The Magnum Leisure Centre

From the BBC Domesday Project 1986

 The Magnum is a leisure centre which  
 is located to the West of the town of 
 Irvine at the mouth of the river.It   
 was opened in 1976 at a cost of £3.2m 
 Indoor bowls hall,3 squash courts,2   
 swimming pools,sauna,solarium         
 suite,ice rink,theatre/cinema,fitness 
 room,weights room,games hall,2        
 cafeterias,licensed bar.              
 HOW TO GET THERE                      
 Local bus service,car, or walk (400m  
 from local railway station)           
 Although the Magnum takes in many     
 thousands of pounds in entrance and   
 hire fees it is expensive to operate  
 and is heavily dependent on subsidy   
 from the ratepayers of CUNNINGHAME    

From the Daily Record 19 SEP 2016

The Magnum at 40: A look back at the iconic leisure centre ahead of its closure

Once Europe’s largest leisure centre, the Magnum will close within months ahead of a new facility opening in Irvine town centre.

Whether you regard the Magnum as a one-time, fantastical hub for sport and leisure or an ugly blot on the Ayrshire landscape — its cultural role in Irvine’s history is undeniable.

A behemoth not just in the town, but in Scotland and beyond, this giant box perched in Harbourside was once the largest leisure centre in Europe when it opened in 1976.

Life may begin at 40 for some, but for the Magnum, the end is now in sight.

It is now time to reflect on what it meant to the community over the past four decades and look back to its beginnings, in the minds of the architects that drew up the plans for Irvine New Town.

The Magnum will shortly be replaced by The Portal — North Ayrshire Council’s new £20million leisure centre in the heart of the town.

When the Magnum was opened in 1977 by Bruce Millan, the then Secretary of State for Scotland, changes were sweeping through Irvine.

In the same year, the Queen would officially open the beach park and the mall.

One thing you certainly couldn’t level at the firm driving the project — Irvine Development Corporation (IDC) — was that they lacked ambition.

Leafing through the musty pages of their other-worldly vision of the town leaves a pang of wonder and hope, especially the proposals for Harbourside.

In real terms, the ideas were pure fantasy — bordering on dreamscapes that Walt Disney might’ve conjured had he ever stumbled out of the Ship Inn after a few halves.

Impressions of towering rollercoasters looked amazing, but in the end remained a fantasy.

Main fixtures for the Magnum included: a 33.3metre pool, a teaching pool, cinema, theatre, sauna, Turkish baths, an ice rink and even an artificial ski slope.

While a lot of the facilities were delivered, not all of the Magnum plans came to fruition — the ski slope never did materialise — and a number of the more ambitious plans for the beach park fell by the wayside.

These plans were for a stadium were detailed, containing a football pitch, full-size athletics track, all weather surface for football and netball, outdoor tennis courts and a bowling green.


The ambitious plans would be sheltered from any south westerly costal winds by ‘earth moulding’ a large arena.

The report said: “This earth moulding could be linked with the high ground to the south, through the centre itself, to the tip parallel to the harbour entrance thus forming a vast natural arena.

“As part of the area is low lying it could possibly be excavated and flooded to form a small loch, providing a sheltered extension to the beach area.

“[the centre] should form the major focal point for recreational, cultural and leisure activities in the designated area.

“It should also form a base from which the harbour-foreshore development can proceed.

“Access by public transport, private car and pedestrian routes is of primary importance.

“It must be as financially viable as is consistent with offering a wide range of facilities to the maximum number of people.

“The leisure centre should form an attractive background to a beach park and possible marina.”

IDC’s core idea of a centre for a ‘focal point for recreational, cultural and leisure activities’ is what they ended up creating.

And it is something that will be sorely missed.

While the centre is fondly remembered in the hearts and minds of most, the reality of the tired centre now is a far cry from its halcyon days.

Its legacy could have been one of renown across the country — and initially it was — but as the years passed and the facilities grew tired and in need of refurbishment, he Magnum’s future began to look uncertain.

In some respects, the Magnum’s all-purpose appeal saw it host huge bands thanks to the likes of Willie Freckleton — an ideal the good people at Freckfest have tried to recreate in recent years.

