An active campus

An active campus

How University of Warwick is building a community focused on health

Since its completion, the multi-million-pound Sports and Wellness Hub at University of Warwick has played a pivotal role in supporting the university’s ambition of becoming the “most physically active campus community in the UK by 2020”, having replaced all former on-campus health and fitness facilities.

From a commercial perspective the new hub is already delivering for the university, increasing its number of local community members from 175 to 1500 and counting. Similarly, when comparing data, the newly completed hub has more than doubled the number of visitors from 13,000 to 27,000.

Delivered by contractor Willmott Dixon, the £37 million project was managed by the same team behind the university’s Oculus Building in 2016 who deployed their award-winning experience for managing complex construction work within a live campus environment.

The project’s construction manager, Nick Preedy, picked up the gold award in the retail and leisure category at CIOB’s Construction Manager of the Year Awards 2019 for his influential impact on the project including the movement of 40,000 cubic metres of material and a saving of £1million for the university.

Speaking of the project, Nick said: “The sports and wellness hub was a hugely exciting and unique project to work on. The design of the building and the level of smart technology that has been implemented throughout is outstanding. I was very focussed on delivering the project to the highest quality, and this is something that carried on all the way through alongside our design and supply chain partners.

“The scheme was fascinating to work on as it featured extensive innovative use of digital construction technology and elements of offsite construction, which was crucial in achieving a quality product on time and under budget.”

From a 25-metre, 12-lane swimming pool to a 17m-high climbing wall, the 16,684 sq ft hub features smart building technology throughout, with coolant technology providing the temperature for any given sport, and dynamic lighting automatically adjusting in certain rooms at specific times of the day to create the optimal ambience.

Working towards a shared vision

The sprawling facility opened ahead of the Europe Corporate Games and was built to tie in with Coventry’s tenure as the 2019 European City of Sport – meaning the new building’s purpose always considered the wider community and how it could enhance sporting both regionally and nationally.

Lisa Dodd-Mayne, director of Sport and Active Communities at the university knew it was crucial for the hub to help people engage in sport, through creating positive experiences and more importantly, helping sport become part of everything people do.

Speaking of this strategic work, Lisa said: “Here at the university we are client-led, meaning everything we do needs to support the health and wellbeing our students, staff and the wider community. Because of this we wanted the sports hub to be more than a building and have a real impact on the lives of individuals.

“As we started the journey to create the hub, we agreed four core objectives: that the building would offer the best customer experience, include participation in its design, help to build a community and finally that upon its completion, the hub would sustainably contribute back to the university.”

Modern students expect good quality accommodation, multiple dining options, and modern fitness and recreational facilities, yet fulfilling these expectations can be difficult and expensive. In 2013, the University of Warwick recognised that it needed to invest in its facilities and began to work on a development plan to create a distinctive campus driving participation and sustainability.

Capitalising on Warwick’s uniqueness

With the intention of providing opportunities for indoor and outdoor activities – and linking the hub to other facilities via a network of paths, cycle ways, and activity areas – the university appointed an architect to design the facility.

Andy Mytom, from David Morley Architects, was involved in the project from 2013, he said: “I was originally brought on board to support the university in undertaking an opinion piece of research, which was a valuable exercise to look at what it was doing and what it might do in the future. With an ever-constrained site, ageing facilities and a different demographic of audience coming through its doors, it was crucial for a new facility to meet a higher volume and aspiration of users.

“We wanted to enhance people’s lives through sport at the hub, so it was important for us to create a building which would physically match its purpose beyond delivery alone. So, we asked ourselves what makes Warwick distinctive? It has an urban heart that keeps getting more urban, a wonderful belt of countryside and dedicated spaces for sport.

“Looking at the campus’ existing masterplan we could see how well the university connects with countryside and football pitches – the terrain isn’t flat and there is a lot of wildlife nearby.  We chose the hub’s location as it was within green belt land and could sit well within nature – with the now complete courts linking into the woodland - while also offering development opportunities in the future.”

User experience at the heart of design

When working on the hub’s design the architects considered the psychology of participation at every level, looking to break down barriers and create a welcoming environment. Andy said: “We came up with a campus-wide vision, considering new buildings, and where and how people will be active. The university’s estates office has a mandate to look at every project and how it will benefit people’s health and wellbeing and we needed to consider how the campus is going to grow and may need the hub to develop in the future, such as footpaths and additional green spaces.”

Involving complex construction work within a live campus environment, the new hub has replaced all existing sporting facilities on campus and is set to be one of the leading sports facilities at a UK university. Designed to inspire and motivate students, staff and the wider community to engage in an active and healthy lifestyle.

Speaking of the design, Nick said: “Although the project is effectively a big box, everything is focused on breaking down barriers to participation – there are no turnstiles in the building at all. When someone arrives in the hub they are greeted by the phenomenal climbing wall, and from the building’s heart you can see 90% of the activity that happens in building without needing to pay a penny. Similarly, the swimming pool looks out onto woodland rather than a busy carpark, making it feel secluded and perfect for everyone, from those participating in sport to relaxation.

For the Willmott Dixon team, user experience spans beyond the build and its involvement did not end once the keys were handed over. Instead two of its team remained at the building after completion to ensure the hub was performing well for the university.

As part of this, Willmott Dixon offered the university its specialist in-house energy efficiency consultants, who accurately estimate the energy consumption of buildings during design, as well as monitoring during occupancy to suggest improvements. This is similar to TM54 and is broken down into 12 categories, which makes for more precise reporting, highlighting design amends that make the building more efficient. The report encourages the university to invest in a strategy to continue to optimise the building to its full potential.  At design stage, a realistic energy performance benchmark for the building was agreed, providing the baseline against which monitoring takes place.

Francesca Wilkinson, sustainability management trainee, Willmott Dixon said: “Monitoring the building’s usage, customer satisfaction and energy efficiency is incredibly important to us as we want to make sure the hub is delivering on its promises. To date we’ve saved the university over £20k just by making marginal changes. At Willmott Dixon we are involved from inception to post-completion, helping the university make it a sustainable facility, not just a facility that’s sustainably designed.”

Setting an industry standard

Overall the investment in the sports hub underpins the university’s vision to be a world-leading university that attracts the best staff and students from around the globe to join its community.

Reflecting on the project Lisa said: “I always see an incredible reaction when people come into the building for the first time, as it is so striking and modern – I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved. Not only was the project defect-free and delivered on time and budget, but Willmott Dixon handed over eight of our outdoor pitches ahead of time. This meant that we could begin to use this space commercially before the project was even complete. Every step of the way Willmott Dixon was outstanding, the team always came to me with solutions instead of problems, giving us added value whenever they could. This is truly a world-class facility and we are certain it has delivered on all of our objectives, putting us where we want to be for the future.

“Why do I think this was such a successful as a project? Fundamentally every partner brought into delivering our objectives understood the bigger picture. At the project’s beginning we all signed a physical agreement, which we still have on display today, which reminded us – even when things were tough – what we were working towards. Ultimately, we had the best project team and the best people on this job.”

The now complete project has won a number of awards including the ‘Award for Excellence’ at the annual Sports and Play Construction Association (SAPCA) awards, Secured by Design Gold Standard and a BREEAM score of Excellent – truly showcasing how this project is leading the way not only in construction, but in sport, leisure and higher education estates.