Major names in the world of athletics have trained in Southampton and the stars of the future are making a name for themselves today – but many people are unaware of the city’s Outdoor Sports Centre.
Kriss Akabusi, Roger Black,Todd Bennet and Euan Thomas … they all have something in common beyond being some of the finest athletes to represent our country on a global stage.
These are just some of the great names who have trained at Southampton’s Outdoor Sports Centre, a green oasis of sporting prowess on the edge of Southampton.
Few cities can boast such picturesque facilities. Opened in 1938, there are 150 acres of outside green space where you can run on the athletics track, play cricket, hockey, netball, tennis or football including walking football, enjoy cycling, have a go on the dry ski slope, test yourself on the assault course or have fun at the crazy golf.
“There have been some great runners who have been associated with Southampton Athletics Club and the Outdoor Sports Centre,” said Mary Axtell, Club President, Southampton Athletic Club.
“Roger Black, Kriss Akabusi, Paul Saunders and Euan Thomas – it was a golden era.
“Todd Bennett was an Olympic silver medallist and one of our coaches, he was so charismatic and a really great guy – we still miss him to this day.
“We’ve got a great track, the future talent and good coaches – but we really do need the facilities to match.
“It would be great to be able to hold big meetings here like we used to do,” said Mary.
While everyone agrees the sports centre is a major asset for the city, there is no doubting it could do with some improvements.
Dave Henson MBE represented GB at the Rio Olympics winning a bronze medal in the men’s T42 200 metres. He is a member of the Southampton Athletics Club but cannot train at the sports centre because of the facilities.
Richie Pearson, (Chairman, Southampton Athletic Club) and Mary explained with a wry chuckle that training outdoors in the winter on the running track has probably helped make their club members a hardy lot.
“We are now in the Premier Division of the British Athletics League and we have some great talent coming through,” said Richie.
“It would be great to see the sports centre brought up to date with the sort of facilities that will help our athletes to continue to compete at the highest level.”
Southampton City Council conducted a comprehensive consultation exercise in 2016 with more than 1,200 stakeholders sharing their views. Nearly everyone (93 per cent of respondents) agrees the facilities could do with an update and there’s broad agreement that priority should be given to:
• a new sports hub (to include changing rooms,event space and indoor sport space)
• infrastructure improvements including car parking
• cycling improvements
Lyn Hand, Chair of the Friends of Southampton Sports Centre, said the Friends were delighted at the response to the citywide consultations and were excited that the facilities would be updated for the future use of all city residents.
“The Sports Centre is a wonderful site, able to provide significant health benefits through exercise for all, whatever their ability, age and gender; from walking through to competitive sports,” she said.
Major Projects Manager at Southampton City Council, Tina Dyer-Slade, said progress was being made and improvements would be subject to securing external funding and grants.
A club hub would provide good quality changing rooms, event facilities and an opportunity for coach briefing rooms.
“We are getting a lot of encouragement from governing bodies such as the Lawn Tennis Association and England Athletics. Sport England is highly engaged with helping the venue move forward,” she said.
Christine Benning from England Athletics is also encouraged by the plans to improve the facilities for athletics users at the Outdoor Sports Centre.
“We are particularly pleased to see that the plans include a Sports Hub which Southampton Athletics Club will be able to use in the future.
“This new facility would provide additional facilities in the south which could be used to support our programmes of Coach and Officials education and development courses in the area.
“We also hope that as well as benefiting existing athletes, coaches, officials and parents;the improved facilities will help to attract new volunteers into our sport,” she said.
Mike Harris, Director of Growth at Southampton City Council, explained Places for People, a major player in the leisure market, who are working in partnership with Active Nation, and manage leisure centres on behalf of councils, are pulling together a vision for the Outdoor Sports Centre. There would be opportunities for businesses to support the future development.
“It is about making the Sports Centre fit for the 21st Century and we are keen to explore opportunities for private sponsorship and partnership.
"We see the improvements being phased and the hub could be the first improvement we make," he said.
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