At the time of writing it’s unknown how many more months it’ll be open, but it won’t be long now.

Thanks for the memories, Magnum!

From The Irvine Times 14th September 2016

Magnum at 40: A special look-back at the music and memories from Irvine’s iconic Magnum Leisure Centre

IT was once the envy of Europe.

Thousands of families from across Scotland flocked to Irvine for its state-of-the art facilities, some of the world’s most iconic bands treaded its hallowed floorboards.

But after 40 years as Irvine’s entertainment epicentre, the final bell will soon toll for the Magnum Leisure Centre.

The thought of its impending closure is still a touchy subject for Irvinites.
The Magnum has been part of Irvine’s fabric for a generation providing memories – whether simple or spectacular – to last a lifetime.

Gliding among a sea of bodies at Frosty’s ice disco, managing that first dog paddle in the pool, being deafened at your first gig – the Magnum was there to provide it.

Irvine Development Corporation’s grand vision for the New Town throughout the late 60s and 70s was hard for many residents to stomach.

The loss of elements of the town’s history to make way for ‘enhanced’ new infrastructure proved highly controversial.

But the Magnum was one of IDC’s seldom success stories.

Built in 1975 at a cost of £3.2million, the centre was constructed as the crown jewel of the New Town’s Beach Park development.

The official opening for the Magnum – at that time the largest leisure centre in Europe – took place on September 18, 1976.

Punters were charged 25p just to look at the facilities the New Town could now boast.

Swimming pools, an ice rink, cinema and theatre, indoor bowls halls, squash courts and a licensed bar were all hosted within the Magnum.

The centre wasn’t entirely welcomed with open arms ahead of its unveiling, however.

Back in 1974, the Irvine Times reported how residents from other sections of Irvine and Dreghorn believed the centre was too far away and should have been built closer to Irvine town centre.

How things change!

The Magnum was an immediate success for Irvine with an annual average attendance of over one million people (leaving other town council’s green with envy. At one point, only Edinburgh Castle surpassed the Magnum for visitors.

But that success didn’t come cheap as the Magnum’s high running costs meant the centre relied heavily on subsidies from the Cunninghame District taxpayers.

The facilities were exceptional but the Magnum quickly became synonymous with simply unmissable nights of entertainment.

Willie Freckleton, Irvine’s “Mr Entertainment”, was the visionary behind the Magnum’s live music boom in the 80s and 90s.

As Entertainments Officer he managed to attract major artists of the past and present – as well as providing a platform for future superstars.

Craig Smart worked in the Magnum’s events department between 1988 and 1998.

He worked closely with Willie as he continued to sign up major acts for the Magnum.

Craig said: “I joined just after that kind of peak period in the 80s but it was still unbelievable to see the type of bands that were coming through.

“For this building to open in Irvine was incredible looking back, not just the music but the pool and the ice rink were fantastic facilities.

“Willie is the reason that people know Irvine.

“He was constantly speaking to the big players and he was such a great guy.

“One of the best stories which I heard from the horses mouth that Chuck Berry got paid in American dollars when he performed but when he came off stage Willie said ‘Chuck that was amazing will you go back out for an encore?’ but he replied ‘That’ll cost you $500′”

He added: “People took the great bands Irvine was getting for granted, it was all down to Willie’s character and ability to connect with people.

“It’s forgotten that there used to be a queue to get into the Magnum all the way down to the Ship Inn, it’s crazy to think about it.

“It’s going to be heartbreaking for some people seeing it close but what an achievement it was keeping that level of bands coming for so long, we didn’t know any different.

“The Magnum really did shape me, I learnt to swim there, it was my first job and I’m sure a lot of people met their future partners there at the skating!

It’s such a shame it’s going but things move on and hopefully there will be more facilities and we can one day bring it back.”

The first major concert at the Magnum took place on May 5, 1980 when, at the height of their popularity, Madness rolled into Irvine.

That show ignited Irvine’s reputation as Ayrshire’s home of live music which saw icons like Thin Lizzy, The Jam (both 1981), The Clash (1982), The Smiths (1985) and Chuck Berry descend on the New Town.

