Touch, pause, engage!

Kirsty Pesticcio | 11 Apr 2017 | Comments

The role of universities as service providers and stimulators of community and social empowerment is a powerful thought, and a powerful catalyst for change. As a place of research and studies, universities are ideally positioned to enact change, but it begs the question: How can this be done most effectively?

Talking tactics

One answer could be to adopt a tactical strategy, a community focused scrummage so to speak, which seeks to bind its participants in a common goal – access to health and wellbeing for all. In adopting this strategy, universities would need to reach out and touch their communities, provide a period of pause to truly inspect, listen and take stock of their communities’ needs, and only then formulate a plan to engage.

At the University of South Wales (USW) this strategy is fully understood, and central to their ethos. The university’s message is a societal one, concerning itself with not only how to continue to deliver reputable academic courses, but with the ideals of social inclusion and how the university can tackle it head on in its own community. USW actively ask and address the questions of ‘How do we contribute to society?’ and ‘How can we make a difference to people’s lives?’. Since the opening of USW’s Sports Park in 2006, partnerships with external bodies have been strengthened and new ones forged, resulting in significant new routes for the university and the wider community. Students are now able to contribute and add value with their knowledge base and enthusiasm, by working with Health Boards and engaging in exercise referral programmes amongst many other ventures.

USW is now among the UK leaders in sport and exercise science research, and students are taught by lecturers who are at the forefront of their field. Their facilities are regularly used by international professional teams, such as the Wales national football team and Cardiff City Football Club, as well as the touring New Zealand, South Africa and Australia rugby squads.

Sports Park II

Wishing to reinforce and strengthen its reputation, identity, community offering and teaching, USW have started to realise its ambition to construct a state of the art, UK university first, full size covered 4G training pitch and academic building - ‘Sports Park II’. Designed by Atkins, this hybrid facility adds to an existing building stock of sporting facilities at the USW Sports Park, evolving it into a concentrated and intimate campus of individuals with a shared purpose.

The sports pitch is covered by a white semi translucent toughened PVC impregnated polyester fabric membrane, tensioned over a steel structure. This PVC fabric offers a diffused natural light, limiting the need for the artificial lighting throughout the day. In doing so we are reinforcing the feeling of an open and boundless playing environment.

As well as the 100 x 66m sought after pitch, Sports Park II will provide a double height strength and conditioning lab, a suite of clean and muddy changing rooms, treatment rooms and open plan staff offices. It will also provide high quality teaching space for the university’s School of Health, Sport and Professional Practice.

The key focus for the Sports Park II design was to develop an immersive experience for all. Set within the sporting grounds itself, students can both see and hear sporting activity all around them. Internally, strong visual connections have been set up throughout the building, ensuring users are always engaged with both academic and sporting activities. I fully believe that the surroundings we put ourselves in inspire us, and Sports Park II goes a long way to ensure that this environment is an inspiration to everyone who visits it. 

Sports Park II will put USW onto the world stage, offering an all year round facility for club level, regional, national and international football and rugby teams. Significantly, it will benefit all end users equally, with each group taken into account in its design and purpose.

This is not a facility just for academia, nor professional teams or community partners – this is a facility for all. The real value of Sports Park II will be its ability to provide an inspiring, health and wellbeing focused environment for all end users.