A FORMER world champion aims to develop an international standard martial arts centre on the site of the Woodbourn Road athletics stadium in Attercliffe.
City-based aikido instructor Scott Allbright has submitted plans to the council for a £3million project which would also feature cultural attractions including Japanese-style gardens at the heart of Sheffield’s East End.
The Sento initiative – named after a Japanese bath house, one of which is included in the scheme – is designed to offer training and competition facilities for everybody from local enthusiasts to world-class exponents of karate, aikido, judo, kendo, kung fu, tai chi, taekwondo and muay thai boxing.
It is being driven by Sheffield-based aikido instructor and former world champion Scott Allbright, who has secured widespread support from local residents, businesses and the sports community in the Lower Don Valley.
“I am absolutely determined to make it happen,” said Scott, who has been working on the ambition for 15 years.
“It’s a very exciting project, and there is a lot more to it than martial arts. If people have an interest in the culture of Japan, China, Thailand and Korea, there will be something for them.”
The concept was unique in the UK and probably in Europe, he said. “It is going to be amazing for the city. We are not just building an arena, we are building a tourist attraction.”
Sheffield hepathlete champion Jessica Ennis has declared her support, describing the project as “a fantastic opportunity for the City of Sheffield to further develop its world class sports facilities and promote sport for its local communities”.
Woodbourn Road was used by amateur clubs and for school competitions until it was closed by the council at the end of July, despite protests from the athletics community.
The authority said it could no longer afford to operate and maintain it and set a deadline of tomorrow (Friday) for bids from potential operators with a brief stipulating development for sports and recreational use.
It said last week that ten parties had expressed an interest.
The Sento project includes an indoor arena with up to 1,500 seats and is specifically designed for martial arts enthusiasts, as opposed to the ad hoc facilities usually offered by sports centres.
It would be a venue for local youngsters and for local, regional, national and international tournaments, tapping the “huge” interest in martial arts, said Scott.
“It’s a centre of excellence, and we want to be producing champions from local people.”
With visitors expected from across the world, there would also be a housing block with up to 100 beds, ranging from Japanese-style pods and dormitories to smarter accommodation.
The venture is being promoted as a social enterprise with profits being ploughed back.
Already Keyfund South Yorkshire, which invests in social businesses, has helped to finance the development and business plan, and it is hoped capital costs can be covered through a combination of sponsorship by Japanese car firms, loans from charity banks and a grant from Sport England.
Eventually, though, it is intended to be self-sustaining. “The whole ethos is for it to stand as a going concern with an income stream,” said Scott, a sports and exercise manager at the Burton Street Project in Hillsborough, who has taught aikido for 30 years, currently using a unit at the Devonshire Street business park.
An essential part of the strategy is to attract the public and the proposed landscaped Japanese-style gardens, providing an environment for health, relaxation and play, are seen as a magnet.
There would be picnic and children’s play areas, a boulder for clambering and a winding running track. The existing track and grandstand would be removed.
Boxing matches could also be staged in the arena.
Scott, who came to Sheffield from London to study an MA in Japanese, graduating in 1994, said the local community had been involved in the thinking from the start.
There was support for the plan from organisations such as Darnall Forum, the Attercliffe Business Connection and individuals including former Premier League referee Uriah Rennie, who is community liaison officer with Sheffield City Trust, which owns the sports facilities run by Sheffield International Venues, and Yuri Matischen, president of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce.
The council will assess all offers for Woodbourn Road before giving a verdict. It is committed to taking into account the social value of potential uses as well as the financial offers.