A look inside the £28 million pound Derby Arena

Photo: Geoff Ford

Photo: Geoff Ford - Credit: Archant

Derby’s iconic new venue has to be a whole lot more than just a shiny status symbol for the city

Derby Arena

Derby Arena - Credit: Archant

Sitting proudly alongside the Rams’ iPro Stadium, Derby’s iconic new venue has to be a whole lot more than just a shiny status symbol for the city.

At a cost of nearly £28 million, Derby Arena has to justify that level of investment at a time of austerity and has to deliver an impact in terms of both leisure and culture for Derby.

It has to accommodate basketball, badminton, netball and wheelchair sports and more, as well as providing a landmark venue for cycling that could help produce Derby’s answer to Sir Chris Hoy.

With the city’s main entertainment venue, The Assembly Rooms, now declared permanently out of action and debate underway as to what will replace it, the arena has to plug the current gap in Derby’s cultural scene as well. The Derby Live pantomime, cancelled in 2014, will take up residence at the venue for Christmas and the highlight of the 2015 Comedy Festival, a date for Jimmy Carr, is also booked in.

Derby Arena

Derby Arena - Credit: Archant

From university degree ceremonies to National League badminton, Derby Arena has a wide variety of functions to accommodate. But it certainly looks the part, as Derbyshire Life takes a tour around the venue the possibilities leap at you from every corner. Yes, the building may largely be a shell, despite its high-banking cycling track, but you can see how a sweaty rock gig for 5,000 fans might work and how the state of the art gym and sporting facilities might inspire a new generation of champions.

Certainly as a velodrome it’s up there with the best – one of only five such facilities in a country that has piled the Olympic medals high in a sport that has produced a string of great British champions in recent years.

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So it was on the track where the venue was officially launched, with city council chiefs among the first to put on cycling helmets and give it a go.

City council leader Ranjit Banwait, still sweating from his trip around the track, was clearly thrilled by the potential of the venue.

Inside the gym at Derby Arena

Inside the gym at Derby Arena - Credit: Archant

He told Derbyshire Life: ‘It’s above and beyond expectations. It may seem a bit odd but the closest thing to cycling around the track for me was when I got flying lessons. I did that because I had a fear of flying and wanted to challenge those fears. This is both different and similar. Although I have cycled I have never been on a velodrome before. Your safety instincts are to control your speed but here, when fear kicks in, the discipline is to cycle faster because to take these steep bends you need to increase your velocity. That’s both thrilling and scary but the confidence does build after the first few times around.

‘No doubt I will never get anywhere near the professionals but the young people who come here and see the champions no doubt will. I hope all will be inspired and a few will go on to be champions themselves.’

Ranjit believes that the arena will put Derby on the map. He says: ‘It’s a hugely iconic venue, it’s one of the very few velodromes like this, not only in the country but also in Europe. But there’s much more to the arena than just that. We have a challenge because one of our performance venues has had to shut because of a fire and this venue offers a perfect solution to that. So there will be other exciting events throughout the year.’

He also believes that the arena is a sound investment, despite the financial pressures the city council is under. ‘Britain is about public services and you go to countries where they only dream of venues like this. Well we dreamt it and made it happen and it’s right here. It’s part of a 15-year vision that I have put out as leader of the council where we are saying to the people of Derby, “yes, we have a difficult job but if we can get through it then we can build a future”.’

Another councillor to brave the velodrome and put pedal power to the test was Alison Martin, cabinet member for leisure and culture, who describes herself as a casual cyclist. ‘I was nervous but once I was in the cycling rhythm it just takes over. The tricky thing is stopping as there are no brakes and gears and your feet are tied in. Anyone can come along and use the track, with coaches on hand to help, but we are also getting top class cyclists down here as well to do demonstrations and use it. It was also always intended as a multi-sports and multi-use arena. We hope that it will bring people here for concerts and the pantomime as much as for the sporting side.’

Does she feel that people are ready now to embrace the arena and make full use of it? ‘The cycling community already have and were very keen to get in here,’ she says. ‘When people see the range of sports you can do here, see the fantastic gym and exercise studios, I feel they will be flocking here.

‘Many of our leisure facilities are more than 40 years old, are not very efficient and are expensive to maintain. They also don’t really meet current standards on things like disability access. This is very much a venue for everyone. It is something that we very much needed.

‘I also think it’s a beautiful building which looks stunning in the Olympic colours. It is iconic and one of the most impressive buildings in Derby.’

Entertainment in store

Derby Arena will be the new home of the city’s all-star panto with Aladdin flying in for Christmas 2015. It will be just one of the entertainment highlights the city hopes to host at Derby Arena.

Peter Ireson, head of culture and business development for Derby City Council, said: ‘The arena will enable Derby to have a whole new offer. As the capacity is 5,000 standing, 3,500 seated, it means we can attract different things to Derby. It’s a nice size – smaller than the giant arenas but larger than the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham and the Assembly Rooms. So it should open doors for us and we are already getting promoters who are keen to talk to us about bringing things here and I’m very excited about the potential.’

Peter believes that the size of the arena will help plug a gap in the market. ‘Talking to the big arenas, I have found that they have had to find ways to shrink them down for certain events. Our arena is perfect for a whole range of things that don’t fit those larger venues. Rock and pop standing gigs will be a core element and we are getting interest from the big promoters. Comedy has been the new rock and roll for a few years now and will fit well and we expect to book in trade shows and conferences as well. A whole new range of promoters, artists and audiences will be looking at Derby who didn’t before so it’s a fantastic new string to our bow.’

With the Assembly Rooms out of action is it also much needed?

Peter says: ‘We have worked hard to put an interim programme in place using a marquee in the Market Place and putting events on in smaller venues in the city but this has secured the pantomime for this year which is the most popular cultural event in Derby with 50,000 coming to the Assembly Rooms. We have a larger capacity for 2015, 1,500 for Aladdin, and that’s the beauty of the arena; it’s multi-format and the seating can be configured in a lot of different ways. The opportunities are endless.’

Aladdin will be on stage from 7th December to 3rd January, with tickets priced from £11.25 and concessions, group, school and family tickets available.

Jimmy Carr’s hit show Funny Business will take place on Friday, 10th July, during the second Derby Comedy Festival.

Tickets for both shows can be purchased via the Derby LIVE box office on 01332 255800, online at derbylive.co.uk, or in person at the Assembly Rooms, Market Place, Derby.

Fact file

• The futuristic building has a footprint of 156,000 sq feet;

• The vast structure incorporates 17,000 tonnes of steel – the equivalent of 200 London buses;

• If the steel was laid end to end it would stretch to the length of a marathon;

• If all the wood used in the cycling track was put end to toe it would reach from Derby to Leicester;

• 250,000 nails were hand-driven into the 250-metre track over a six-week construction period;

• Planks of wood for the track came from the pine forests of Siberia;

• The velodrome is one of only five in the UK;

• Derby Arena is one of the first Olympic legacy projects to be completed since London 2012;

• The steepest part of the track is approximately 42 degrees;

• Riders can reach speeds of up to 45 mph;

• The state of the art 15-station gym has an indoor cycling studio and group exercise programmes taking place in two purpose-built studios;

• The track infield is the size of 12 badminton courts and can host basketball, netball, wheelchair basketball, volleyball, martial arts, table tennis and trampolining;

• Derby Arena has a 5,000-audience capacity for cultural events;

• There are 1,500 fixed spectator seats and the infield can seat a further 2,000 or provide standing room for 3,500;

• The car park capacity is 1,100;

• Opening hours 7am-9pm daily, unless there’s a special event.

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