Sport and wellbeing as a catalyst for regeneration

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  • Sport and wellbeing as a catalyst for regeneration
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Jonathan Edwards


Jonathan Edwards


Future Thinking
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As our world has been shifted by the impact of COVID-19 and we now have the roadmap of how we are going to move to our ‘new normal’, the focus on physical exercise and mental wellbeing has never been so strong. With some outdoor sports being allowed from the end of March; gyms and leisure centres hopefully following in April and then some stadia in May, it shows what an important role the sector has in society.

The focus on health and wellbeing in our communities is rightly coming to the fore and this is playing out through regeneration schemes as well. This focus can have a major positive impact on communities from releasing pressure on the NHS to driving footfall as the dynamic within an area changes, for example when traditional retail or manufacturing has declined. Sport as a catalyst for regeneration is not a new concept but it is a trend that is growing as regions across the UK see the power it can unlock through attracting investment and innovation into a community to drive economic change and levelling up. Development schemes with sports and leisure facilities integral to the masterplan that provide connectivity and social value can bring massive long-term benefits to a region on many levels. At RLB we were involved with a prime example, the London 2012 Olympic Park that breathed life and a long-term plan into East London.

The Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park is another case in point. It shows what can be achieved when a public/ private partnership works really well. It has used the focal point of sport and wellbeing to generate a £200m development scheme that embraces health and wellbeing, investment and regeneration, research and innovation plus education and new skills into a once struggling area of the City. 

But it is not only large scale set pieces that act as catalysts for regeneration, the recently completed York Stadia is a multi-faceted community facility which along with an 8,500 seat sports stadium, includes a state-of-the-art leisure centre, an NHS clinic and a public library plus an extensive retail area. Sport led schemes can also be a springboard for further investment around the periphery of a town, the Etihad Campus, developed by Manchester City FC, has encouraged some much needed residential regeneration in east Manchester.  

The role of sport as the cultural hub of a city, cannot be underestimated. We are currently working for Everton in the Community on a fantastic new purpose-built mental health facility called The People’s Place. Adjacent to Goodison Park, the scheme will provide drop-in mental health support and structured mental health wellbeing programmes for the local community. It will also be a focal point for community engagement. This is in addition to more than £10m investment already made by Everton in the local area where they have turned derelict land into thriving community assets. The People’s Place sits alongside the Club’s transformational new stadium and legacy plans that will act as a catalyst for North Liverpool – The People’s Project. It was great to see that planning applications for this new 52,888 capacity football stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock and the community-led legacy project have been unanimously approved by Liverpool City Council. RLB are proud to be also working on the new stadium development.

On a smaller scale, if a football club develops a 3G pitch that it rents out to community groups and allows schools to use it, the ripple effects by embedding the facilities in the heart of the community are far reaching. These range from creating a community spirit, enriching education opportunities to improving the health and wellbeing of its residents, so it’s no surprise that even small schemes like this can be of huge benefit to the local community.

Whatever the size of the regeneration scheme, the ones that succeed will be those that incorporate the community as a key stakeholder right from the start of the project. At RLB we work with clients to ensure that community engagement is locked in at business case stage whilst considering other factors including social value, sustainability and the carbon impact of both construction and ‘in use’. With the importance of health and wellbeing now firmly established in our mindset and the Government’s commitment to “build back better”, we believe regeneration schemes catalysed by sports and wellbeing facilities will be the ones to watch in the post pandemic world.