How well are Harrogate and Knaresborough’s new leisure centres doing?
Jan 24, 2024
Cllr Simon Myers

New leisure centres opened in Harrogate and Knaresborough late last year.

Now that both have been operating for some time, the Stray Ferret set out to discover how well they’re doing.

The centres were part of a £47.9 million investment into local leisure provision by Brimhams Active, which Harrogate Borough Council set up to run leisure services.

Brimhams is now owned by North Yorkshire Council, which plans to abolish it and bring leisure services back under direct control.

Harrogate exceeds target

Harrogate Leisure and Wellness Centre has exceeded its membership target in the months since it reopened, North Yorkshire Council said.

The leisure centre, which was formerly known as the Hydro, re-opened its doors in September following an 18-month transformation.

The £13.5 million refurbishment at Harrogate included creating a 400-square metre fitness centre, a new sauna and steam room, improved reception and café areas, as well as an overhaul of the existing spin, leisure and swimming facilities.

The Jennyfields site also boasts three swimming pools: a 25-metre lane pool, a diving pool and a children’s pool. But the refurbishment wasn’t plain sailing and ended up £1.5 million over budget – so has it paid off?

A spokesperson for the council told the Stray Ferret the membership target for Harrogate, up to January 2024, was 2,060. It currently has 3,079 members  – more than 1,000 above target.

Cllr Simon Myers, the council’s executive member for culture, arts and housing, said he was “in awe” of the site’s success so far:

“People are very impressed from what I’ve been told.

“A lot of people I know have moved over from private gyms and they’re really taken by it. But we do have to keep it up.

“I’m in awe of the staff and the management at both sites. I find the public sector surprisingly visionary. I’m the luckiest portfolio holder in the country.”

Harrogate Leisure and Wellness Centre’s pool.

Knaresborough Leisure and Wellness Centre

Knaresborough Leisure and Wellness Centre opened its doors in December. It was built on the former Knaresborough Pool site and cost £17.5 million.

Work began in April 2022 and the centre was originally due to open in summer last year, but the opening date was repeatedly delayed until last month.

Although it is early days, so far it has not had the same success as Harrogate.

The council membership target was 1,400, but so far there have been 1,164 sign ups.

Cllr Myers attributed the shortfall to opening during the Christmas period:

“The Christmas period goals aren’t getting fit – unless someone is very virtuous – but levels are certainly picking up.”

Knaresborough Leisure and Wellness Centre’s immersive spin studio.

The Knaresborough site offers a six-lane 25-metre swimming pool, a leisure pool and slide, and a 60-station fitness suite.

Like Harrogate, it also boasts a sauna and steam room, a café, a group cycling studio and a studio for fitness classes.

Cllr Myers said:

“The building is so good — that did my heart good. What an achievement it is.

Brimhams has brilliant staff. The ethos is really good. They’re very welcoming and know how to engage with people in all abilities.

“I take it from being at both places, I think people have been so blown away by the result of public investment in public facilities.

“We want to deliver the best experience in the same way the private sector can – we need to look at what marvellous space have been created. Every bit of the building earns its keep.”

Cllr Myers also said 500 people visit the leisure centres in Harrogate and Knaresborough each day.

Starbeck Baths and Ripon leisure centre

The Stray Ferret also wanted to know what plans, if any, are in place for Starbeck Baths, which has long been under the spotlight as the council’s next potential project.

We asked what the success of both Harrogate and Knaresborough would mean for the future of the Starbeck site, to which Mr Myers responded:

“At the moment it’s in the very early stages.

“I know some residents would really like an answer – especially since it’s been a bit of an unknown for a while — but we will try and get on with it. It’s a huge piece of work.

“It’s against a backdrop of difficult times in public finances. But we do know in the pounds we invest in leisure, we save money elsewhere for NHS, for example.

“I think we can justify investment into leisure and wellness even in the most cynical of financial times.”

The Stray Ferret has also closely followed the saga surrounding Ripon Leisure Centre.

The Jack Laugher Leisure and Wellness Centre has not only faced the most bumps – or holes – in the road, but also the biggest expenditure of the three.

Although the site officially reopened in March 2022, Ripon residents are yet to see the full transformation.

An article last week reported the original budget for the project awarded to contractor Willmott Dixon in November 2019 was £10.2 million and it was scheduled for delivery in 17 months.

But £18 million and more than four years later, members are still using a temporary gym in the car park and attending fitness classes at Hugh Ripley Hall in the city centre.

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