Retro: Barnsley Metrodome is a game-changer

Barnsley Metrodome swimming pool.
Barnsley Metrodome swimming pool.
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It is a leisure centre which was described on its first day as “the most significant single building to be opened in Barnsley in 50 years.”

The Metrodome – which celebrates its 25th anniversary this summer – has had millions of visitors swim, smash and slam their way around its swimming pools, badminton courts and basketball arena in its two and half decades.

Few would deny that this is more than just a simple town centre sports complex.

The £14.5 million Queens Road facility – home to a five pool water park, eight lane bowling alley, 10 court sports hall, a gym and three diners – is credited with regenerating Barnsley’s economy after the closure of the pits.

It has brought international events, including boxing, snooker and the 1991 World Student Games basketball, to the town.

And it is, today, almost certainly the only place in the borough where a youngster can explore a sunken pirate galleon.

Little wonder that council spokesman, quoted back in 1989, considered the place so important.

Now, to celebrate the milestone date – it was officially opened on August 1, 1989 – Midweek Retro brings you these pictures from The Star archive.

“The Metrodome was a game changer for Barnsley,” says Dave Redfearn, contracts manager with BPL (formerly Barnsley Premier Leisure) which runs the complex. “It was ground-breaking.

“I grew up in Wombwell and there was nothing like this then. The ambition behind it was unbelievable. I mean, it even had a projectile hall for shooting. That’s gone these days but it shows they were trying to cater for everything.

“Even now, I go to bigger towns and look at their leisure offering and it’s nothing compared to what we have. It’s still ahead of the game.”

Sporting legends including Frank Bruno, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Phil Taylor have all competed in tournaments held in the 2,000 capacity hall there.

The Queen also had a look round in 1991 but declined to get on her cossie and have a bash at the five metre diving board (and who can blame her? It’s right high once you’re up there).

So significant was the venue in boosting Barnsley’s reputation in the early Nineties, it was credited with attracting 100,000 overnight tourists to the town in just 12 months.

The Star’s restaurant critic even went along to sample the cuisine in the Rigby Suite – “the cider and lentil gratin came in a dish of swimming pool proportions,” noted our man.

Not bad, all in all, for a centre which was only mooted because the town’s Victorian swimming baths – then in Race Street – were no longer fit for purpose. They had been open since 1874.

Council leader Ronald Rigby took personal interest and demanded architects come up with something to restore Barnsley’s pride following the economic decline of the Seventies and Eighties.

“When I was growing up I always assumed I’d have to move somewhere else to follow a career in sports management,” says Dave, who now lives in Wath-upon-Dearne. “But then the Metrodome opened and Barnsley felt like this great place to be.”

Original facilities which no longer survive included, as well as that projectile hall, a climbing wall and four glass-backed squash courts with seven tiers of spectator seating. They have now been replaced by an expanded gym and a cycle room where visitors can enjoy virtual bike rides along some 140 of the world’s most glorious routes.

“My favourite is the Grand Canyon,” says 44-year-old Dave, who has worked his way up through the company since starting as a summer lifeguard in 1990. “You start to believe you’re actually there.”

The original water park has also undergone regular transformations to keep it fresh, including a £1 million overhaul last year to turn it into the pirate-themed Calypso Cove.

It’s not always been plain swimming. Famously, not long after opening, staff arrived to find the swimming pools had, er, flooded. And in the early noughties, serious questions hung over its financial viability.

“That was challenging,” says Dave. “Staff took a wage cut and we had to reinvent what we were doing, and look at ways to improve our offering. But we pulled through. The Metrodome is too important for Barnsley to lose.”

Visitors today come from across the UK.

“We are now viewed as a leisure destination of choice, welcoming visitors from Scotland, Plymouth and everywhere in-between,” says facilities manager Joni Millthorpe.

“Local customers have expressed their delight with recent developments including Metrodome Bowling, the fitness suite and the newly refurbished Rigby Café and Lounge.

“Here’s to the next 25 years.”

Celebrate the milestone

It’s a special anniversary and the Metrodome wants customers of the landmark venue to help them celebrate.

The £14.5 million complex is 25-years-old this summer and an exhibition of memories, memorabilia and photos will be displayed in the foyer of the centre.

Now, bosses are asking for visitors past and present to send in their pictures, stories and recollections.

“We would like to hear about your memories and anecdotes from parties, school trips and any other events,” says Joni Millthorpe, facilities manager. “If you have photos, press cuttings or any other memorabilia please send them to”

Metrodome in numbers

3 diners and eateries.

5 swimming flumes.

5 metres, the height of the highest diving board.

7 years between first planning application being submitted in 1982 and opening in 1989.

8 bowling lanes.

10 badminton courts.

25 – years it’s been open.

200 members of staff

2,200 number of spectators allowed in for a boxing match in the arena.

1 million users every single year.

14.5 million pounds it cost to build.