Inside Barkingside’s London 2012 Olympic training venue

Redbridge is already enjoying the benefit of this summer’s Olympic Games through a state-of-the-art �7.6million sports hall.

On May 3, the Duke of Gloucester, will officially open the latest development at Redbridge Sports Centre, in Forest Road, Barkingside – a badminton and netball arena in which Olympic and Paralympic athletes will train.

Seven years in the making, it includes studios and a hospitality room which can be used for yoga, pilates, boxing and table tennis to name a few.

It means there are a number of sporting benefits for the borough.

It was funded by �2million from the charitable trust which runs the centre and then through a variety of other organisations including the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), Badminton England and England Netball.

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Ken Leggate, the centre’s chief executive, said: “It’s a massive legacy. This building will remain available to the community in perpetuity.

“And to be a Games time training venue is a huge honour.”

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The three-storey arena is the most ambitious step in the ongoing growth of the sports centre since it opened in 1972.

Then, under the guidance of its life president, the late Norman Booth MBE, it had four squash, five badminton and five tennis courts.

Now there are 50 indoor and outdoor courts for racquet sports and netball, football pitches and a 100-station fitness suite, with facilities available on a pay-and-play basis.

For the Olympics, all badminton competitors will take advantage of the arena to sharpen their skills ahead of their matches at Wembley Arena.

The venue was built to Olympic specifications, meaning it has a highly sensitive climate control system which won’t alter the flight of the shuttlecocks as well as regulation flooring and lighting levels.

Matt Reynolds, the centre’s business development manager, said: “It’s attention to detail to get to the required levels, to tournament levels and then the Olympic standard is a whole level on top of that.”

Judo and wrestling squads will also train in two indoor tennis halls which are being fitted out by Games organisers LOCOG before the arena gets further use as a training facility for the Paralympic Games’ goalball teams.

The honour of involvement in the Games will mean some disruption for the centre’s more than 6,000 members, the majority from Redbridge.

For four-and-a-half weeks during the Olympics the whole centre will be closed to the public and during the Paralympics the arena will be out of bounds.

But Matt believes it is more than worth it with arrangements being made to let members use Caterham High School in Caterham Avenue, Clayhall.

He said: “It’s 12 weeks of disruption but it’s a small price to pay for a building of this quality compared to what we could have done without the support of LOCOG and the ODA.”

The arena opened in January, with construction starting a year before, and it can be configured to have three banks of four badminton courts or three netball courts.

Seats can be pulled down to house 500 spectators as well and an under-21 netball game between England and Wales was staged in March.

Providing badminton facilities drove the development, according to Matt, but the overall use will be wider.

He said: “Because badminton is so popular – we have 350 people in our badminton club – there was an urgent need to expand the facilities.

“We were looking at how to build here and with the Olympics, it made it super ambitious.

“We can get other uses out of it.

“The main focus was sport, to get as much sport use as possible, but we want to make sure it’s well used.

“Everyone gets access, anyone can come in and play in a world class facility where Olympic athletes will play.”

Dance lessons, with a programme being developed by Isaac Fletcher, who appeared on Sky reality show Got to Dance, will feature and the 78-year-old Finch Stage School will provide 30 hours a week of tuition.

And as Matt hints, the arena may not be the final stage of development.

With ten building phases since its inception, it will be worth keeping an eye on the centre in the years to come.

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