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New community centre is “a model of partnership working and community activism”

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The Cottonmill Community and Cycling Centre was hailed as “a model of partnership working and community activism” following its official opening.

St Albans City and District Council replaced the ageing Marlborough Pavilion with the new £2.7 million centre in consultation with several local groups.

These included Cottonmill and Sopwell Hub (CaSH), Sopwell Residents Association, the Sopwell Community Trust and the Verulam Cycling Club.

As well as first class sports facilities, including a cycling hub and pump track that is also used for skateboarding, the centre has a hall of 100 square metres, a café, a kitchen suitable for event catering and a Changing Places facility.

There are also wudu wash facilities for use by the Muslim community and a dementia-friendly Quiet Room for peaceful escape, prayer or quiet study.

Most of the funding has been provided by the Council, but a number of other community organisations made important contributions.

Through CaSH the community gave more than £79,000 from fundraising events, grants and donations while British Cycling’s Places to Ride Fund and Sport England gave £350,000.

The Health Protection Board also gave £78,000 towards building costs with a further £150,000 to enable outreach work in the surrounding community to improve health and well-being.

Sandy Walkington, Hertfordshire County Councillor for St Albans South, contributed £10,000 from his Locality Fund.

Councillor Robert Donald, Chair of the Council’s Regeneration and Business Committee, was among those who attended the official launch. He said:

The centre is a model of what can be achieved by partnership working and community activism.

In delivering the new centre, our commercial and development team worked closely with many community groups in Sopwell from day one of the project, responding to their specific needs as we finalised the plans for the building.

When it became clear we needed £79,000 more to complete the building, I challenged representatives of the different community organisations to raise this, only half expecting they would be able to do so. I was totally wrong - they not only achieved it but raised even more!

The official opening was in part a celebration of their efforts to replace the former Marlborough Pavilion with a facility that was fit for purpose to meet Sopwell community needs in the 21st century.

I was determined that the centre’s future should also be financially secure through the Council’s leisure contractors Everyone Active, the onsite Cycling Hub operation and the cafe concession.

The centre is now already used by a wide range of community groups including the Scouts, St Albans Foodbank, a weekend Islamic School, a dance club and female fitness class.

Thanks are due, too, to the Council’s commercial and development team, project manager, architect Christopher Weir and builders Motacus Constructions who completed this whole project in record time to meet Sport England funding requirements.

It is wonderful to see how successful and well used by all ages and diverse local groups the centre has quickly become.

I have no doubt that it will prove to be a highly valued community facility for years to come.

Michelle Mackenzie, Chair of CaSH, said:

CaSH campaigned since 2018 to get a new community centre for the residents of Sopwell and beyond.

All the groups worked hard with the Council to create an inclusive centre that meets the needs of all of the local community. The new building is bright and airy, looks beautiful and has been built with the whole community in mind and our residents love it.

Local groups are now using the centre for many events including a warm hub session, coffee mornings, free supermarket rescued food collection, women’s fitness, community social nights, children’s film afternoons and a Friday night youth club.

And many residents just love to pop down for a cuppa and a chat with friends in our lovely new café.

The centre is managed by the St Albans Cycle Hub and more than 20,000 people have visited since its doors first opened last summer. Its official opening was on Saturday 4 March.

Photo: Cllr Robert Donald, far right, at the official opening of the Cottonmill Community and Cycling Centre with Michelle Mackenzie, 2nd right, and Herts County Cllr Sandy Walkington, 4th right.

Media Contact: John McJannet, Principal Communications Officer, 01727 819533,