"A very important asset to the town" - looking back on 30 years of Sheringham leisure centre Splash
PUBLISHED: 16:46 01 November 2018 | UPDATED: 20:15 01 November 2018
Splash Leisure and Fitness Centre is the source of happy family memories for hundreds of holidaymakers and many Sheringham residents. It has been an important part of local life - a place where people learned to swim and where their own children now have swimming lessons.
As North Norfolk District Council has just approved plans to build a new, two-storey, £10.7m sports and leisure complex at the Splash site, KAREN BETHELL looks back on the popular centre’s history...
Five years in the planning and costing £2.5 million to build, Splash was considered a state-of-the art facility, with a gym and sports courts, a café and a ‘tropical’ swimming pool with water slide and wave machine.
The Weybourne Road centre, which earlier this year celebrated its 30th anniversary, drew huge crowds when it was opened by Princess Diana on May 11, 1988.
Townsfolk lined the pavements and the car park, spilling out onto the roadside to wait for the princess, who was welcomed by dozens of flag-waving youngsters from local primary schools as she and her entourage arrived.
Wearing a royal blue suit with shoulder pads – the height of fashion in the 1980s – the much-loved ‘People’s Princess’ was presented with bouquets and hand-made cards and took time to chat to lifeguards, staff and children before taking a tour of the facilities and unveiling a brass plaque in the centre’s reception area.
Nicky Nichols, who started work in the café – which has since closed - 22 years ago, went on to train as a lifeguard, before qualifying as a swimming teacher.
Sheringham-born Mrs Nichols, who runs school group and one-to-one sessions, has since taught hundreds of children and adults to swim.
She has fond memories of the opening celebration and remembers waiting with bated breath for the princess to arrive.
“My younger brother was one of the primary school children chosen to welcome her,” Mrs Nichols said. “I was standing on the pavement with a friend and Diana just seemed like a lovely, kind person.
“There was a fantastic atmosphere and I think everyone felt like it was really special – it’s not often something like that happens in Sheringham.”
Mrs Nichols, 53, welcomed the prospect of a new centre.
“Splash means an awful lot to Sheringham,” she said. “There’s the social aspect for local people and obviously we get the holidaymakers, so I think it is a massively important to the town and we’d be lost without it.”
Since it opened thirty years ago, Splash has branched out to run lifeguard courses for children and adults, host sponsored swims, lay on exercise classes for youngsters from two north Norfolk special schools, and run events ranging from birthday parties, to open days organised by local charities.
It is also home to Sheringham-based health and wellbeing charity Excel 2000 and runs outreach programmes including visiting local schools to teach youngsters about drowning prevention and lifesaving techniques.
Town councillor Carole Fields, who taught at the primary school for 26 years until she retired in 1997 and is now chairman of governors at Sheringham Woodfields School, remembers walking with a group of pupils to the end of Cooper Road to wait for the princess to make her way to Splash via Holway Road.
“It was quite eventful and Diana was very good as she got the car to slow down and waved when she saw the children standing there,” she said.
“They thought it was very exciting, because of course we hadn’t had a swimming pool in the town before then.”
While disappointed that the new centre would not have a water slide and wave machine, Mrs Fields was pleased at the proposals for a replacement centre.
“Splash is very important asset to the town, not just for the fitness of the people who live here, but also as an amenity for our visitors and as somewhere for children to learn to swim, which is vital living near the sea,” she said.