Scottish stars including Fairground Attraction ( fronted by Irvine’s own Eddi Reader), Deacon Blue, Big Country and Runrig would make the Magnum a key part of their UK tours.

Theatre was also a big part of the Magnum’s box office appeal alongside the Borderline Theatre Company where Billy Connolly, Karen Dunbar and Alan Cumming all performed.

Joe and Sandra Wayne’s ‘Whatsitsname’ show became a legendary fixture while the Magnum became a home from home for kids favourites The Singing Kettle.

Despite a severe cut in funding from North Ayrshire Council, Willie – who famously brought Oasis and the Radio 1’s Roadshows to Irvine in the 90s – still managed to attract the likes of The Waterboys, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, The Proclaimers and Midge Ure to the Magnum before his retirement in 2008.

Willie died in 2011 but his memory has been kept alive by Freckfest.

Initially set-up as a three-day festival in 2013, the group – all connected to Willie in some form – have made it their mission to bring stellar live music to Irvine and the Magnum.

The main hall also hosted perhaps Irvine’s greatest sporting night as boxer Paul Weir was roared to victory over Paul Oulden to win the WBO minimumweight title in November 1994.

More recently, fellow Irvine boxer Ryan Brawley would fight in the venue twice during his professional career.

The Magnum was more than just a leisure centre to people in Irvine.

Take a walk round the town centre and ask someone about the Magnum.
“It’s a disgrace they’re shutting it,” is an almost guaranteed response.

So now we look ahead to the future, to the Portal, to supposedly better facilities.

From The Irvine Times 21st September 2016

Magnum at 40: Part two of our exclusive feature looking back at the decision to close the Magnum and building the £20million Portal Leisure Centre

THE party is over, the A-list guests have fizzled out, the facilities are deemed

unsalvageable and the punters have been told to stop clinging onto faded memories.

Welcome to the future, welcome to the Portal.

Irvine’s new £20million leisure centre – the crowning jewel of the town’s latest re-boot – is finally set to open early next year.

The decision to close the beloved Magnum Leisure Centre was one of the most controversial in recent memory.

The Magnum had been starved of cash with the facilities that brought so many visitors to Irvine left to rot over the last decade or so.

But it has actually managed to see its 40th year thanks to the visceral public reaction and years of construction delays.

Eight years have passed since the Magnum was first tipped to close – and initially move to where the new Woodland View mental health hospital sits.

Proposals were even put forward to shut the Magnum and leave Irvine without any facilities!


Quarry Road was also earmarked – and agreed in principle – but that plan too was eventually scrapped.

But in 2011 it was decided that NAC, alongside Irvine Bay Regeneration Company, would forge ahead with major regeneration of Irvine town centre – including proposals for a multi-million pound leisure centre adjacent to the new leisure centre.

The Labour-led North Ayrshire Council severely slashed the funding of the Magnum in the early 2000s.

Big names still performed now and then but nowhere near the same level as it used to.

It was the ice-rink, the swimming pool, Mighty/Mini Monsters, the bowls and other key facilities, however, that kept the centre alive.

Those too were neglected and many of the facilities eventually closed as the council prepared for a new era.

Much wrangling continued after Labour were succeeded by the SNP.
The new administration decided to continue with the plans their political rivals had devised – despite the already overwhelmingly negative public reaction.

From 2012 onwards, the Save the Magnum campaign officially launched where Irvine residents voiced their serious concerns about parking and the loss of history from Irvine.

The new proposals saw the demolition of the old Annick Community Centre and shutting the historic Jail Close.

And in 2013, Councillor Matthew Brown was given the casting vote to approve the new leisure centre and close the Magnum for good.

He opted to pull the trigger and look to the future.

A furious public backlash followed with observers, including then-MP Brian Donohoe, saying the campaigners had left it too late to make a difference.

Councillor Marie Burns was part of the SNP administration throughout the planning for the new Portal Leisure Centre (the name was devised after a series of meetings with Irvine residents).

She revealed that she was upset at the furious reaction – and allegations of corruption – but now believes people have moved on from the debacle.

