The New Britannia

We happen to pass Shoreditch Park a lot on our way to and from places and a couple of years back we were informed that the old leisure centre at the east end of the park was going to be knocked down and replaced with a funky new state of the art centre. Last weekend we got a chance to finally see around the new Britannia Leisure Centre, here is what we found.

In around 2016 or so Hackney Council stated they wanted to build a new leisure centre on the site of the old one, this seemed like a good idea, being as the old centre was outdated and simply a green corrugated box. Plans were proposed and then the problems started. The council’s proposal wasn’t actually to build on the site as initially suggested, but instead to build over one quarter of Shoreditch Park, leaving the old centre intact until the new site was open. Plus to build a 1,200 student Academy in the site of the leisure centre car park.

Residence however disagreed with the plans and formed a committee and partitioned against the plans, saying the site would destroy the park and block all views and be an eyesore, not to mention the building site that would take up residence for 5 years (or more, knowing Hackney Council’s ineptitude). So everything was at a stalemate, then shockingly (Flippancy here) a big part of the old centre burnt down and the council had no choice but to start construction of the new site, because the old site no longer functioned. Strangely though since then the old centre has remained open and fully functioning, but the new construction site had started and the residences association were ignored.

It was only when construction started that we really got to see the size and devastation that it would wreck on the park. Gone were the tennis courts and the east side of the park, the road was blocked off and the whole area sent into confusion as traffic was infinitely diverted.

But most of all, there was no regard at all for any nature & plants, etc. All the big old trees, including a preserved Willow Tree that was over 100 years old, plus all the rare flowers and bushes were ripped out and dumped in skips, the council said they would be replaced (now it turns out by about 10 saplings in amongst a sea of pavers).

The residence having lost their battle suffered the construction site every morning from 8am, 7 days a week and finally in June 2021 were sent an invite to see the new shiny, building in all its splendour.

So what does The New Centre behold?

We booked our tour and were greeted at the roadside by a confused manager – But after a lot of chaotic shouting and discussions we set off with what we have come to consider the ‘norm’ in local residence a woman with a dog in a pram, who had just eaten the complimentary soap and her daughter who didn’t know what a creche was and who clearly couldn’t count (this is no exaggeration, she got confused in the lift and didn’t know what floors to go to!)

We headed to the top floor (well we did, the others rode up and down the lift for 10 minutes confused), but eventually we found ourselves on top of the great white building in the black cage and the Tennis Courts, So gone are the 6 tennis courts of the old centre and replaced by 2 on top of this one and two 5-a-side football pitches instead of the 4 old ones. Though these of course are much better quality ‘Astro Turf’ and not that old cinder that ripped your skin off if you fell over on it! They boast a scenic view of London and the park below – which is great as long as you are 6ft tall – anyone shorter can see a lovely cinderblock and wire netting.

Next was back inside and into one of the numerous studios dedicated to Peleton Bike Classes and Spin, there must be 50 or more bikes in each studio and we walked through at least 3 on our journey, with the big screen and the instructors seat.

In one of the empty studios like a Ballet/yoga studio with a barre across the mirror, with a selection of medicine balls, weighted barbells and weights, so any room can be used as a private gym closet dedicated to boxing and box fit equipment which was interchangeable with the bikes.

The main hall marked out for all sports – why did they not use the light projected system and save the constant confusion we have all suffered trying to play football and getting confused by the basketball lines. When the overhead projector could cast the lines on the floor per sport and be changed for the next sport on the room.

Having not used the old Britannia very much apart from the Squash Courts – Ash learnt to play squash there. The courts were old and a bit hole ridden. The new courts however are very clean and new – Glass doors and overhead observation areas. They look somewhat like a court from the future.

Each of the floors has a color with a u – Green on top, Pink on Two and Orange on the first floor so all of the lockers, signs etc are all of that color. There are also non gendered changing rooms for all of the non cis out there.

The Gym on the second floor (Pink) is a big space – massive even. On entry you have all of your typical cardio machines – Rows, Treadmills (why would you need this when you have a park outside) Cross trainers, Climbers, reclining bikes, bikes and hand peddle machine thingy!

Further in is where it gets more interesting – This is Bob’s domain – A wall of hand weights/free weights – with benches. Following that there is the aided weight machines – Chest Press, Shoulders etc with a decent range of weight. The only thing lacking there is the Leg Press – which maxed out at 180kg – I average 210kg but I suppose I can use the adaptable press.

The only problem I see is that once the gym opens this will end up being the “male area” where the mirror is the only reason to go the gym and women are oogled at, glared at or “helped” to do it wrong.

There is also a boxing area – yay! complete with bags, core bags, grip bags and once again free weights. There are QR codes that you can scan throughout the gym so you can get an idea of how to use the equipment or even make up a workout routine and keep check of your Personal Bests.

Then we come to the Pools – In the old centre there was a what can only be called a leisure pool – a kidney shaped pool with a wave machine. With the new centre they have given the option of 3 pools.

A kids pool/toddlers splash area – with lots of bright coloured buckets, showers, flowers and toys. This leads to a large spiralled floom/water slide for the slightly older kids. We didn’t get a full tour of this area for health and safety reasons.

Next up is the teaching pool – with an adjustable floor can be lowered or raised dependent on the class or age range. We were told you could even play a gladiator style game with the giant foam q-tips. Which was quite large and had the ability to have the shutters up or down for more privacy.

Then there is the main pool – once again with half being a retractable floor allowing the depth to be adjusted from flat to 2m. The whole pool only has a depth of 2m – which stops scuba training or real diving which was a shame. We were told that it has UV cleaning lights and a mixture of cleaning solution so it isn’t full chlorination but we shall see.

Finally we come to the Café – the important part for the blog – It looked well stocked, well put together and even seemed to have a selection of healthy options – strange for hackney! The Loyalty card was also really a good idea – once you got all of your stamps and a free coffee you could take your used card and bury it because its filled with wild flower seeds and within 10 days you should get the beginning of some pretty flowers.

We tried a few of the sample smoothies and got our free soap – made from used coffee grounds – we unlike some didn’t eat the soap – we have a brain!

Better Gyms is a council run gym and leisure service which does mean lower costs, but it’s confusing how much you have to pay. What the best membership is and/or how much each thing is. The staff seemed to be as confused as us when we enquired. As it stands as this leisure centre is not our “home” gym we would have to pay as a non member – despite being members of Better Gym – this is something the company should really sort out as we would be more likely to purchase a membership if we could go to multiple locations with the same card. As it is you would be paying £12.00 just for gym use, which is a big difference from any of the other gyms we have tried.

All in all it is quite impressive, shame it took a lot of the park’s destruction to do it and there is parts of the road and courtyard that are still not finished, but that’s not half of it, next comes the destruction of the old centre and then the 28 floor tower block to be built in its place.

As for the centre – we feel they have missed a lot of possibilities. The old centre had a small climbing wall – surely given the rise of climbing and with the space they have gained – they could have made a bigger better climbing section. It would have even tied the centre in with the outdoor rock in the park itself.

Likewise the pools – although better are missing a diving area – which given the size of the place is a shame. The main pool could have been deeper but hopefully will be free of children/learners.

As stated above we really hope Better Gym get rid of the “home gym” membership and allow all better members to access any of their gyms as we would be eager to try all of them out and even review them.

We did like the gender inclusivity and the clean layout of the building.

So will you be visiting the newest Sorts Centre in London?

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