New sports facilities in independent schools
Independent schools installed an array of cutting-edge sports facilities in 2019: Simon Fry reports on the ribbon cutting
On dry land and water, indoors and outside, the last year saw schools launch a host of new installations, some opened by big names in the sporting world. These new buildings and equipment are being used by pupils and the schools’ wider communities, bringing positive results on the pitch and further afield.
Lancashire’s Rossall School’s new £4m sports centre was officially opened by England Lioness, Millie Bright, on 15 October 2019, following over two years of fundraising.
She said: “I’m honoured to open this amazing facility which will provide all pupils at Rossall School with the opportunity to participate in indoor sports.”
The centre, which boasts an indoor sports hall with basketball nets, cricket nets and provisions for netball, indoor hockey and many other sports, a four-lane 50m sprint track, a viewing gallery, male and female changing facilities and multiple classrooms, is a vital part in the school’s development plan.
From taking six girls to their swim squad sessions at a local school last year to welcoming upwards of 20 girls at swim training each week, the difference our new pool has made to our swimming programme has been significant indeed
Headmaster Jeremy Quartermain said: “We are delighted Millie agreed to come and open our sports centre. She is an excellent role model not only for girls but for all young people intent upon fulfilling their true potential.”
In addition to providing first-class sporting facilities for existing pupils, it is hoped the new centre will raise the profile of Rossall School at national and international level. The centre represents part of the school’s ongoing commitment to the people of Fleetwood, being as much a community sports centre as a school facility. It is already being used extensively for training and fixtures by local sports clubs including Fleetwood Town Football Club and Wyre Netball Club.
Sky star opens stellar pool
At the other end of England, 13 September was lucky for the pupils of St George’s School in Ascot where sports presenter, journalist and former pupil Kirsty Gallacher unveiled the all-girls school’s new swimming pool complex.
The £5.6m facility took just over 12 months to complete. An indoor six-lane 25m swimming pool now adjoins the existing sports hall and boasts a stunning view of the school’s extensive playing fields through magnificent, south-facing panoramic windows.
The facilities have prompted a tremendous response, according to headmistress Liz Hewer: “We have seen a huge uptake in swimmers attending training sessions since the pool’s opening. From taking six girls to their swim squad sessions at a local school last year to welcoming upwards of 20 girls at swim training each week, the difference our new pool has made to our swimming programme has been significant indeed.”
The school has been able to introduce after-school swim sessions and an early morning session which are all well attended by squad and non-squad swimmers. “The girls are really seeing the benefits of training in our own pool; they are constantly improving on technique and this is evident in their performances at swimming fixtures. Times have improved at competitions and other schools have commented on the improvement to our squad!”
The new pool has allowed St George’s to introduce swimming into its curriculum for first to third year girls and offer swimming as an option for fourth year to sixth form PE lessons. Alongside competitive swimming, pupils can choose from a diverse range of experiences including synchronised swimming, water polo and water safety. The hope is to host life-saving courses and swim teacher training to enable pupils to learn skills helping them beyond school.
The sky is very much the limit, according to Liz. “As well as 11+ and 13+ swimming scholarships we are delighted to now offer 16+ swimming scholarships and our aim is to establish a top-flight swimming club attracting elite swimmers to train and compete at our pool.”
Team GB siblings praise elite-level facilities
There were more alumni on hand at The Grange School, Cheshire, where former pupils Emily and Tom Ford, along with head of the school Debbie Leonard, opened a new £6m sports centre to members of the public in the autumn 2019 term.
The Ford siblings row with the GB team and are aiming to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Tom said: “It’s an amazing space. We are lucky enough to be able to train at the English Institute of Sport in Bisham Abbey, which is a huge, purpose-built sport facility. Some of the equipment you see here is on a par with that, which is great. I think it’s amazing to see a facility like this here, which can allow people to take their sports further.”
The building’s pinnacle is the large, multi-purpose sports hall which can be used as a premier netball court, four cricket lanes, four badminton courts, a full-size basketball court and indoor hockey and football pitches. An impressive climbing wall boasts overhangs at the highest levels, a gym has strength machines, exercise bikes, rowing trainers and treadmills while a spacious dance studio can accommodate all dance types, especially ballet with a ballet barre, as well as exercise classes.
Pupils have already been making themselves at home in the centre, with the under-11s netball team, cheered on by parents, beating Putney High School to become national champions as part of the Sisters in Sport competition when the centre was open to pupils’ use in May.
Leonard also comments on wider community benefits: “The sports centre will enable the school to work with clubs and associations to develop pathways beyond school. We have had some very supportive members of the community, from parish council to residents.”
St Mary’s inspires new rowers
Since St Mary’s School launched its ambitious vision for rowing, almost 100 girls aged 11–18 have discovered a passion for Cambridge’s most iconic sport.
As Cambridge’s only all-girls school, St Mary’s is keen to increase opportunities for girls in rowing.
In September 2019, the school opened a state-of-the-art boathouse, providing senior school and sixth form students access to exceptional facilities and coaching.
The boathouse, on the River Cam, provides excellent access to the water and is well-stocked with single, double and quadruple sculls. It offers an extensive gym for land training, plus a comfortable social area and balcony, which provides an ideal space for parents to meet and relax, whilst their daughters train.
Stuart Cain, St Mary’s rowing co-ordinator, leads a team of six coaches who train three St Mary’s squads. St Mary’s rowing programme provides a clear pathway from beginner to performance level rowing and racing at local and regional level.
Looking to the future, a high-performance St Mary’s squad is planned, which will enable talented rowers to compete at national level. Ultimately, for elite athletes, this pathway could culminate in trialling for Team GB.
Enthusiasm for rowing at the school has never been higher. Sireen, a rower in the Learn to Row squad said: “I love rowing with St Mary’s, I have just started as a beginner and my technique and fitness have improved in a short time, as the coaches are great. Rowing gives us a great feeling of teamwork and I have made lots of friends whilst training.”
Sport offered wholly at Holy Cross
In June 2019, Surrey’s Holy Cross Prep School, in partnership with S&C Slatter, completed construction of a £1.25m sports investment project which included two all-weather pitches, four floodlights, a sports pavilion complete with veranda/viewing platform, and a cross-country run around the facilities’ boundary.
The school has a ‘sport for all with excellence’ policy with activities now expanded significantly beyond the core curriculum sports which included hockey, netball, cricket and athletics. Numerous opportunities are available before, during and after school as well as during break and lunchtimes with high participation rates.
Russell Hanna, the school’s bursar, said: “Even at this early stage the school has hosted numerous fixtures across the sporting calendar and participated actively in prep and maintained sector events.
“All girls in years 3 to 6 have the opportunity to represent their school in a sports team.”
The fact that sports facilities provided to children at UK independent schools often match those used by Great Britain’s top athletes is proof of fantastic investment in their future. All will be exposed to the enjoyment sports participation brings, while some may compete, or even become medallists at subsequent Olympic Games.
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