“From my perspective, I wasn’t a councillor when the decision was taken but we realised something needed to be done because there were health and safety issues with the Magnum,” Councillor Burns said.

“It would have taken such an extensive refurbishment, the advice we were getting at the time that town centres was where main leisure was going to be.

“We did have a look at it again, there was a vocal minority who weren’t happy with it.

“It would have been easy just to blame Labour but it wouldn’t have been right. We agreed the best thing to do was to continue but we got a lot of flak for it.”

She added: “There’s a sadness about it. I can understand people felt a lot of emotion and it’s hard putting it behind you.

“The criticism was very difficult to deal with. I was upset at some of the things being said like councillors receiving brown envelopes from developers which was just absolute nonsense.

“I think people have now moved on and are looking forward to the Portal opening.

“The issue has been put to bed now and soon people will start to take their kids there and feel affection for it.

“It’s never going to be the Magnum, it was never designed to be but it’ll be a great facility in the town centre and people will soon realise that.”

The grand plans for the Magnum’s successor did not impress many Irvine residents.

Press releases from the council and Irvine Bay boasted a 25m, six-lane pool, fitness suite, indoor sports halls and a venue capable of hosting weddings and other performances.

But that didn’t sit well with a number of people who claimed it wasn’t a scratch on the services offered by the Magnum – despite their increasing age.

Councillor Brown’s proverbial final nail in the Magnum should have marked the end of any chance of rescuing the centre from the scrapheap.

But the Save the Magnum campaign refused to go quietly.

Initially fronted by Gordon Bain from Irvine Action, the group continued to vigorously oppose the council’s decision.

“We just thought the money they were proposing could’ve been used to do revamp the Magnum,” said Ian Wallace, a key member of the campaign.

“Okay it’s an old building but so’s the Townhouse, there was a centre in England like the Magnum that people fought to have done up and now it’s booming.

“Things are changing now, more people are holidaying at home, when there’s good weather the beach packed so can you imagine the trade the Magnum would get if there was investment?”

He added: “The Magnum will be a big loss, people won’t be used to it not being there.

“I’ve no doubt it’ll be okay, if you can get parked, but for older people it will be not a patch on the Magnum.”

A complaint was lodged in late 2013 in respect of Jail Close – an ancient thoroughfare adjacent to the Townhouse – on the grounds it was a right of way.

They were successful and dramatically derailed the project leading to then-Council Leader Willie Gibson blasting them as “blinkered individuals”.

A public inquiry was held in June 2014 which went in their favour, causing a redesign of the plans to accommodate the path.

That would prove to be their only major victory, however, as the group eventually fizzled out once construction began on the Portal.

Ian continued: “There are standards that have to be met and we wanted to make sure it was kept open, Bank Street was a mess and it was also to maintain the historical design.

“We now want a plaque of historical significance for Jail Close saying ‘saved by the people, for the people’.

“Hopefully what we’re seeing now with the Quarry Road development is that people can have an influence, okay we didn’t win but if communities come together they can influence decisions.

“People will think the Portal will be the best thing since sliced bread – the traffic’s a nightmare and the thing’s not even opened – but I think they’ve missed an opportunity.”

For the last five years, Irvine town centre has been a permanent construction site.

Although many don’t agree with the details, £30million has still been pumped into the town which could have went to other areas.

The Magnum is a quintessential case of only missing something until it’s gone.

Visitor numbers shot up once its closure was sealed and KA Leisure even invested in a new 3G football pitch.

Quarry Road – once touted as the ‘new Magnum’ site – could soon see its own new sports facilities with an indoor football arena and cinema also.

The memories and joy it brought to a generation of people makes the Magnum irreplaceable.

Cultural history was made during a truly golden age, the likes of which Irvine may never see again.

But while we pay our respects to the Magnum, it’s now time to look forward to the Portal.

A new generation of youngsters who will have never used the Magnum now have the chance to learn to swim, meet new pals and create memories akin to those experienced by Magnum devotees.

The final chapter will soon close on perhaps Irvine’s greatest modern success story.

Exactly like 1976, a new era will dawn once the Portal is opened.

Who knows? Perhaps in 40 years we’ll be fighting to save it from closing too!

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