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Morpeth Sport and Leisure Centre

Since opening in April 2023, the £21m Morpeth Sport and Leisure Centre has become a cornerstone of the community in the town, while being nominated for two industry awards

At the edge of the town centre conservation area, beside the River Wansbeck in Gas House Lane, the new Morpeth Sport and Leisure Centre acts as a sophisticated bookend to the high street. Along with a six-lane swimming pool and spectator gallery, a learner pool, spa and fitness suites, a studio and a sports hall, the centre also incorporates a community services hub, with a double-height community library, a café, and a soft play area with connections to a poetry garden and outdoor terraces. There’s also an adult learning facility. Commissioned and funded by Northumberland County Council and Advance Northumberland, the project was designed by GT3 Architects and constructed by Willmott Dixon. Paul Reed, director and sport and leisure lead at GT3 Architects, said: ‘We knew from the very first discussions about revitalising Morpeth’s leisure centre that there was a huge opportunity to design a new typology of public building – one which embraced social cohesion, community and wellbeing, just as much as sporting excellence. ‘Naturally, as architects, we are keen to ensure our buildings fit their context and can be considered visually as great designs. However, a more important driver is that people enjoy and interact with the spaces. Our design team worked hard to create a flexible and inclusive destination, which better supported the various community and sporting groups within the area, whilst also offering new users a reason to visit.’ The design team focused on carbon reduction and sustainability by introducing a large-scale photovoltaic roof array to provide reliable energy source and CO2 savings.

It also included building-wide heating and cooling solutions to minimise waste energy. Reed said: ‘Our sustainability strategy for Morpeth was built on three core pillars – social, environmental and economic. There’s little point in designing the most environmentally sustainable facility if no one wants to be there. As well as more than doubling the use of the sport facilities, the council has been able to generate additional income while consolidating its overheads and feeding into social fabric of the town.’ Since opening, the centre has seen a 200 to 260% increase in swim, gym and class visits, and a 165% increase in community membership. Northumberland County Councillor Jeff Watson, cabinet member for Promoting Health Lives, said: ‘The design of the centre is truly spectacular. It is bright, spacious and takes advantage of the beautiful views of the River Wansbeck. It is an incredible building, and a vibrant community space offering the facilities and activities that the local community want. This has been backed up by the record attendance figures since it opened a year ago.’ Jo Robison, director at DPP planning, said: ‘The building is an amazing success and has already become the heart of the community. The site was a complex one in planning, heritage and flood risk terms but, through careful engagement and clever design responses, the team has created a public building that brings people together for good and we are incredibly proud to have played a part in that.’ The centre has now been shortlisted in the Public Sector Project and Community Benefit Project categories of this year’s RICS North East Awards.

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