News

Transformation of Maysfield Leisure Centre underway

Suzanne McGonagle
09 July, 2016 01:00

IN its heyday Belfast's Maysfield Leisure Centre played host to world boxing bouts and concerts featuring the likes of Bob Dylan and U2. Suzanne McGonagle looks back as the site now undergoes a major transformation

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FROM catering to the local community to hosting high-profile sporting and music events, Maysfield Leisure Centre was once one of Belfast's best known landmarks.

But almost 40 years after it first opened, a major refurbishment is now underway at the site - transforming it into state-of-the-art office space.

Located in the shadow of the imposing Albert Bridge, Maysfield was one of six leisure centres built across Belfast in the late 1970s.

It was part of a plan by then Labour minister Lord Melchett to encourage the city's residents away from rioting and onto running machines.

Built in an area close to nationalist and unionist communities, it attracted Catholic and Protestants, hosting sports like judo, snooker and boxing as well as major music gigs.

But the leisure centre failed to address the issues gripping the city.

After the Conservative Party took power, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher cut funding for leisure facilities leaving Belfast City Council with the responsibility of the running costs.

By the mid-1980s, the council also began to look for ways to save money.

Despite its cross-community appeal and the fact it was one of the best-used facilities, Maysfield became one of the centres targeted for closure.

Some of the biggest names in rock music have played there, including Bob Dylan, Bryan Adams, Meatloaf, Suzanne Vega, Madness, Motorhead, James Last and Ian Dury and the Blockheads.

Bob Dylan famously played an entire Maysfield concert with his back to the audience and hood over his head.

In 1982, it played host to U2, including the first airing of the band's song Sunday Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland.

In July 1996, a Sex Pistols gig at Maysfield had to be cancelled because of concerns that the group's controversial stage show would inflame sectarian tensions.

The centre also played host to some of Ireland's biggest sporting events including bouts featuring former boxing world champions Dave 'Boy' McAuley and Wayne McCullough.

There were also major snooker competitions, with Dennis Taylor and Alex Higgins among the stars to play.

The centre is perhaps most closely associated with the Belfast Marathon, which it hosted for 22 years.

In 1996, it was suggested that Maysfield might become home to the new Northern Ireland Forum. However, not everyone was in favour of the idea, most notably DUP politician Peter Robinson.

It was also the scene of major tragedy in January 1984, when a fire claimed the lives of six people, including three children.

The blaze broke out in a store room and toxic fumes released by smouldering gymnastic mats overcame the victims.

While Belfast City Council had debated the closure of the centre from 1991, it was not until 2004 that a decision was made to close its doors for good.

Since then it had lain derelict.

Work has now begun by global customer services firm Concentrix to convert the old centre site into office space.

It is hoped work on the site will be completed by early next year with the building set to accommodate around 1,600 workers.

But with the refurbishment comes memories of the sporting and musical past the centre once held.

09 July, 2016 01:00 News