In case you missed it from last week’s Slough Observer here’s my thoughts on the upcoming refurbishment of Slough Ice Arena. Read the below then ask yourself, for whom is the refurbishment being completed? If no temporary rink is provided and the user base which has taken 30 years to build up is broken down and eroded then a fairly empty ice rink will be the result upon re-opening! With no temporary rink the intangible costs certainly are stacking up against the tangible benefits!
It was with excitement I read in the paper of an impending refurbishment for Absolutely Ice, also known as Slough Ice Arena. The now aged rink first opened in 1986, its first ice hockey game played behind closed doors, as the building wasn’t signed off for public access. It soon had its doors open to skaters, hockey fans and a multitude of users.
Since that day in 1986 the Ice Arena has become a central point of the community. It’s a huge part of the area’s youth culture, it’s a part of the British hockey infrastructure, it’s a part of the UK’s figure skating, dance skating and sychronised skating scene. It’s become something far greater than the sum of its constructional parts over its near 30 year existence.
In 1990 I started DJing at Slough Ice Arena and have done so ever since. Thanks to the ice rink I have made some lifelong friends, indeed I met my girlfriend; the mother of my child, through the rink. I know friends of mine that have also met their husbands / wives through Slough Ice Arena, so it’s a place where lifelong relationships have been and probably continue to be made.
Enough though of the personal sentimentality!
Let’s look at the unique things that Slough Ice Arena offers to the community.
Every weekend local youngsters descend on the rink! Friday night they get to experience something truly unique, it’s a club environment with loud music, lights, atmosphere and ice! They can combine keeping physically fit along with having fun and socialising in a safe environment. I believe this is something that these young people can’t get elsewhere in the local area. Doors are always open to all but across the weekend it’s a family focus as families young and old enjoy a skate together. I don’t see an alternative to this?
Slough Ice Arena is also home to many successful skaters and skating clubs. Indeed Slough Ice Arena is home to the a Champion National Team Challenge Club, something which has taken the club’s coach time to build and nurture. In synchronised skating Slough Ice Arena is home to many skating teams, spanning ages and abilities. This has taken their coaches time to create, build and improve. This year they will be representing Slough at the Belgium International.
As I have already mentioned, the first event to take place at Slough Ice Arena was a hockey match. Since then the Slough Jets and Slough Jets Junior Development programme have been constants in the UK hockey scene. The Senior team now plays in the National Ice Hockey League with the Junior club represented at Under 11, 13, 15, 18 and 20 age groups. Each of these teams sports in excess of 20 team members meaning the club boasts over 120 junior members and 25 senior members plus all the coaches and managers also in the system. As well as all the players there’s the social side of the club which reaches far and wide beyond it’s 150 members and includes families and of course spectators.
Then there’s SPICE, Special People On Ice bringing skating to those with additional needs. SPICE teaches skating, and hockey as well as boasting an award winning synchronised skating team. It’s not so much a skating club as a community. An essentiality of weekly life for its members, their siblings and the huge army of volunteers, who donate their Sunday mornings and so much more. SPICE started with humble beginnings in 2000 as SHARE in a coned off area of the rink and has grown now to the point where they are a huge community.
Added to all this there’s the annual Christmas Show where Slough’s skaters get to show case their skills either in solo or group performance to sold out crowds packing the arena. There’s also the ice which is used by local schools to bring their pupils skating!
It’s good that Slough Borough Council intend to refurbish what has become such a vital part of the community and beyond. To allow this generation to continue to enjoy the benefits it provides and of course future generations as well. However Slough Borough Council are missing an opportunity to do something GREAT. Refurbishing the rink is good but at what intangible costs? The loss of the businesses of the rink’s coaches, the breakdown of SPICE and the Slough Jets organisation plus the recreational hockey teams and the split up of the figure, dance and sychronised skating communities. The thing with ice sports is that they need ice! Football can be played in a park, there’s a choice of swimming pools in the borough but there’s only one ice rink which plays host to so many things for so many people.
Slough Community Leisure formed in 2000 to run the borough’s leisure facilities, and in 2009 Absolutely Leisure was created to run the entertainment side of the parent company’s venues. This saw Slough Ice Arena rebranded to Absolutely Leisure.
For 16 years Slough Community Leisure and Absolutely Leisure have run the rink, through the good times and then the tougher financial times that the world’s economy faced. The rink has constantly provided the same excellent ice and facilities for skaters, hockey players and SPICE as well as the same fun, safe, entertaining environment for the area’s youth.
I am sure Absolutely Leisure will have provided the council with options for the continuation of the ice provision within Slough however in the plans released to the press by Slough Borough Council I’ve spotted no mention of any temporary facility.
In the 9 – 12 months the refurbishment is expected to take the good work could all continue if a temporary rink bridges the gap between the closure and re-opening of the Montem Lane site. Or let’s look at the alternatives if a temporary rink isn’t part of the plans.
Ice Hockey – Younger players will either give up the sport or a few may have parents that can drive them to other rinks. The Slough Jets ice hockey club will suffer an irreparable break-up.
SPICE – The members, siblings and volunteers will have no alternative but to call time on this fantastic valuable resource. With no ICE there can be no Special People on ICE. The benefits in addition to the ice skating will all be lost and after such a long time of disbandment it’s likely that SPICE will be irreparably damaged.
Figure / Dance / Sycrhonised skating – The rink’s coaches will be faced with the chance to close their business or apply to coach at other rinks. With 9-12 months facing no income it’s unlikely those that don’t move to other rinks will return and the few that have moved to other rinks and built their business again from scratch are unlikely to return. The skaters may well end up lost to the sport.
Slough Borough Council have the chance to do something great for the people they’re elected to represent. To provide them with an ice skating facility truly fit for the 21st century but not at the expense of the skating community and indeed the community for which the facility exists. The difference between good and great is taking the option to provide a temporary facility to make the transition seamless.
The city of Cardiff has hosted a full skating programme, including an Elite League Ice Hockey team, a full public skating timetable, various skating clubs and more all from a temporary rink seating 3,000 people. Slough doesn’t need anything that grand but the users all deserve somewhere where they can go until they can return to Montem Lane. The clubs that have been painstakingly built over the years deserve the chance to continue and the youngsters that call the rink their home on Friday nights, the families that enjoy quality family skating at the weekends deserve the chance to carry on.
There are companies that can ensure a temporary rink can be run efficiently during the refurbishment. Ice Tech is one of the leading companies in this field and has just been contracted to build Manchester’s temporary facility but also deals with smaller rinks such as the highly successful annual winter rink at Somerset House. I’m certain they could come up with a solution that would work for Slough during the closure. Milton Keynes rink was recently refurbished but the regular uses and clubs of Milton Keynes were given MK:Ice to use as a temporary solution until their new rink was ready.
While Slough Council have indicated that the tenders to run all the leisure facilities will be looked at during the refurbishment that shouldn’t be a block to the provision of a temporary facility in the intervening period.
I hope that the common sense prevails, that Slough’s youth still have their Friday night disco, that families can still take their children and that the various clubs still continue, rather than suffer irreparable damage. That can only happen if the council’s plans are redrawn to include a temporary rink during the Montem Lane refurbishment.
I would urge Slough Borough Council to do something great for the people they represent and provide Slough, it’s youth, it’s skaters and hockey players and of course the members of SPICE with somewhere they can call home for the duration of the refurbishment as other than a temporary ice rink there are no workable alternatives.