Refurbishing leisure centres through community engagement in North Kesteven

Community engagement through art and celebrating local heritage have been critical to the success of a £7m leisure refurbishment programme in North Kesteven. This case study forms part of the Value of culture - regeneration section of our online Culture Hub.

Two long-established leisure centres in North Kesteven’s two largest towns were each in need of wholesale refurbishment, modernisation and improvement in order to meet customer expectations, boost participation and improve operational efficiency. From the outset, and in keeping with an established principle within the district, there was a strong focus on aesthetic considerations and opportunities to engage the community through arts and culture.

At Sleaford Leisure Centre, the refurbished building includes a new bespoke mosaic reflecting a 142-year history of swimming at the site. This, together with a brand new children’s splash zone celebrating the riverside location and adjacent nature reserve, has helped to root the leisure centre’s place in the community. The refurbished building makes the most of its location, with landscaping that incorporates and celebrates the river and makes it a much more welcoming place to visit. Building on the Sleaford initiative, the refurbishment plans for the North Kesteven Sports Centre in North Hykeham (which re-opened as ‘One NK’) had arts and culture at their core. The results included a ‘splash zone’ marking out Lincoln’s Magna Carta; designs that champion local aviation links and the iconic Vulcan Bomber, which was based nearby; and celebrating the sporting prowess of centre users through extensive photographic and graphic murals.

Impact of the project

Local communities do not instinctively connect with their heritage or always appreciate its critical importance in shaping locations. In North Kesteven there is a long-standing programme of cultural engagement through the successful ArtsNK programme of outreach, local expression and artistic legacy (funded by organisations including North Kesteven District Council and Arts Council England). The council places a strong focus on leading placemaking through art and local history, as it successfully did with these refurbishment projects.

More than 300 people were involved in making the Sleaford mosaic, and a group was established which continues to contribute locally-distinct mosaic pieces for the community’s enjoyment. In North Hykeham, scores of leisure centre users had their images used in the murals featured throughout the facilities. In both projects, extensive pubic consultation was carried out through which local people helped to shape the outcome. For example, young people chose the name and themes for the V-Flume water slide – which draws extensively on the Vulcan Bomber, its flight deck, archive photography and historic local legacy.

Hundreds of people are now part of the leisure centres’ stories and futures and this has created a sense of pride in their involvement. The centres are now much more vibrant, attractive and inviting, fit for purpose and distinct destinations in their own right. Active participation has increased dramatically, steadying from an initial 162 per cent uplift in Sleaford (283,000 users in the first year post-refurbishment) to a consistent annual increase of 12.5 per cent over the past four years. At North Hykeham, swimming visits are up 68 per cent.

Looking to the future

The council is now applying a ‘fresh-thinking’ approach across many of its ageing facilities, including its extensive housing stock. Aesthetic consideration is a long-standing principle here, but inclusion of the arts as a vehicle for community engagement and developing a stronger sense of place is now recognised as an essential, rather than a desirable, component.

Key learning points

  • Early, thorough and responsive engagement with the community has the potential to reap greater rewards than simple statistical or instructional feedback.
  • Placing a strong focus on selection of the most experienced designers from the outset was key; they remained involved throughout and contributed to the delivery of high-spec, bespoke, locally-specific solutions.

For further information contact Mike Lock, Cultural Services Manager, North Kesteven District Council:


This case study has been developed in conjunction with Arts Council England