About the Sobell Leisure Centre

    What is the Sobell Leisure Centre?

    The Sobell Leisure Centre is a much-loved leisure and sporting facility providing a range of facilities for residents and visitors in one of Islington’s most deprived wards. The centre was gifted to Islington residents by philanthropist Sir Michael Sobell in 1973.

    How many people use the Sobell Leisure Centre?

    Before it temporarily closed following a flood last August, the centre attracted 400,000 visits per year. 48% of visitors are from Islington with the remainder coming from Haringey, Camden and Hackney.


    Why is the council planning to redevelop the Sobell Leisure Centre?

    In August 2022 the centre suffered a major flood due to a Thames Water main bursting. This affected the entire ground floor, and all the facilities, equipment, fixtures and fittings including the trampoline park, ice rink, squash courts and soft play area, which have been condemned. The ground floor has been stripped back to the shell of the building.

    As most of the previous facilities were written off, there is an opportunity to look at the best possible use of the space that would enable as many residents as possible to benefit from sport and leisure activities.  

    We have now launched a consultation, to engage with the local community, and listen to feedback from centre users and local people on what facilities and services they would like to see in the centre. 

    Our vision for the Sobell Leisure Centre

    How does the council decide what to do with the space?

    We aim to:

    • provide top quality facilities for residents and visitors
    • make sure new facilities will meet the needs of our residents, which is why it is prudent to take this opportunity to re-evaluate the leisure offer at Sobell
    • get the best value for money that we can for our budget, and ensure facilities are financially viable going forward
    • make sure our proposals and plans fit in with our aim to create a more equal Islington. 

    What are you proposing to change about the facilities?

    Islington Council and GLL, the charitable social enterprise who run the centre on behalf of the council, are proposing changes to the facilities on the ground floor, which will modernise Sobell Leisure Centre, putting it back on the map as a destination centre with exciting and innovative facilities for many more residents and visitors alike.  

    The proposed new facilities could include:

    • Installing a new high energy active zone, an innovative, state-of-the-art facility for people of all ages.
    • This would include the already-popular trampoline park, a baby and toddler section, a junior area, as well as a ‘Strike Arena’ and inflatable zone for older children, teenagers and families.
    • Upgrading the squash courts and gym with updated facilities.  
    • Moving the boxing area by relocating the studios, to create more capacity 
    • Creating a new café area, with seating.

    It is not our present intention to rebuild the ice rink, though this is subject to consultation.

    How will these proposals attract many more people to Sobell?

    When the trampoline park was introduced, in January 2018, we welcomed three times the number of people than before, with up to 120 visitors per hour. 

    The new proposals would build on the success of this, accommodating up to 300 visitors per hour, allowing up to 250,000 user visits per year to this new experience, ensuring many more people can enjoy low-cost, family activities.

    Will the proposed new facilities be affordable?

    As of 2019, Finsbury Park was the most deprived ward in Islington. In addition to low-cost pricing, GLL will work with local partners to ensure there are opportunities available for low-income families during term time and the school holidays. This includes schools, children’s centres, Access to Sports, food banks and the local youth hubs.  

    Will there be facilities for children? What about young people? 

    There are 69,259 people aged 0-15 within nine minutes travel of Sobell Leisure Centre. 

    Sobell Leisure Centre will provide opportunities for local schools, nurseries and children’s centres to use the facilities. This will help improve health, wellbeing and educational outcomes for pupils, with a particular emphasis on the least active children. This will also contribute to reducing childhood obesity, and improving mental and physical health. 

    There is also the opportunity for families to become involved in the wider leisure offer at Sobell Leisure Centre; once people visit the centre they can find out about other facilities and services available to improve their own activity levels. The café space would also provide an opportunity for parents and carers to sit and socialise while children are taking part in activities. 

    Finsbury Park is Islington’s most deprived ward, it is important that we provide leisure facilities that all of our residents and communities can enjoy.

    Will this scheme provide services for older and disabled residents?

    Absolutely – our leisure facilities are for all of our residents. New layouts will help support a more in sync programme for our older customers and expansion of the ‘better get together’ sessions for over 60’s. 

    GLL will provide targeted sessions to support people with disabilities to utilise the products.  This will involve partnership work with local schools, Disability Sports Coach, Centre 404, Elfrida Society and more.  The estimated number of Islington residents with a disability in 2021 is 36,656 or 15% of the population.

    Will there be an opportunity for local people to be employed on this project?

    GLL work closely with Islington Council in supporting the recruitment of local people. The increased provision would open a number of new employment opportunities and increased workforce at Sobell Leisure Centre.

    Are you removing any general parking or disabled parking?

