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Opening day arrives for new-look leisure centre

The doors to Congleton’s redeveloped leisure centre finally reopened at 6am this morning (Thursday).

Users are sure to have already worked up a sweat or clocked up some lengths in the new two-storey gym or six lane swimming pool, more than three years after the Worrall Street premises was last in use.

Congleton’s own Olympian Ann Brightwell MBE was due to be guest of honour at a ribbon-cutting ceremony yesterday afternoon (Wednesday) where she was joined by Cheshire East mayor, Coun Rod Fletcher of Alsager.

The £10m redeveloped leisure centre has a new six-lane 25m swimming pool and 12m learning pool and a 100-station two-storey gym and fitness suite. The work was carried out Congleton firm Pulse.

There are also studios for group cycling and group fitness, a thermal spa with scented steam room and a four-court sports hall.

In addition, the leisure centre also has a café with adjoining three-storey children’s soft play area, a children’s party room and community rooms including treatment rooms.

One of the meeting rooms will be called the Brightwell Suite in honour of Mrs Brightwell and her later husband Robbie.

Under her maiden name, Packer, Mrs Brightwell took gold and silver in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo in the 800m and 400m respectively, breaking the world record for the 800m, an event in which she had only raced a handful of times before. It would be 40 years before another British woman, Kelly Holmes, would win the 800m again for the GB team.

Mr Brightwell won a silver medal with the British men’s relay team, which he captained.

When the long-awaited reopening date was announced last month Mrs Brightwell said that she “can’t wait” for the day to come and that everybody she had spoken to had been “anxious” to see it reopen.

The leisure centre closed before the first lockdown in March 2020. Redevelopment wok finally started in 2021 with the original reopening date planned for towards the end of last year.

But in October it was revealed that a series of setbacks led to a delay in the project’s completion and a budget overspend of around £1.6m.

They included a sub-contractor going into liquidation and asbestos being found in the ground, which needed removing by specialists.

Charity Everybody Health and Leisure will manage the leisure centre on behalf of Cheshire East Council.

Last month Coun Mick Warren, chair of Cheshire East’s Environment and Communities committee had said: “The major investment made by the council into this facility will provide numerous and varied opportunities for people to enjoy quality time exercising, swimming and relaxing in modern surroundings, and is hugely important in supporting people to keep fit and healthy, both physically and mentally.”

Thomas Barton, chief executive of Everybody Health and Leisure, had said: “With two new swimming pools we can now provide swimming lesson spaces for thousands more children, as we continue to reduce the backlog caused by the pandemic. The health and wellbeing of residents across Cheshire East is of vital importance in building thriving and happy communities.”

One notable absence from the reopened leisure centre will be Dane Valley Swimming Club, which was one of the most successful swimming clubs in the area, producing national competitors.

In 2021 the Chronicle reported that the club folded as members joined others elsewhere due to the leisure centre’s temporary closure for the redevelopment, and the introduction of the Learn to Swim programme by Everybody after which the club struggled to get new members.

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