On the 12th September, Bluecoat Sports Centre (BCS) celebrated its 30th birthday. The centre, which is just a mile and a half south west of Horsham town centre in the grounds of Christ’s Hospital School was officially opened on 12th September 1990 by HRH The Duke of Gloucester who as President of Christ’s Hospital School visited the school before unveiling the plaque outside the main entrance of the new sports complex. He was accompanied on the day by the Lord Lieutenant of West Sussex, The Duke of Richmond and Gordon, The High Sheriff of West Sussex, David Bowerman and the Chairman of Horsham District Council, Marjorie Ward.
David Bridges joined BCS in May 1990 as the very first leisure manager, and he has fond memories of those early days. “I was delighted to be appointed as the first manager of the sports centre having worked previously at several other centres in the Horsham area. It was an interesting role as this was the first time Christ’s Hospital had fully opened its doors and invited the local community to make use of its sports facilities. We developed a comprehensive programme of public swimming lessons, fitness classes and weight training, and offered a range of racket sports, utilising the centre’s outstanding facilities whenever they were not required by the school. Our dedicated team of friendly staff ensured we always met the needs of the school and the public. CH was a great place to work”.
The original plans for BCS were developed in the late 1960s. However, it wasn’t until the destructive storm of 1987, which forced the school to give up its obsolete sports buildings, that urgent action was needed to plan for the future. When BCS first opened it was designed to meet the needs of a large co-educational boarding school. Particular emphasis was also placed on the need to ensure there was optimum use of the building, not only by Christ’s Hospital pupils but by other schools, clubs and organisations within the local community. This commitment has certainly been met. Prior to lockdown, BCS was being used by 22 local schools and it was offering over 100 different fitness classes many of which take place in the magnificent 25 metre swimming pool.
Although the façade and structure of the building remain pretty much as it was when it was built, there have regular upgrades and improvements to the facilities over the years. Last year, new outdoor gym the Fitness Yard, was opened for use by members and school pupils and when BCS was closed during lockdown a significant refurbishment of the whole centre was undertaken.
James Maclean, Chairman of Bluecoat Sports commented, “This is a very proud day for Bluecoat Sports. The growth of sport and greatly increased emphasis on personal fitness over the past 30 years has dramatically increased the demand for the very best training facilities and equipment. We are constantly striving to meet that demand and maintain Bluecoat Sports’ reputation as one of the leading sports complexes in the area”.
BCS is a sports charity and as well as providing outstanding sports facilities for the pupils of Christ’s Hospital School, it has over 3000 public members from the local area. Originally established in 1552 by royal charter, Christs Hospital has been educating children with potential for over 500 years, it is the single biggest giver of bursurial education in the UK, with 75% of the pupils receiving assistance.
Melanie Marlow is the longest serving BCS member of staff. She started work there when BCS first opened. “It was an exciting time setting up the Centre, we were a small team and we all had to wear a lot of different hats. I was brought in to set up the Crèche but also taught swimming, gym classes, Athletics to CH, set up Mighty Movers (now Mighty Minis) and did some of the Marketing. One of the highlights was attending a lunch in the dining hall when Queen Elizabeth visited the school”.
Ros Case was the first public member of Bluecoat Sports and has seen the centre develop throughout its life, “I was the first person to join the club (Member 01). Opening times were initially very restricted but once classes started I visited several times a day for different activities. I enjoyed it as it was a friendly comfortable environment and I felt privileged to be there. I have two fond memories. One was completing a charity step challenge in which we climbed the equivalent in height to Kilimanjaro. The other was a charity swim in which I was one of three to complete a mile (64 lengths of the pool) of non-stop butterfly. Both unforgettable”.
There were plans to hold a series of events and functions around this time to properly celebrate Bluecoat Sports’ 30th birthday but because of the pandemic, these are all on hold for the moment.