Dorchester Sports Centre

Some years ago, the topic of a new sports hall for Dorchester was being hotly debated.

Temperatures in the various relevant bureaucracies reached boiling point, and I began to fear that the project would fail altogether.

I have often found that, under such circumstances, the best thing is to get the people at the top to talk to one another informally, without all their advisers and consultants. And so it proved in this case.

A clandestine meeting was held over bacon and eggs at a hotel in Blandford. The log was unjammed and the project moved forward.

But of course you never know, when you help to get such a thing moving, whether you will ultimately be pleased or horrified with the result. So it was with some trepidation that, this week, I for the first time set foot in the new sports hall.

I have to say that it exceeded my wildest expectations.

I don’t know about others of equally advancing years who read this column, but my own childhood  memories of public swimming baths are filled with unpleasant smells and vaguely decaying tiles. This is an edifice bearing not the remotest similarity to that rather distressing visual and sensory image.

It is truly a palace of fitness — a fine building, inside and out; light and airy, with splendid perspectives and views; magnificently endowed with pools and exercise machinery; conveniently located for school and town alike. The architects, builders, fitters and operators are all to be congratulated.

What is more, this has become a splendid example of sensible and pragmatic cooperation between town and gown. The facility is critical for Thomas Hardye and for other Dorchester schools. But, while I was there, adults were using it happily alongside the students. And I gather that there are now plans to have it open from 6am to 11pm — which is certainly rather longer than the school day even at the high-achieving Dorchester schools.

So we seem to have something that is not only strikingly attractive and very functional but also socially unifying. Hallelujah!

Dorset Echo