Headington School officially opened its £3.4m dance and fitness centre in April 2015. The centre was designed in conjunction with leading fitness and performance experts from Elite Sport Performance Technologies, who also provide support for a number of national training centres and Premiership football clubs.
The dance and fitness centre’s facilities include a 270 sq m fully equipped dance studio with a Harlequin Activity Floor, as used in a number of world-renowned ballet schools; a high-performance fitness centre, equipped to support national athletes using the latest cross-fit equipment, weight racks and body kinetics; a fully equipped Technogym Artis cardio-vascular suite including treadmills, Vario cross-trainers, cycle machines, rowers and kinesis stations; a cycle studio equipped with 20 spinning bikes to support group classes; a rowing centre equipped with 26 Concept 2 Ergos; and changing facilities to allow 120 girls to change concurrently.
“Our goal was to provide the best possible facilities to allow all girls to find a sport they can enjoy and pursue – but also to provide first-class facilities for our elite athletes,” explained Headington’s Performance Director, Ryan Demaine. “Within that, our principal objective was to offer world-class dance teaching facilities – and indeed we now offer classes including street dance, ballet, Pilates and contemporary.”
The school also wanted to improve its provision for its record-breaking rowers. “Each year our rowers compete on the national stage, and our boat club is among the best in the country: but, prior to the new centre, they were operating and training out of a ‘shed’,” continued Ryan. “This facility allows us to train far more rowers – from those who will make our first eight and even national squads, to others wanting to row purely for enjoyment and for the physical benefits it will bring.”
All pupils benefit from the facilities, whether via games and PE lessons, lunchtime spinning sessions or extra-curricular activities. Time is also set aside each week for boarders to use the facilities outside the normal school day. The school has also added extra staff to get the most from the new facilities, including two strength and conditioning coaches who work with elite performers representing Great Britain in rowing, netball, hockey and other sports.
All this investment is clearly paying off. “We are seeing increasing numbers of our sports teams achieving national finals, with our netball and cross-country teams both qualifying for national finals this year,” revealed Ryan. “We are also the only rowing school to have qualified for every Henley Royal Regatta. Our alumnae include Paralympic Gold medallist Lily van den Broecke and Rio Olympics Silver medallist Katie Greves. And, crucially, more girls are continuing their sport into and after their university studies, including an increasing number of pupils going on to US Ivy League universities.”
“At the elite end of the spectrum, we are seeing a higher level of retention in our rowers and a more serious attitude towards sport,” continued Ryan. “The girls feel that they are being taken more seriously so they are more serious about it.”
Beyond that, though, the aim with the new centre is to inspire pupils towards a lifelong participation in sport and exercise – whether that’s being more comfortable lifting weights, training confidently, running marathons during their post-school career, or simply continuing with a favourite sport.
“Statistics show a huge drop-off in sports participation among teenage girls – and that is what we are trying to combat,” concluded Ryan. “So far, all the indications are that this is working – the girls absolutely love using the facilities.”