The countdown to the 2022 Commonwealth Games is well and truly on, as an important milestone was reached on construction of the new aquatics centre.
Nigel Huddleston, the minister for tourism, sport and the Commonwealth Games, was the special guest as the first tiles were laid around the main competition pool at the venue in Smethwick.
In just over 12 months’ time, some of the biggest swimming stars in the world will compete for glory at the aquatics centre, which will become a leisure centre for the public once the Games are over. Much of the exterior work has been completed, with attention now turning to the inside of the £73 million building.
Mr Huddleston said the progress made on the venue was “absolutely amazing” and that the Birmingham Games now felt “tangible and real”.
With just over a year to go, the countdown to the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games is well and truly under way.
Venues which were for so long merely designs on a page or artist’s impressions are now coming to life, bringing home the fact something really special is about to happen to our region.
And with the lockdowns of the last year amid the Covid crisis, it has been easy to forget that busy workers have been carrying on with the job of making sure the Games become a reality.
That has been the case at Londonderry Lane in Smethwick, where a huge new aquatics centre has sprung up. It will host swimming and diving events at the Commonwealth Games, featuring stars such as England’s Adam Peaty and Tom Daley, and will, along with the revamped Alexander Stadium, form the showpiece of the competition.
Much of the exterior work of the impressive venue has been completed, offering a visual symbol of the difference the Games will make to the borough of Sandwell.
While hosting key events at the Commonwealth Games is a major coup for the borough, it is what will come after the athletes and crowds have gone that will be more important for local people.
Securing the Games, which start on July 28 next year, has delivered the much-needed investment that has been missing for decades in Sandwell and allowed this state-of-the art building to be created. Once the competition has ended, the aquatics centre will become a leisure centre for the public, featuring top facilities.
London 2012 showed the incredible impact a major sporting event can have on a city and region, with officials hoping a similar feel-good factor will come to the West Midlands 10 years on.
The Express & Star visited the aquatics centre site to view the progress on the development as the first tiles were laid at the swimming pool.
Ian Reid, chief executive of Birmingham 2022, said he had been blown away by the progress made over the last few years.
He said: “It’s incredible. It was February last year when I was last here. You can see the structure, fully watertight now. It feels like it’s really becoming a reality. It’s incredibly exciting.
“Obviously for the Games but for the legacy side of things, you get a sense of the scale of the venue and the facilities that will be in there for the community, I’m really encouraged.
“We recognise we’re a major international event but we’re only on for 11 days of sport, so the most important thing is this venue works for the community in the longer term.
“When you see the facilities for legacy, a world-class gym going in, leisure pools, even a football pitch outside, so really useful for the community and I’m sure they’ll make the most of it going into the future.”
Mr Reid said the natural deadline enforced by a sporting competition had helped ensure the project had not been hit by delays.
“The great thing about these events is the timeline forces delivery,” he said. “The construction team here have done an incredible job in challenging circumstances but it means the community get a facility completed perhaps a bit quicker than would normally be the case, and also puts them on the map.
“Swimming will be one of our first sports. The opening ceremony is on the 28th, sport kicks off on the 29th and swimming is on that day so Sandwell’s very much the first sporting event that the watching world gets to see.”
While from the outside it looks like much of the work is done, there is still a lot to do inside.
Mr Reid said: “We’re going to run right up to the opening ceremony if we’re honest, because there’s so much to do in terms of operational delivery as well. The venue is due to be complete in the spring time but then our operational teams kick in, whether it’s catering or transport for the Games.
“But we’ve got huge experience in this country for doing that. We’ve got some incredible people working on the Games, so considering what’s been thrown at us I think we’re in a really good place.”
The hope is by next summer the Games will be able to go ahead in full venues. Tickets are due to go on sale later in the summer, with a view to venues being sell-outs.
There will be a refund policy should things take a turn for the worse regarding Covid.
“That’s certainly what we’re working to. We’re confident that will be the case,” Mr Reid said.
“We’re working very closely, despite that, with public health officials and central government and local government as well, we’ve got a specialist team looking at all scenarios but we’re very confident based on the Government’s timeline of the vaccination programme and everything else we will be able to fill stadiums.”
He added: “People have been starved of live sport for so long and they know how incredible multi-sport events are in the UK, so we’re confident there will be a huge demand for those tickets.
“We want to make sure those tickets are affordable and accessible so I think people will be surprised at the pricing structure we’ve gone for so they can afford to come and see some sport.”
Tourism and Commonwealth Games minister Nigel Huddleston was also a guest at the site.
He said: “It’s absolutely amazing. It’s about 15 months since I was last here when it was literally a hole in the ground and now we’ve got this incredible building. Huge credit to the team to have made such progress in these really difficult times. Seeing it physically really helps build the excitement. It does make it real and I think that’s important because it’s a big psychological step.
This will be an amazing asset to the community and it goes beyond the Games itself, it will also have a lasting benefit to the area.”