£6.7 million Sports’ facilities opened by the Minister for Sport: “for Durham University and the community” (Minister for Sport, Hugh Robertson, MP.
(3 March 2012)
The new £6.7 million facilities in the Graham’s Sport Centre at Maiden Castle were officially opened by the Minister for Sport and the Olympics, Hugh Robertson, MP, on Tuesday 21st February.
The Director of Student Experience, Dr Peter Warburton, treated three of the esteemed guests - Mr Robertson, Charles Johnston (Director of Property for Sport England) and Chris Higgins (Durham University’s Vice-Chancellor) - to a guided tour of the Graham Sports Centre, which was being used by a range of athletes, from Great Britain Olympic trialists to children from the local community.
The main focus of the tour 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. On the day members of Durham University Boat Club were modelling it, under the direction of the Club President and Geophysics student, Franz Imfield. Franz, who one a silver medal coxing the Great Britain men’s VIII at the U18 Junior World Championships in 2009 and has coxed Durham University’s top men’s boats, was able to combine his scientific and rowing knowledge by helping in the design of this new and outstanding piece of equipment.
Will Fletcher, a Durham University student and member of Durham University Boat Club, expressed his satisfaction with the new facilities for the reason that they will allow, “hands-on coaching in all weather conditions”. It is hoped that this will help build on the Club’s already impressive program, led by Wade Hall Craggs (ex- British Olympian single skull), which has helped twenty-one of its members to represent Great Britain at U21 and Senior levels in the last eight years. For Will at the moment, superior facilities are of the utmost importance because he has recently been asked to trial for Great Britain’s Senior Lightweight Four for the London Olympics.
As the Minister for Sport highlighted in the speech he delivered, the margins for success and defeat at elite level are often so fine, but the best facilities can make those “crucial differences”. Team Durham hope that Will is going to be the first of many to reach the very top level with this new springboard.
In the upstairs section of the new extension to the centre, they received some instruction from Kira Roberts (currently ranked 5th in the country in women’s sabre division) in the new fencing facility. It is the only one of world-class standard in the country, fitted with four ‘competition’ and four ‘practice-dedicated’ fencing pistes, as well as wheelchair fencing frames, which Team Durham hope will give the necessary boost to the training of Durham Student and Paralympic hopeful, Gemma Collins.
However, this luxury will also be shared with the wider sporting community. Durham Regional Fencing Centre, which offers training for all ages and abilities, are being welcomed to fence at the Graham’s Sport Centre, and the wheelchair fencing facilities are set to host training camps in preparation for London 2012 and Rio 2016.
Further on in the tour, the Minister declined to have a bat against the bowling machine in the indoor cricket nets, but he appeared to enjoy speaking at length with Durham University cricket academy members Holly Colvin (England Women’s International), Seren Waters (Kenyan International) and Luc Durandt (Durham University’s record run scorer for a University season), asking them about there time at Durham and their future careers in the sport. Each one of them expressed their individual desires to continue at the top level once they leave the academy program; this would continue a well-embedded habit of the first ever cricketing University Centre of Excellence in the world, led by Head Coach and ex- England and Lancashire batsman, Graeme Fowler, which has helped to develop over forty test and county cricketers. However, the young players showed a breadth of perspective that appreciated the Durham University environment that encourages academic and sporting excellence.
Maiden Castle also boasts an extended sports hall, a performance analysis suite, 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 purpose built boat house. Team Durham are grateful for the funding of all of these outstanding developments, which came from Durham University, alumni donations and a 500k grant from Sport England.
The last contribution was made as part of Sport England’s Places People Play funding, a £135 million National Lottery and Exchequer investment that is aimed at “making sure that people who are inspired by the Olympic Games will have the support of really great facilities” (Richard Lewis, Sport England Chair).
“With a rich heritage of participation both within the university and the wider community,” said the Sport England representative, Charles Johnston, “it’s fantastic to see Durham University build on this with the Graham Sports Centre”.
On the day his opinions were being substantiated by demonstrations of Durham University Boat Club’s ‘Learn to Row’ scheme, a program being spearheaded by Emma Hall-Craggs (Team Durham Assistant Director of Community Outreach in Sport) and Francis Highton (Vice-President of Durham University Boat Club), which arranges for Durham University Boat Club members to coach students from Durham School and local community schools.
The wider University, of which 92% participates in sports (the best participation rate in the country), will also be allowed to use the new facilities via their college sports clubs.
Chris Higgins, Durham University’s Vice-Chancellor, emphasised how proud the University is of its exceptional sports’ participation level and how the sporting provisions at Durham are part of a wider curriculum: “the skills you learn through sport, through arts, through volunteering are skills for employability and skills you need for life”.
Whilst there are several potential Olympians and potential Paralympians amongst Durham University students this year, others from the University and the community have the luxury of training alongside and being coached by this exceptional talent.
What was established on the day is that Team Durham, the Minister for Sport, and Sport England anticipate that the revamped Graham Sport Centre will inspire and nurture the skills and virtues of all who use it.