Bid to replace Exeter leisure centre with health and wellbeing hub gets £750,000 boost

Councillors have backed spending £750,000 on a bid to redevelop and replace an Exeter leisure centre with a new health and wellbeing hub.

Plans are to demolish the gym, sauna, sports hall and all-weather pitch Wonford and build a more inclusive facility to boost activity and improve the quality of life in the deprived area.

Members of Exeter City Council’s executive this week approved funding the next stage of the project with a six-figure sum, writes Local Democracy Reporter Ollie Heptinstall.

The cash will go towards further studies and consultation in the hope of the authority eventually gaining full planning consent.

Residents and community groups will also be involved in the design.

Members were told that 70 per cent of people in Wonford had never set foot in the current sport centre in Rifford Road.

A report added the area has some of the city’s lowest levels of physical activity and poorest health outcomes.

Through speaking to local people, the vision for the proposed facility includes creating a more welcoming building – aimed more towards Wonford residents – and connecting to walking and cycling routes.

The council wants the development to be a more inclusive ‘local hub for leisure and wellbeing activities led by the local community, rather than a sports centre for those living outside Wonford’.

Leisure portfolio holder Councillor Duncan Wood said: “Breaking down the barriers between the community use and the leisure centre, making shared space, making this hub a destination, making it more accessible to the local community is awfully good.

“Anybody that’s been [to the current centre]– it’s a red brick building, very few in there, it’s quite imposing and it’s not very welcoming.

“I think the end result will be a much more open, welcoming facility and I think that will obviously benefit the local community.”

Cllr Amal Ghusain praised the amount of community involvement ad said the scheme is a ‘long time in the making’ and ‘so needed in that community’.

Cllr Emma Morse told the meeting that the area’s deprivation means it is ‘really important that we have something that people are able to engage with and to use that’s not been put upon people, but has been created by local people’.

Further community engagement will now take place with local groups, organisations and residents to help shape the facility in the early design stages and through to the submission of a planning application.

Investigations and surveys of the existing buildings, site area and local infrastructure will also be carried out as part of the process.

Backing for major new health and wellbeing hub in Wonford, Exeter