I am a fully fledged water baby. Since I was a kid I have loved swimming. My summers were spent, from dawn to dusk, at the beach near my parents’ house. From the sun drenched to the more common rain soaked summer days, nothing could keep me away from the ocean, whether it was jumping off rocks, swimming into waves or trying to perfect the ultimate underwater handstand.
As I got older and moved to Belfast to study and then work, I got out of the way of swimming. Well, that is until a childhood friend of mine, Heather, who I spent summers with at the beach along with her sister Helen and my sister Gail, suggested we get the gang back together for weekly swims at the Robinson Centre in east Belfast. I loved these weekly swimming sessions, to be honest as much for the swimming as the gossiping between lengths, and so when news broke that the Robinson Centre was closing I was devastated. There was a pool shaped hole in my life and I didn’t know how to fill it – and then I visited the Olympia Leisure Centre on Boucher Road. Not only was I able to continue swimming, it is also located super close to the Ulster Tatler office and so it couldn’t be easier to fit a visit in.
I have been a regular swimmer there for a couple of years now and as news emerged they were building a new Olympia leisure complex as part of the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park, I couldn’t wait to visit it. Just after Christmas the new facility, which opened at a cost of £21.75 million, was unveiled with a soft opening before being officially opened this week by Belfast Lord Mayor Brian Kingston. The complex combines leisure facilities such as a 25m pool and learner pool, 120 station fitness suite, spin studio, four-court sports hall and 3G pitch but also with the exciting addition of a Coffee Corner and luxury day spa, which is the first of its kind inside a council centre.
I recently visited these new premises with my desk buddy Gemma, and I have to say I was more than impressed with the new state-of-the-art facilities, which are operated by GLL, the charitable social enterprise which manages the ‘Better’ leisure centres for the council. The reception area is modern, boasting a glass frontage, high ceilings and spacious surroundings. The reception desk is easy to find and once we got our bearings it was time to head to the changing area. The gendered changing rooms of old have been replaced with a unisex ‘Changing Village’, which has single cubicles as well as family rooms for changing in as well as an abundance of lockers for storing your belongings.
Once ready to take the plunge, we made our way to the pool, which is spectacular and ultra modern. One of the major downfalls in the old pool, for me personally, was that there was only one lane dedicated for swimming lengths. The people in this lane were often very experienced swimmers so I avoided it as I didn’t want to be that slow poke holding other people up. As a result, if you were a slow or medium paced swimmer wanting to do lengths, you had to swim across the main body of the pool which, especially when it was busy, was extremely difficult as you would be vying for space with other swimmers, instructors trying to offer lessons and children who wanted to play water based games. The new pool, much to my delight, has three lanes which caters for all swimming levels; slow, medium and fast, as well as a main area catered for swimming lessons as well as people who want to relax in the pool as opposed to swimming lengths. Additionally, due to the partitions between lanes, water rippling is kept to a minimum and so the water mainly remains calm, which offers a truly relaxing experience when you are swimming lengths – this really is the spot to work off the stresses of a day in the office. The pool also has a state-of-the-art moveable floor, which allows the depth to be altered depending on what it is being used for, whether for general swimming, galas or diving.
After my first dip into the new Olympia, I can honestly say I am excited by this space, which is part of Belfast City Council’s leisure transformation programme that is aiming to reshape leisure and encourage more people to get active across the city. Although I have yet to check out the fitness suite, I am confident that judging by the pool, it will be every bit as high tech and enticing. The face of Belfast is rapidly changing and with the successful opening of the fabulous new Windsor Park, and now the cutting edge new look Olympia, it is safe to say this is one fit city.
To find out more, visit the Better website www.better.org.uk/newolympia
Images courtesy of GLL.Posted: 17/01/2017