Sunderland knocks up 2 years and are keepy up-ing the commitment

7 December 2021

None of us could have foreseen that just months after the initial opening of two new football and fitness hubs in Sunderland, the country would be in lockdown due to a pandemic. Despite the hubs only trading less than 81 days during COVID –  they still got off to a flying start with more than 25,000 football games played and in excess of 600,000 visits.

Whilst the pandemic undoubtedly slowed our progress, it didn’t stop us. We kept contact with our partners, our teams, our players and our employees virtually, set workout challenges, footy drills, outdoor, socially distanced bootcamps and organised online quizzes and competitions such as design a football kit. When restrictions allowed, we completed work on the third of Sunderland’s hubs, Ford Quarry, with state-of-the-art learning facilities and stadium seating, which opened in March 2021.

Two years on from the opening of Washington hub, it’s been far from (no pun intended) a Downhill journey to reach this point. Despite the closures and challenges of reopening with restrictions as we emerged from lockdown, we have a lot of positivity to look back on.

Hotly contested 7-a-side leagues on Mondays and Wednesdays, 5, 7, 9 and 11-a side pay and play, Wildcat sessions for girls, walking football, school holiday camps, kids tournaments with Pro-Motiv8, Football Fridays with the Foundation of Light. Year 11 ProDirect Academy open days and BTECs, Winter training with discounts for Charter standard clubs, Washington AFC half term camps for 6-13 year-old boys and girls, Next Level Goalkeeping during half terms, Ball launcher and Speed Shot challenges, Dads playing free on Father’s Day, PC39 Academy football trials, Jon King’s SportsKing coaching, hosting the Washington NSG AFC u18s County Cup win, Durham County FA’s Mini Soccer League on Sunday morning, adult Sunday League with fans finally seated in the stand at Ford Quarry – fantastic! SAFC Back2Basics with Gary Bennet, Pro-Motiv8 tournaments, the amazing Russell Foster Youth League, hosting North East College’s Cup Final, Washington Wizards on Tuesdays, hosting Paul Warris Memorial Trophy, Coerver Coaching with Washing AFC.

Weight Warriors 6-week exercise classes and meal plans with regular progress checks and one to one support. Offers to entice everyone into the gym, with promotions from just 16p a day. A wide variety of classes from low impact to HIIT, yoga to boxercise.

Charity Easter Egg collections with Washington NSG AFC. PPE sales in support of Bradley Lowery Foundation, Doughnut week and Halloween dressing up and hamper raffles, and food collections donated, and Community Christmas markets. Euro2020 was celebrated, as were the achievements of Washington’s Rebecca Welch becoming the first female to referee in the EFL, the ever-popular bacon butty and a cuppa Saturdays, and countless kids parties, senior lunch clubs and mental health groups.

What an incredible two years it’s been! With over half a million visits and 56.7k site registrations to Leisure United hubs in Sunderland and almost 34k gym visits made to Downhill, the hubs are well on their way to embedding themselves in the communities they serve. 75% of Sunderland’s users travel less than 10km to use Leisure United facilities, with 30% overall living less than 4km from their local hub. We’re delivering right at the heart of the community, right where we’re needed.

On average, 537 football games a week are played at our Sunderland hubs. A third of our attendance is by people under 18, a third aged between 19-35, and a third aged 36+. Whilst it’s pleasing to see a wide-ranging use of the facilities, we are particularly proud of the partnerships and progress we’ve made in learning and education at hubs. Across Wearside, Leisure United hubs are hosting over 150 BTEC scholars. With the support of The Foundation of Light, we’re delivering FA accredited coaching, training for referees, coaches, safeguarding and first aid and providing HAF holiday camp activities too. We’ve partnered with nine football clubs across the 3 hubs and even a rugby union club – Washington Rugby Club.

Visit any of our Sunderland hubs, on any day of the week and you’ll see football being played, taught, learned, spectated and enjoyed. You’ll discover community groups and kids parties in our cafes and social areas, weight pushing and sweat pouring at Downhill’s gym with lots of jumping and stretching in the fitness studio there too.

That’s the outcome of the investment and the hard work of our dedication and passionate 60-strong team in Sunderland. Our partners Football Foundation, the FA, Sport England, Premier League and Sunderland City Council, and everyone who’s attended our hubs can be rightly proud of our achievements. We are two incredible years into our Sunderland adventure, but this is just the beginning of our commitment and impact there, and further afield.

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