On February 6, 2010, the doors officially opened at Meridian Leisure Centre – the jewel in the crown of East Lindsey District Council’s transformation of leisure and health facilities in the district.
The £12 million total investment in the centre was by far the largest such single spend in the council’s history.
In the decade since, the Meridian’s success has been unprecedented, in terms of transforming the way townspeople think, and the wider East Lindsey community feels, about the exercise they do, the teams they join and the friends they make.
More than just a leisure centre, the last decade has seen the venue embed itself at the heart of the very community that it was constructed to serve, and today it welcomes more than 8,000 visits every single week, Christmas aside.
Almost 40 clubs and organisations use the facilities almost weekly; it supports British and World champions; it has hosted Olympic teams for training; taught thousands of people to swim; and been visited by royalty – The Princess Royal officially opened the venue.
This year, the centre will mark its four-millionth visit, and ongoing statistics reveal just how much it is used – for example, in the nine months from April to December 2019, there were 47,357 swimming lessons, 76,500 swimming pool admissions, and more than 79,000 gym visits.
Not only that, but it continues to be a significant employer in the town, with around 60 full and part-time staff, and opens up new careers.
Meridian Leisure Centre manager Naomi Baker said: “It is wonderful to see someone you have taught to swim, return here years later and be employed as a lifeguard.”
Would those who led its controversial development have believed it would be such a success? Opposition was fierce among some who argued against the loss of Louth’s green space, and a judicial review was forced.
But, despite the review leading to a year’s delay, the £12m building – part of a wider East Lindsey Community Leisure Project – was completed and opened in the February 2010. Ever since the centre has far surpassed the expectations of its creators.
The present chairman of the Magna Vitae Trust for Leisure and Culture, Doreen Stephenson, remembers the early stages of the plans.
As ELDC leader in 2010 she supported the Meridian build, and five years later led the move by East Lindsey to hand the running of all the council’s leisure facilities to the new Magna Vitae trust.
As an independent charitable trust with authority support, it has the freedom to develop outside the constraints of local government while ensuring that all profits are pumped back into improving community facilities.
Doreen said: “As council leader at the time, the opening of Meridian is certainly a highlight, to have a centre that was a true showcase venue leading the way with its design, its build and its facilities. To have something so prestigious and that was so appreciated gave all involved a true sense of pride.”
Another advocate for the build was Councillor Adam Grist – the council’s leisure lead at the time. He stood firm throughout, with a view that Louth and East Lindsey deserved leisure facilities that were truly fit-for-purpose.
Coun Grist said:“It’s incredible to think that it’s been ten years since the Meridian officially opened.
“The centre was the focal point of a massive district-wide investment programme in leisure provision and remains to this day the biggest ever investment the council has ever made. It’s been great to see the way in which the centre has evolved in those 10 years too, serving not just as a premier leisure facility, but also a huge employer for Louth and a hub for the local community.
“I’d like to thank our partners at Magna Vitae who do a brilliant job managing the centre and we’ll continue to work in partnership with them to ensure the Meridian’s sustained success.”
Magna Vitae chief executive Mark Humphreys has steered the Meridian team since 2015, when he moved from East Lindsey District Council to take charge of the new trust – along with senior team members James Brindle and Aeneas Richardson.
Together, they have proved to be a formidable team and with continued support from their partners at East Lindsey District Council, they are extremely proud of Meridian’s emergence as a key community hub in Louth – a facility that is so much more than a leisure centre.
“When I look back, I remember that we all had a vision of what we hoped Meridian would achieve, but I don’t think any of us actually anticipated just how the venue would grow into what we have now. To see our car park full at 9.30am on a weekday morning speaks volumes as to the importance of what we have here,” said Mark.
“When you see it now, you see that this was the right thing to do and there are a number of people who must be thanked for that, two of them most certainly being Doreen and Adam, but also the continued support of our council partners.”
What customers say...
• Steph White (30), Louth:
Steph has suffered from both pre, and post-natal depression, and believes her work with the team at Meridian, has helped her mental wellbeing dramatically.
Steph said: “I have lost three stone since my 30th birthday last May. Not only can I thank Meridian and its team for helping me feel better mentally, the sessions are a real release for me, they have also helped me lose weight, improving my strength and fitness.”
• Sophie Hanks (24), Louth:
Sophie was so inspired by the Meridian’s lifestyle consultant Laura Dalton that she persuaded her mum to join in.
Sophie said: “It is Laura who makes it for me, she is so bubbly that you just want to do it. I even have her as a personal trainer now and got my mum to join too.”
• Emma Bristow, International motorcycle trials rider and Women’s World Champion:
Emma said: “The centre is 15 minutes from home, and coming two or three times a week is ideal. We are very lucky to have this centre in the town and I love the virtual classes that are now running too.”
• Ros Canter, current three-day eventing world champion and on the Olympic training squad for Tokyo 2020:
Ros said: “The support for sport of any kind, especially in rural areas, is absolutely essential. To have a centre like Meridian in Louth is fantastic, not only for people competing at the highest level, but for those who want to enjoy any form of activity socially.”
• Sam Blair (17), fencer on the Team GB squad:
Sam said: “Keeping the gym usage going really helps. It is all about making sure that I am building up the right kind of muscle and making sure my balance remains good. The team at Meridian has really helped me over the years.”
l Meridian Leisure Centre will be celebrating their tenth birthday with special offers. On February 6, there will be ‘Boditrax’ health checks available from 9am to 6pm. A variety of free classes will also take place throughout the day. Call the Meridian Leisure Centre on 01507 607650 to find out more and book your place.