The long overdue opening of the new facilities in Durham University’s Graham Sports Centre at Maiden Castle happened on Tuesday, 21st February.
The Conservative Minister for Sport and the Olympics, Hugh Robertson, came from London to inspect the impressive developments and unveil a plaque to mark the occasion.
In total the investment is worth £6.7 million and it follows the opening of the £5.5 million sports centre at Stockton in 2010.
Peter Warburton’s often-cited mantra whilst he was Director of Sport for Team Durham was “Investment in people”, and accordingly he pumped funding into the employment of full time coaching staff, rather than developing the somewhat outmoded 60s facilities at the Maiden Castle site.
However, Ex- England International and Durham Head Coach for Cricket, Graeme Fowler, pointed out that “You do need the facilities for people to operate within.”
They include an open plan cantine/foyer area, a performance analysis suite so athletes can monitor and improve their technique, three dedicated physiotherapy treatment rooms, a multi-purpose dance studio and x-bike training room, a rowing ‘Ergo’ gallery housing 28 stations and a new boat house for the University Boat Club.
However, the centrepiece of the day was the £1 million indoor rowing tank, one of only three in the United Kingdom, which simulates the movement and feel of a boat through water and allows hands-on coaching in all weather.
Keen swimmers at the University, who currently share the public facilities at Freemans’ Quay Leisure Centre, might remonstrate that there is a rowing boat in their pool.
However, such developments have been made possible through a munificent rowing alumni and the backing of a partnership with British Rowing. If the funding was not predominantly given up to rowing, the likelihood is that it would not have been given at all.
Another highlight of the new facilities is the world-class standard fencing specific facility, the only one of its kind in the country, which includes wheelchair-fencing frames that were being demonstrated by Paralympic hopeful, Gemma Collins.
The Minister for Sport’semphasis in his speech was that these developments would bring the spirit and inspiration of the Olympics to the communities of the North East of England.
He stated, “You can somehow, if you are in this part of the World, feel a long way away from the Olympic developments – you emphatically shouldn’t”.
Pointing to the sparkling facilities around him in the new foyer at Maiden Castle, he recognised that it is “efforts like these” that make the crucial “small differences” – O.1 of a second, or half an inch – that have a massive effect for elite athletes.
But also the hope is that the exceptional achievements of elite athletes, won through the help of facilities like those now at Maiden Castle, will serve to enthuse athletes at the university and in the wider community.