The good people at Everyone Active have recently taken over the running of several local authority leisure centres in London, including The Castle Centre, Marshal Street Leisure Centre, Seymour Sports Centre and Porchester Centre & Spa. We’re pretty fond of their mission: to encourage more people to participate in 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, five times a week, and were totally delighted when they asked us to come and check out their newly renovated centres and their facilities.
The Castle Centre is handily located a 10min cycle from my office and on my way home, so I had literally no excuse not to go for a snoop around, and by jingo am I glad I did. I hadn’t been to The Castle Centre before the renovation, but I have no doubt that it has entirely transformed since reopening – the way it is designed means it is full of light and absorbs a huge number of people without it feeling overcrowded, which is handy if you are heading in during the post-work crush.
As you approach the centre, the thing that strikes you immediately is the super-cool, fluorescent sign that sits, human-height, in the floor-to-ceiling window on the first floor, above the front door. It’s the first glimpse of the vibe I think they’re going for in their gym. It’s erring towards a Gym-boxy sort of funkiness, but without being enormously overpriced and full of meatheads. Head up to the first floor and you’ll find the brilliantly kitted out gym – all the cardio and free weights you could ask for an resistance machines for everything, including muscles I didn’t even know I had. My only criticism of the resistance machines is that they aren’t truly weighted, rather you set the resistance by pushing a button that taughtens the cable which you have to push or pull against – so how are you supposed to know how much you’re lifting? Equally though, everything is well maintained and pristinely clean and tidy.
This leisure centre is truly inclusive and appealing to everyone, as evidenced by the packed, shriek-filled swimming pool during family friendly swimming times. This also makes for a chilled out gym – there’s people of all different shapes, sizes, levels of fitness and sporting interests. Sure, there are occasionally a couple of blokes gurning in the mirror whilst lifting with questionable form, but there’s nothing of the uber-lad about this place. I felt just as comfortable swinging a kettle about on a mat as I would have done in the privacy of my own bedroom.
As well as a fab gym, there is a good-sized spinning studio, thought the number and selection of spinning classes is a tad limited currently, with only two pre-work sessions a week currently. Being so close to the City, it seems a shame they don’t take advantage of the current wellbeing trend and offer more lunchtime sessions. Next door to the cycling studio is the large general studio where they have piles of equipment including boxing gloves,pads and bags; assorted dumbells, kettlebells and medicine balls; mats; steps and exercise balls. It’s a fitness class fan’s sweetshop. Which leads me to my main criticism of the Centre.
On seeing the plethora of kettlebells in the studio, I was intrigued. I love a good kettlebelling, me. So, on my way out I stopped at the reception desk to ask for their guidance on what classes I could book in order to use them. Unfortunately, I was met with a look of beffudlement. In fact, when I probed them on the Group Exercise more broadly, they weren’t able to give me much detail on any of the classes and couldn’t tell me what any of them entailed, other than that a step is used in Step. This was a problem I found when attending the Body Conditioning class, which you can read about here – though it has to be said, the class itself was enjoyable. In an attempt to be all things to all people, I think Everyone Active has written some seriously generic copy in their class descriptions, which is pretty unhelpful.
In all, I think the facilities at the Castle Centre easily rival the likes of Virgin Active and LA Fitness but the classes and their availability have got a bit of a way to go. If you live or work in that neck of the woods, give it a whirl.