    There are no plans to alter car parking arrangements. We are looking at options to increase the sporting offer in the grounds of the Sobell Leisure Centre, but this would not involve the loss of any customer parking provision. We are considering the introduction of a third external pitch at the front of the centre in the staff car park area, which would increase sporting capacity and opportunities as well as assisting in our flood mitigation plans.

    Why are you not re-instating the Sports Hall?

    To re-instate the sports hall back to its original 16 court size is an option that is very unlikely for the council to consider for two principal reasons. To re-instate the full sports hall would result in a significant reduction in visitor numbers, as the previous trampoline park attracted far more users than the previous sports hall space. It would also be a huge financial cost to the council as the trampoline park generated significantly more revenue than the half of the sports hall, so any proposals would need to generate at least the equivalent amount of income to be sustainable. Restoring the full 16-court sports hall would not achieve that and is therefore, not being proposed as a viable option in the consultation. We are, however, proposing the reinstatement of the eight-court sports hall that was in place pre flood.

    Why we’re proposing to not reinstate the ice rink

    Why are you proposing to not reinstate the ice rink? 

    We know that this proposal will be very disappointing for many users of the ice rink. There are a number of reasons why Islington Council and GLL don’t feel it's the best use of money to reinstate the ice rink:

    Better alternative facilities nearby:

    •   Sobell ice rink is small in comparison to that of neighbouring boroughs; Alexandra Palace ice rink is larger at 56 meters (Sobell is 36m), and a new, state of the art, double Olympic sized ice rink is about to open at Lee Valley, which is six times bigger than the ice rink at Sobell Leisure Centre. Even if we were to reinstate the ice rink, Sobell could not compete with these superior facilities; it is expected that more customers would transfer to Lee Valley. We value the support that the regular skaters have given us and are looking at ways to support the transfer of skate clubs to Lee Valley. 

    Broader appeal for the wider community:

    • The amount of people who use the ice rink is relatively low, under 500 per week, as opposed to 2,000 per week using the Trampoline Park only. We want the centre to provide the best possible opportunities for all of the local community to stay fit and healthy.

    Financial implications:

    • The ice rink at Sobell has been condemned. The full cost of the replacement rink and infrastructure is in excess of £1.8m, excluding VAT. Moreover, due to the limitations on the number of customers the rink can hold and the high costs of cooling the area, the ice rink operated at a deficit of £250K per year - and this was before the cost of living crisis and huge increase in energy costs. This means that, in our view, it would be unsustainable and not financially viable to reinstate the ice rink, even with insurance covering the costs of building a new rink. We think that money would be much better spent on a different offer with a broader appeal.

    Islington is aiming to be net carbon zero by 2030

    •. The amount of energy that is required to maintain the ice rink is enormous - we will be able to reduce the carbon footprint of 113 tonnes -generated by the 593,126kWh of energy needed to power the ice rink. This is 70% of Sobell's total electricity consumption.

    Where can we go to ice skate?

    Alexandra Palace has a large ice rink, and Lee Valley ice rink is due to open its double Olympic sized ice rink this summer. We are working with GLL to see what they can offer Sobell members at Lee Valley.

    How do I get to Lee Valley or Alexandra Palace ice rinks?

    The Lee Valley is 50 minutes from the Sobell Leisure Centre by public transport. The Lee Valley rink is four miles away, while the Alexandra Palace rink is three miles away. On the overground, you can travel from Highbury & Islington to Hackney Central and then either take the 55 bus to Lee Valley, or the W3 bus to Alexandra Palace.

    We do recognise that for some users, particularly younger people and disabled users, the additional distance would be more difficult. We are going to explore ways to continue to provide access to some young people and disabled groups to access the Lee Valley Centre with the provision of Accessible Community Transport. We will start to take users over to the Lee Valley Centre once it opens next month to familiarise people with the new offer.

    Your opportunity to have your say

    Why has it taken so long to start consulting?

    The timing of the decision-making on this is particularly important due to the critical path of the works to Sobell Leisure Centre. The extent of damage was revealed to be significantly more than initially envisaged, and it has taken a long time to establish this. The investigatory works have revealed significant structural and foundation disrepair. This has resulted in the rink and the sports hall being stripped back to their bare shell. 

    Having established the scale of the damage, the council needed time to work with GLL to consider and agree a viable alternative offer and to go through an internal governance process to decide whether that was something that we wanted to consider. The challenges of operating the ice rink against the potential of what the proposed alternative offer would provide has brought the council to this point.

    Do you really take any notice of what residents say when you ask for feedback?

    We welcome the input from residents and people who use the centre. Your feedback and suggestions can help us improve our ideas of what could be included in the proposals.

    We have produced an information brochure to distribute to residents and members of Sobell Leisure Centre. Our questionnaire is available online and in paper format, so that everyone has a chance to have their say.