Revamped stadium set to be run by university

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Woodbourn Road athletics stadium, which is being revamped to coincide with the controversial closure of Don Valley Stadium, will be run by Sheffield Hallam University, it was announced this week.

Hallam will take over the operation, including the financing, staffing, maintenance and repair, from the beginning of October as part of a partnership with the council.

The stadium will be used by the university, local athletics clubs and the community.

The deal follows the latest criticism from Toni Minichiello, the coach of Jessica Ennis-Hill, about the closure of Don Valley and his fears that Woodbourn Road will be a far from adequate replacement.

Unlike Don Valley, where athletics often competed with the likes of rugby league and events ranging from computer to wedding shows, Woodbourn Road will guarantee priority use for athletics.

The involvement of Hallam has received the backing of the city’s main athletics clubs – City of Sheffield and Hallamshire Harriers – as well as the support of Sport England and England Athletics.

The council had committed £70,000 towards Woodbourn Road’s operational costs on the basis that an athletics club would take it over.

Now the money will go a fund to nurture promising athletes.

Hallam sees Woodbourn Road as enhancing its reputation for sport and physical activity teaching and research, adding to its investment in its sports ground in Bawtry Road, Tinsley.

Director of estates and facilities Mark Swales said: “These plans come just days after the one-year anniversary of London 2012, and we believe they will secure the city’s Olympic legacy for generations of athletes to come.

“It also emphasises the importance the University places on the key relationships we have across the city, which will not only benefit elite athletes in the city, but will also make sport and physical activity accessible to the widest possible community across the Sheffield city region.

“The site will enable us to offer our students opportunities to gain hands-on experience to complement their academic learning. This includes sport students, but there may also be valuable experience to be gained in areas such as physiotherapy, coaching, events, hospitality and business.”

Council cabinet member Isobel Bowler, said the partnership was “a superb opportunity to guarantee a lasting legacy for athletics in the city.

“The council never wanted to close Don Valley Stadium, but we said from the start that we were determined to find a positive outcome for athletics and to work with the clubs to make it happen.”

Mike Corden, chair of City of Sheffield AC, said: “Sheffield Hallam has outlined immediate and strategic goals that overlay our plans to ensure athletics training is stabilised, and then improved, at this difficult time for track and field enthusiasts. With Sport England, England Athletics, Hallamshire Harriers, Sheffield City Council and City of Sheffield Athletics Club all supporting Sheffield Hallam’s proposal, the city should be well served at the refurbished and dedicated athletics arena.”

The council is currently refurbishing Woodbourn Road, improving the lighting, replacing the 450 seats in the grandstand, ‘deep cleaning’ the track and relaying the field.

Costs are being met by the council (£150,000), Sport England (£150,000) and English Athletics (£25,000).

The council says everything is on track for an opening at the start of October to follow Don Valley’s closure in September.

However, the authority continues to run into opposition over the proposed demolition of Don Valley, which has a profile and status that Woodbourn Road will inevitably struggle to match.

The latest appearance of Jess Ennis-Hill, whose athletics career started at Don Valley, and her concerns for her future training reignited the controversy.

Toni Minichiello said: “It just feels like Jess is being pushed out of the city. Woodbourn Road will not be ready until October,” he said.