Kelvin Hell: Glasgow Uni sport in crisis

Published

Harry Tattersall Smith

Kelvin Hall

The closure of the Kelvin Hall International Sports Arena looks set to have a devastating knock-on effect for Glasgow University students, with the suspension of recreational sport for the session 2013-2014 and the closure of The Hive.

Glasgow University have held a contract with the Kelvin Hall Sports Arena since 1988 to provide access to 1500 activity hall hours per academic year, however, with the venue’s scheduled closure in 2013, the university is still in negotiations over the development and extension of the Stevenson Building.

In September 2011, this paper reported that university Senior Management Group had outlined plans to demolish the Glasgow University Union (GUU) extension with a view to using the space to extend the Stevenson Building, the current university gym. However, plans were eventually scrapped after intense pressure from the GUU, with a new proposal tabled to the university in December. Yet with negotiations still ongoing Leo Howes, President of the Glasgow University Sports Association (GUSA) has called this week on senior university officials to act immediately in order to avert “catastrophic consequences” for both university sport at Glasgow and the well-being of its students.

Howes outlined the significant threats to university sport if action continues to be delayed. “At present there are 12 clubs who train and compete at the Kelvin Hall and if an alternative facility is not built then it is likely that these clubs will at least be reduced to the bare minimum of activity and in some cases may be disbanded altogether. This will adversely affect at least 500 student members in these clubs alone, which include some of our most successful athletes and teams.”

Whilst most of Glasgow University’s 24,000 students would not be directly affected, it is the knock-on effects that the greatest potential threat to the health of Glasgow University students. The reality is that it’s not just club sport that will be affected. Additional facility use in the Stevenson Building will be given to the clubs affected by the closure. This would result in the suspension of most classes and recreational opportunities at the Stevenson Building commencing at the start of the session 2013.

However in the face of Howes’ criticism, Chris Sibbald President of the GUU and Julie Ommer SRS Director have been quick to highlight the positive nature of talks with both expecting a satisfactory resolution to be approved by the university’s ruling body in June. The Hive will be demolished in order to make way for the Stevenson Extension to be completed by the summer of 2014, whilst the GUU will be supported by the University with the development a replacement social space.

Sibbald stated his delight at the manner in which talks have progressed, “It is a really exciting time for the union, and although we will lose the Hive we have the support of the university to develop a new social space. The Hive is a special place but this outcome is better for everyone. The GUU have worked closely with the SRS to ensure that the project is of benefit to both the GUU and sport provision on campus”

Ommer was also positive highlighting that “the plans would allow us to accommodate what we do in the Kelvin Hall and also resolve the significant capacity issues in the current Stevenson Building with increased facilities for strength and conditioning and with new exercise studios and games halls.”

With both parties keen to stress the positive outcomes from the talks the fact remains that both University Sport and the GUU face an uncertain future. The loss of the Hive will see the GUU stripped of its chief source of income for two years whilst Ommer has admitted that University Sport will be greatly short of facilities for the session 2013-2014 whilst the extension is under construction, which fails to allay the fears raised by Howes over the suspension of recreational sport.

The loss of the Kelvin Hall looks set to have major implications for the Stevenson Building, placing even greater demands on a facility that is already working at full capacity, with all membership categories currently suspended aside from students and staff of the University. The Stevenson Building is experiencing record usage, with figures released by GUSA this month showing that in January usage peaked at 2954 people in a single day. The average is just over 2100 a day this month, around 100 people more than the average last year. Howes stated, “Many exercise classes are oversubscribed leading to large queues forming well before the actual start time, the introduction of back to back classes and even then people being turned away due to capping of the numbers for health and safety.” With hundreds and hundreds of people being turned away from classes each week at the moment because of inadequate space, the prospect of losing more people is a huge concern to GUSA.

Tom Harley, a fourth year Engineer echoed these sentiments reflecting on the changes he has experienced during his time at Glasgow. “Maybe people are getting fitter, or maybe it’s just New Year resolutions but it’s getting to the stage where unless you come at obscure times it can be really difficult to get any equipment… I went to a class yesterday that had bouncers on the door turning people away. It was surreal”

Stuart Campbell, a senior member of the Glasgow University Trampolining Club which trains at the Kelvin Hall highlighted that whilst the club would be able to survive the closure of the venue they would simply be unable to continue competing at the top level

“ We would not totally fold but we would only be able to have one session a week instead of three, and that session would be at the Stevie [Stevenson Building], on non competition standard trampolines, so the club could no longer have people competing at the highest level. I put together a quote on the cost for us to relocate to another sports center, which could not be the Stevie as the ceiling is too low and there is not enough space to store stuff. Anyway I worked it out to be a cost of around £20 000, for us to relocate and buy the new stuff we would need.”

Howes continued by citing that Glasgow ranking points look set to “be decimated by the reduction in sports teams competing and reduced performance of those who continue as a result of training reductions.” He highlighted that the University looks set to lose its outstanding international reputation for sport, “ Glasgow has been top of the ISB [International Student Barometer] in the UK for the last 4 years. We have developed really fantastic levels of sport and recreation participation – one of the highest in UK – and this will be lost overnight. It is an absolute crisis for sport and recreation provision for the students of this University.”