Published: 17:21, 02 June 2021
| Updated: 18:17, 02 June 2021
The Stour Centre in Ashford has just reopened after almost a year of refurbishment.
Sitting in the new seating area by Costa Coffee, you're surrounded by a cacophony of laughter and chatter.
It's a far cry from the home workstations that many of us have come to know.
Looking around, you can see the jubilation of parents who - possibly for the first time in months - have been able to just sit back and relax with a coffee, while their children explore the new multi-storey soft play area.
I was excited to take a tour around the Stour Centre, having last visited it during the election count in December 2019 and reported on its refurbishment progress.
Finally, I got a chance to see how they had spent £7.5 million on making it a top-class facility.
I must say, it seems like money well spent.
From the moment you step in the door, the reception area feels a lot more spacious, which is of course a blessing during the pandemic.
Making your way in, you're hit with the smell of freshly brewed coffee as well as a wall of sound emanating from the new play area.
I'm informed that there will be tons of plastic balls introduced when Covid is less prevalent, not just in a ball pit but also fired from manoeuvrable cannons at the top of the structure.
Secretly I was quite glad about their current absence, as I could picture an errant ball knocking over my latte.
After a brief chat with members of Ashford Borough Council and the Stour Centre's operator Freedom Leisure, I was shown upstairs.
This is where the refurbishment really shines.
While the upper atrium was once quite gloomy, now it feels bright and airy.
From the gallery, you can see the sports hall which has been stylishly resurfaced and marked.
Dotted around the upper hall are new studios, each one kitted out with exercise equipment, weights and mirrors - ideal for fitness classes, yoga, dance, you name it.
I'd probably find it a little difficult to concentrate during these sessions, as the riverside views out of the windows are fantastic.
The real gem of the revamp has to be the gym.
Though the clip and climb and soft play will certainly be a huge hit, the Stour Centre's extended and expanded gym is a sight to behold.
Even as someone who's been to a gym once in his life, I found myself marvelling at the vast array of equipment on offer, every item brand new.
You have your classics - weights, benches, treadmills - but also some really high-tech gear.
A lot of the equipment looks more like torture equipment to me, and I think I would've needed a tutorial just to approach it. Thankfully there are plenty of staff members to assist gym users.
In a side room is the so-called 'Biocircuit' system, in which members get a fully automated and tailored workout routine.
The eight or so pieces of equipment know who is on them, know where they are fitness-wise and can adapt timing and difficulty to match.
It struck me as something out of Space Odyssey 2001, only helpful and less sinister.
Moving away from that impressive array, I spotted something which I - and many people - see as the big disappointment of the reopening.
The Stour Centre's pools remain out of action, as workers recently discovered an issue with the tiling.
It certainly looked in a sorry state when I got a glimpse of it, with pools drained and whole sheets of tiles removed.
However it's hoped that it will welcome swimmers back soon, and I think the sooner it does the better.
Either way, there is plenty to still be enjoyed elsewhere on-site.
Overall, the Stour Centre has been ripped from the past and brought into the present and even future.
It's truly impressive what they've managed to achieve, and I think it will be a valuable asset for Ashford for years to come.
I'd highly encourage anyone to look around the place and, if you see something you like the look of, give it a try!