May 21, 2019 Last Updated 8:31 AM, Apr 10, 2019

REL Building Services discusses its venture at the Sapphire Ice and Leisure Centre

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A new £28m leisure centre in Romford is one of only a few in the UK to feature a floating ice rink above a competition swimming pool. Toby Buckley, Managing Director of REL Building Services, discusses the facility’s complex electrical design and installation challenges.


Funded by the London Borough of Havering and Sports England, the Sapphire Ice and Leisure Centre is located in the heart of Romford town centre. Built by Willmott Dixon on a highly constrained site, the scheme was designed by Saunders Boston Architects to maximise the site and bring a raft of impressive new facilities to the area.

Romford had been without an ice rink since 2013 and without a pool for even longer. As the build space was so limited, the chosen solution was to construct the 56 x 26m rink above the eight-lane swimming pool rather than side-by-side at ground floor level. It is extremely rare in the UK to design a leisure centre in this way.

A robust structure was required to accommodate the ice rink, which given its position above the swimming pool, was created without using internal columns.

Given the complexity of the project, all of the contractors and specialist teams had to work closely together from the outset to understand and address any potential challenges. This included collaborating with the structural engineers to ensure that all of the mechanical and electrical services could be carefully coordinated.

Appointed by Kershaw Mechanical Services, REL was involved in the electrical design from the early stages, responsible for developing the concepts and then evolving them as the project progressed to ensure maximum efficiency and performance.

Improving lighting performance

Initially, the focus was on value engineering, ensuring the electrical elements could perform effectively within the required budget. However, the project spent a number of years in the preconstruction stage so as the timescales shifted, there were opportunities to review the electrical design.

Within this time, there had been a considerable revolution in LED lighting technology, so we reviewed and altered the lighting design to improve performance, energy efficiency and running costs significantly.

In the swimming pool hall, which also features a learner pool with a movable floor, there were additional challenges as the lighting had to meet the strict criteria set by Sports England and maximise safety. Not only did the design have to achieve a high level of lighting for competitions but also eliminate glare on the pool surface as this can inhibit surveillance.

The original electrical design comprised downlights around the pool perimeter, but these were changed to LED uplighters to ensure compliance with Sports England and reduce maintenance. To reduce glare on the water, the uplighters were arranged in such a way that all light was directed evenly over the ceiling, which in effect, meant the ceiling became the luminaire.

The swimming pool and the ice rink were built in a double-height space, so in each area, the lighting had to be installed at a height of 7m. In the ice rink, high-bay LED luminaires were used. These were coordinated with AV equipment gantries which result in uniform light over

the rink and minimise glare. This was essential as the rink is used by local sports teams, including the London Raiders ice hockey team.

The lighting design extended to the outside of the building, which has a striking facade designed to resemble a block of ice. This meant that we had to deliver lighting which harmonised and emphasised the architectural cladding, giving the facility its unique appearance. This was achieved by creating a vertical ribbon of light at specific points, comprising a very thin watertight LED strip just 16mm wide. We also advised on the use of cool-white LED lights to set off the blue panelling and give maximum impact.

Overcoming challenges

In addition to the lighting design and installation, there were other electrical challenges to overcome.

As the facility was in the heart of the town centre, there was limited storage space and no car parking. This required very accurate programming to ensure that electrical items were delivered at exactly the right time to enable us to install them straight away.

The design of the fitness suite also presented installation hurdles. With 100 stations, the electrical equipment is vast, but there was only a 65mm void in the floor through which to feed all the services. This required very careful coordination of the power and IT wiring, which had to be segregated within the small space but then connect to the same machine.

Further investment

The Sapphire Ice and Leisure Centre took 18 months to build with the electrical installation taking 12 months.

Operated by Everyone Active, it represents Havering Council’s largest single investment in a borough-wide improvement programme. It is set to have a major impact on the local economy and will act as a catalyst for further regeneration in the local area.

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