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Dover Leisure Centre, Townwall Street, closes today, opening was in January 1976

This is how it all began.

The ceremonial curtain was pulled back to open what was hailed as one of the best sports centres in the country.

This was for Dover Leisure Centre on Saturday, January 10,1976.

The opening ceremony with Cllrs Bean, left, and Chesterfield. Picture: Basil Kidd, East Kent Mercury
The opening ceremony with Cllrs Bean, left, and Chesterfield. Picture: Basil Kidd, East Kent Mercury

But it all ends today with the closure of the Townwall Street building for replacement by the new centre in Whitfield.

The last customers leave at 5pm.

The formal opening by was by Cllr Peter Bean, chairman of Dover District Council.

With him was Cllr Robert Chesterfield, chairman of the council's leisure and recreation committee.

More than 180 guests witnessed the ceremony and sports displays by local clubs for archery, gymnastics, karate, judo and squash.

Archers showed their skills at the centre;s opening. Picture: Basil Kidd, East Kent Mercury
Archers showed their skills at the centre;s opening. Picture: Basil Kidd, East Kent Mercury

The centre, which cost about £800,000 was open to the public the next day and 900 people then attended.

There were already 200 registered members, according to the complex's manager Harry Croxton.

The project had been approved a few years earlier by the predecessor Dover Borough Council, which Cllr Bean described as a "wise and sound move."

He said the centre was a "place with superb facilities" for the most talented sportsmen and women and those who wanted to use the centre for fitness and pleasure.

Cllr Chesterfield said it was a great day for Dover and for people beyond the town's boundaries.

He added: "I have it on good authority that this new complex is one of the best two or three sports centres in the country.

"Future generations will be able to attend the complex and enjoy meeting each other as well as the pleasure it provides."

The front page of the Mercury, January 15, 1976, showing a picture of the sports centre opening
The front page of the Mercury, January 15, 1976, showing a picture of the sports centre opening

The ceremony was covered by the East Kent Mercury and the story appeared in the January 15 edition.

The photographs were taken by legendary local photographer, the late Basil Kidd.

The centre, then called Dover Sports Complex and later renamed Dover Sports Centre, opened with a main sports hall, four squash courts, a weight training room, two swimming pools, lecture room, licensed bar and café.

There was also a 75-space car park.

Membership fees in 1976 were £7 for a family, £5 for a husband and wife, £3 for one adult, £2 for 16 to 18-year-olds, £1.50 for children under 16.

There was no charge for children under three.

But "one of the best sports centres in the country" went into a state of decline in its last years.

Dover Leisure Centre in its last month
Dover Leisure Centre in its last month

By this decade it was showing signs of decay and a 500-name petition for action was drawn up in 2015 by Dover resident Pete Ward.

He claimed the facilities at the old centre were “disgusting and rotten” with damp and mildew in the changing rooms.

The council decided that a new centre would provide a better long-term solution for the needs of Dover district and would be more cost effective than having the old building refurbished.

The old building will eventually be knocked down.

A DDC spokesman said: "We are making arrangements to decommission and undertake the demolition of the building in advance of a prospective use of the site coming forward."

The old Seventies Dover Leisure Centre
The old Seventies Dover Leisure Centre

The new Dover District Leisure Centre, at Honeywood Parkway opens at exactly 9am on Monday, February 25.

The eight-day gap between the old and new centres is to give time for complete transfer and staff training at the new site.

The £26 million facility features the first swimming pool in Kent to be purpose-built to Sport England specifications for a county standard competition swimming pool.

The 25m by 17m eight-lane pool includes starting blocks, timing pads, and an electronic scoreboard. It will have spectator seating for 250 people.

The 15m x 8.5m learner pool has a moveable floor to vary the depth.

Dry-side, the centre includes a four court sports hall, clip ‘n climb interactive climbing arena, a 120-station fitness suite and two multi-activity studios.

There will also be a spin studio, two glass-backed squash courts with spectator seating, two outdoor five-a-side football 3G pitches, a sauna and steam room, a café, and 250 parking spaces.

For more pictures of the sports centre in 1976 see this coming Wednesday's Dover and East Kent Mercuries.


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