Batchwood Sports Centre opens in St Albans on Bank Holiday Monday

1Life contracts manager Alex Bedford, head of community services at St Albans Council Richard Shwe

1Life contracts manager Alex Bedford, head of community services at St Albans Council Richard Shwe - Credit: Archant

Three years ago it was a suspected crime scene – a site swooped upon by firefighters and forensic experts who feared that, in the wake of the London riots, an arson attack had occurred.

But now, the patience of local tennis players and other sportspeople in St Albans has been rewarded as the long-awaited revival of Batchwood is finally complete.

Standing on the very site where Batchwood Golf and Tennis Centre was reduced to twisted metal and charred pieces is a £6.6 million world class sports and community facility, which opens on Monday.

Batchwood Sports Centre boasts a 48-station gym, strength and conditioning suite, refurbished squash courts, six new indoor and two mini tennis courts.

There is also a coffee bar, judo dojo training facility, dance studio and bar for functions.

The multi-million-pound structure, built by Willmott Dixon, is a far cry from the devastating scenes greeting firefighters and police in the early hours of Wednesday August 10, 2011.

Thirteen fire engines attended a massive blaze at the centre, where neighbouring residents reported seeing ash flakes and thick smoke billowing into the sky as crews frantically linked huge reels of hoses together from Batchwood Drive up the long driveway to extinguish the fire.

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Police arrested four people including two teenagers on suspicion of arson but all were later released.

A spokeswoman for Herts Police said the investigation had since been closed.

The official opening of the centre heralds the end of the facility’s managers, 1Life, having to work from portable cabins near the recently reopened golf and bowls clubhouses at Batchwood.

It also marks a return “home” for the award-winning team at Batchwood High Performance Centre, which has continued offering tennis lessons at many alternative sites throughout the district for three years.

Directors of tennis at Batchwood and its outreach scheme, Mandy Franks and Liz Jones, said: “For that first year we were running on adrenalin and in the second we were waiting for the new centre to be approved. Team spirit and community support has helped us.”

The centre has been built on schedule, well ahead of an expected increased interest in tennis ahead of the start of Wimbledon.

Richard Shwe, head of community services, and Stuart Foster, senior leisure contracts officer at St Albans district council, said everyone involved in the project was “very excited” about Batchwood’s official opening.

They hope locals will take advantage of the state-of-the-art facilities, where gym-goers can enjoy hilltop views over the surrounding golf course.

Visitors to the wider Batchwood site are also welcome to use the cafe which, because of its location at the centre’s entrance, there is no need to go through a turnstile.

Richard said that, “looking at the demographics of this area, it will appeal to people across the board including students, the 50-plus market, and mums.

“And it is far away enough from Westminster Lodge that it will not be competing with that facility.”

The centre boasts a raft of sustainable features including solar panels and 19 “wind catchers” which help regulate ventilation and the temperature on courts below.

A piece of history has been kept too, with a 200-year-old brick wall underpinned with steel and turned into a feature of the internal tennis courts.

The judo dojo training facility has a sprung floor, to help absorb action in the large room.

Stuart said: “We hope to hold our first judo event at the end of September.”

Simon Ramage, operations director at Willmott Dixon, said he was particularly pleased that most suppliers and workers involved in its construction lived in or near the district.

While under construction the site was visited by 315 pupils, including those keen to pursue careers in brick-laying, surveying and architecture.

Simon added: “We hosted 26 weeks of work experience for 15-17 year olds, and 29 weeks for people aged from 18.”

See here for a time lapse video of the centre’s construction.

Residents are invited to use Batchwood’s new facilities and take part in various sports taster sessions on Bank Holiday Monday, from noon until 6pm free of charge.