Creating a lasting legacy from sporting infrastructure

As the 2018 Commonwealth Games opens in Australia, Mace’s Simon Dale looks at the how sporting infrastructure can provide a lasting legacy for cities and the communities that live there.

The new £80m stadium in the Gold Coast, the main venue for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Birmingham City Council leader Ian Ward first announced his intention to host the Commonwealth Games 15 years ago. Now Birmingham has secured the 2022 event, councilor Ward has set the city the lofty ambition of hosting the best Commonwealth Games ever.

In addition to that bold aspiration we also need to make sure the games create the greatest possible legacy for Birmingham, the West Midlands, British sport and specifically UK Athletics.

As all eyes turned to Australia for the opening of the 2018 Commonwealth Games, it is estimated that more than two billion people saw the new £80m stadium in the Gold Coast, which afterwards will become the home of the Gold Coast Suns Aussie Rules side.

Through Mace’s experience of delivering the Aquatics Centre and the stadium for the London 2012 Olympics, the transformation of Hampden Park for the 2014 Commonwealth Games as well as the City of Manchester Stadium for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, we know that first and foremost every sporting venue needs to provide a lasting legacy for the local people who share their community with the stadium.

Venues being commissioned for the 2022 Commonwealth Games must be created with their after-life in mind, once they have finished hosting 11 days of world class sport. One of the keys to that is designing and delivering venues which incorporate facilities the community can themselves use, once they have been inspired by watching the sporting action unfold on their doorstep. 

When transforming the Alexander Stadium (pictured above) which will host the Birmingham Games, there is an additional need to consider. As the home of UK Athletics the Alexander Stadium needs to be configured to the needs of elite athletes and can only be considered a true success if it creates a long-term legacy for British athletics for years to come.

UK Sport as a whole has thrived at the past two Olympics, but apart from the continued performance of a couple of exceptional sportspeople, UK Athletics has underachieved. Of the 14 world titles Britain has won in the past decade, Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis-Hill account for nine of them. While at the London 2017 World Athletic Championships Mo Farah, won Britain's only individual medal.

A world class athletics facility is needed to provide a catalyst for change and create a platform for excellence in the way that the Manchester Velodrome has for British Cycling and the Institute for National Football at Clairefontaine has delivered for the French National Football team.

The need to create facilities which cater for both elite athletes and the local community is certainly a challenge but by no means an impossible one. Gyms and changing rooms which serve both markets can be cleverly incorporated into designs in various combinations while the trade-off between the needs of spectators and needs of the community can be tackled in the design of the planned decommissioning of the stadium.

By 2017, in the three years it has been open to the public, the London Aquatics Centre (pictured below) had welcomed more than 2.5 million visitors. At this Olympics-grade facility, Mace delivered an iconic, world-class venue that genuinely sits at the heart of the local community - a sporting facility used for school, club, regional and national galas and meets throughout the year. More than 14,000 people visit on an average each week, making the most of the two 50m swimming pools, dive pool and gym as well as the café. 

We know from our work transforming leisure facilities across England that high-quality facilities need to be put in place to drive footfall. We’ve seen huge success when the right facilities are introduced; including doubling the number of visitors at certain sites.

Not only does this create a sporting and community legacy but also an economic one. The 20 leisure centres we’ve delivered over the past 12 years are not only generating £16m of additional income for local authorities each year, but they are estimated to have saved the NHS around £115m over that time with a healthier population making fewer hospital visits.

As a city and a region, we all need to embrace Ian Ward’s ambition and enthusiasm for the games. In addition to delivering the greatest ever Commonwealth Games, Birmingham 2022 must create the greatest possible legacy for the local community and equip the Alexander Stadium so that it provides a springboard from which we can usher in a new golden era for UK athletics.

Simon Dale is director of the Midlands at Mace.