Brentwood Borough Council has officially opened a new, all-year-round activity hub, which has transformed an under-utilised recreation ground into an active, accessible environment that will encourage everyone in the community to move more.
The £7m scheme to transform King George’s Playing Fields in Brentwood began in January 2021 and has been delivered by Alliance Leisure, lead development contractor on the UK Leisure Framework, owned by Denbighshire Leisure.
The project forms part of the council’s 10-year leisure strategy. Running until 2028, the strategy outlines the council’s vision for a high-quality, accessible, affordable and financially-sustainable sport and leisure provision, which delivers a mix of facilities and services that will service the diverse needs of residents both now and in the future.
“The transformation of King George’s Playing Fields is an important part of Brentwood Borough Council’s ambitions to futureproof its leisure and recreation facilities. This project is a prime example of how to re-think public leisure provision, creating accessible and financially-sustainable facilities that will ensure a successful future for this much-loved park, while improving the health and wellbeing of local people,” said Ruth Ripsher, Business Development Manager at Alliance Leisure.
Creating a diverse, sustainable leisure provision
Prior to this investment, the recreation ground already offered a variety of sports and recreation facilities including a children’s play area, skate park, football and rugby pitches, bowls greens, a 1970s pavilion used by Hartswood Golf Club and a privately-run crazy golf course.
The purpose of the development has been focused on supporting the borough’s anticipated housing growth and the fulfilment of an ambition to increase participation in physical activity, especially amongst young people.
Following consultation with key stakeholders and the wider public, Alliance Leisure, working through the UK Leisure Framework with a dedicated supply chain of leisure specialists, has delivered a mix of facilities, both inside and outside of a new-build pavilion, that balances financial viability for the council with addressing the leisure needs of residents.
Planning for the redevelopment was secured at the end of 2019, but the pandemic meant that construction was delayed. Works finally got underway in January 2021 with most of the development opening to the public on 11th March 2022.
Accessible sport and physical activity for everyone
The project centrepiece is an impressive new pavilion which replaces a building previously occupied mainly by Hartswood Golf Club. Built in the 1970s, the structure required significant work to upgrade the site and transform the provision into a multi-purpose venue that would inspire and engage a much wider segment of the community.
Designed by Saunders Boston Architects and built by ISG, the new building, named the Hartswood Pavilion – is located adjacent to the current pavilion which is due to be demolished now that the new building is complete. It is a two-storey structure that has been sunken into the ground reducing its impact on the openness of the green belt and carefully considered composite cladding has been applied to the building exterior, which ensures it blends into its surroundings, complementing rather than defining the natural environment. The footprint of the new pavillion is also larger than the original enabling it to serve both the golf club membership and the wider public with an extended range of facilities, including the park’s first indoor play provision.
The high-quality, flexible space includes new changing rooms, a toilet and showers for local rugby and football teams, a golf clubhouse and Golf Pro Shop, as well as a bar with a terrace providing far-reaching views of the golf course, bowls club and surrounds. Other facilities include a flexible, multi-purpose room, a Changing Places facility, a cafe, a two-storey soft play facility designed and delivered by Play Revolution and a sensory room providing a safe therapeutic space to help individuals regulate, develop and engage their senses as they interact with and explore the environment around them.
The new pavilion also features TAGactive, an indoor immersive game-based obstacle course, also from Play Revolution, which can be enjoyed as an individual or with friends and family. The TAGactive arena features a number of challenges, including net climbs, cargo tunnels and ball pools, all of which have a number of tags within them which participants must tap with a sensor on their wrist. The more difficult the tag to reach, the more points achieved.
Driving revenue for a sustainable future
“Working through the UK Leisure Framework, the priority, in terms of design and delivery, was to create a destination everyone in the community could utilise both now and in the future,” adds Ripsher. “To achieve this, extensive feasibility studies were conducted prior to build, matching facility provision to latent demand. It was also important not to exclude any segments of the community due to accessibility or cost, hence the diverse mix of paid and free facilities supported by services that promote inclusion and access for those living with mobility issues and other disabilities.”
Supplementing the indoor provision are external facilities including an adventure play area. Designed by Kompan for children aged eight and above, the facility has a range of challenging structures – the highest of which measures circa 10m – and includes slides, towers and nets. Opening to the public in April 2022, all sessions are 55 minutes long.
Recently opened last month is a new, accessible splash pad. Developed on the footprint of the park’s former paddling pools, which were removed in 2017 for health and safety reasons, the splash pad from Ustigate is supported by a Changing Places facility, new toilets and a kiosk. The new space features nature-themed aquatic play structures and a variety of ground-water jets, such as sidewinders, directional jets and a cylinder spray, to provide a wide range of play opportunities.
Both the splash pad and climbing facility are chargeable, while the park’s recently-improved junior and toddler play areas are free of charge. The whole area is also served by a network of walking and cycling trails to encourage active travel.
Councillor Cliff Poppy, Brentwood Borough Council’s Chair of Community and Health Committee, said: “Brentwood Borough Council has invested more than £7m in the development of these facilities so that King George’s Playing Fields has activities all year round. The playing fields play a pivotal part in helping our community to improve their health and wellbeing.
“We were also committed to providing accessible facilities, such as the new splash pad, introducing two new Changing Places facilities, a new sensory room as well as brand-new soft play and the TAGactive facilities.
“In addition to the facilities in the new pavilion building, the council has also invested in the free outdoor play areas which not only makes for an exciting day out, but also has a huge range of challenging structures and high and lower level areas to be explored by adventurous children.
“As the weather starts to warm up, it is going to be great to see families enjoying all these new activities.”
Moving forwards, the site will be operated by Everyone Active on behalf of the Brentwood Borough Council. Everyone Active is Part of Sports and Leisure Management and is the longest-established leisure contractor in the UK. Duncan Jefford, Regional Director at Everyone Active, comments: “We’re delighted to be welcomed into the district’s community to continue our partnership with the council by managing the new King George’s Playing Fields alongside The Brentwood Centre.
“The playing fields will play a pivotal part in helping the community to improve their health and wellbeing and so we’re really looking forward to seeing visitors benefiting from our new facilities for years to come.”