Skaters challenge Islington council over ice rink plans

The ice rink at the Sobell Leisure Centre was devastated in last summer’s flood when a water main burst at the nearby junction with Holloway Road.

By Julia Gregory, Local Democracy Reporter

A group of people, along with oversized ice skates and signs protest on the steps of Islington Town Hall
Ice rink protest at Islington town hall over future of Sobell ice rink. Photo: Julia Gregory/LDRS

Skaters and ice hockey players challenged town hall bosses to turn from plans to close a much-loved ice rink destroyed by flood water and turn it into a soft play area instead.

Dylan Brookner from Lea Valley Lions told Islington’s executive that “the council’s proposals do not appeal to myself, to my friends or anyone of my age group and people I’ve spoken to. We do not want soft play, it is not something that we would do.”

The 12-year-old told councillors about the “Blades Belong on Your Feet” campaign encouraging young people to learn to skate instead of carrying knives and blades.

Student Apratim told councillors that closure would spell the end of some clubs.

“Five university teams would lose their space. We can’t afford to travel to Lea Valley or Ally Pally instead.”

The ice rink at the Sobell Leisure Centre was devastated in last summer’s flood when a water main burst at the nearby junction with Holloway Road.

Skaters and ice hockey players staged a protest outside the town hall ahead of a meeting discussing the rink’s future. They held larger-than-life models of ice skates and banners and played Ice, Ice, Baby to passers-by.

The council and leisure centre operators GLL said it will cost £1.7m to replace it and said with mounting energy costs it would not be economic to run it.

It will get money from insurance to pay for damage caused by the ankle-deep flood water which wrecked the ground floor at the Sobell Centre. Other casualties include the sports hall and the gym.

Leisure bosses have drawn up designs for a “ninja warrior park” and soft play area instead which they think will attract more customers.

Plans also include upgraded squash courts, gym, and boxing area.

Nurullah Turan, executive member for health, said: “It’s vitally imprtant that we rebuild the centre to ensure that it serves local people of all ages and backgrounds, and our proposals seek to do just that. ”

He wants to hear people’s views in a consultation which opens on 26 May.

He said the rink was making a £250,000 loss before it closed and with rising fuel costs it is estimated this could be £400,000 a year, and said it was only attracting 475 people a week on average. Its trampoline park was used by an average of 2,000 people a week.

Skaters have challenged the council to look at its figures again. They claimed it had only counted the people booking the rink for sport and club events, rather than individuals.

Since then, the council has revised the figures and said 590 people visited the rink on average every week.

Ice hockey player Kevin Bez called for more details of the income yielded by rink bookings to get a fuller picture of the situation.

Berry Saunders from the Sobell Ice Skating Club said there were 300 people enrolled in the learn to skate lessons alone .

The skating coach said: “It is a safety hub for the community – whatever your mental health, what ever is going on in your life, if you are grieving, you go onto the ice and you switch off.”

Hannah Dolan Davies, a Disney on Ice figure skater who also plays ice hockey said the Sobell was a great rink for beginners, as well as more experienced peoople.

“My fear is that they are stopping lots of skaters starting out on their skating journey.”

She also pointed out that the area around the Sobell Centre is well-lit, with busy streets.

“As a female at a skating session you feel much safer going back from there.”

Green councillor Caroline Russell said: “It just feels that they are not looking at the real value of the ice rink.”

She challenged the council to look at greener and more efficient ways of rebuilding the rink with new “more efficient kit.”

Energy used from rinks have been used to power homes elsewhere and Cllr Russell suggested investigating if such a scheme could work at the nearby Harvist estate.

“This catastrophic flood, which was terrible for our borough, could with some imagination have benefits for residents affected by the cost-of-living crisis.”

She also urged the council to look at other ways to work, such as rinks which are transformed into roller rinks during the four summer months, to cut energy costs whilst making money.”

“I know that young people, particularly girls, would love a rink in Islington. It would be a real shame if they miss out.”

Cllr Turan said although the executive agreed the council is minded not to reopen the rink, it is keen to hear about other options.

“One point that was raised with us by ice rink users was that the council and GLL consider the green ice rink model at Ozone in Bracknell.”

He said the council has contacted Ozone and other ice operators “to discuss alternative business operating models to see if these could address the challenges associated with reopening the Sobell ice rink.”

Skater Simon Nicholls told the Local Democracy Reporting Service he thought the council had not considered women and girls enough as the sport was popular with them and the move would “reduce women’s access to sport”.

He said the council could monetise the rink better with weekend sessions, and increase capacity.

His teenage daughter, who uses the rink, said she did not think the proposed soft play would appeal to girls and people would not visit regularly, unlike skating with a club.

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