one which wants to engage students, staff and members of the local and regional community at all levels.
Building work on the project is hoped to commence over the coming summer, continuing into the following academic years. Whilst the project does not yet have a final completion date, the hope is that the new facilities will be finished in time for the end of the Queen’s Campus transfer, which is currently set at summer 2019.