Bisham Abbey is one of three national sports centres run on behalf of Sport England. It is used as a residential training centre for athletes, sports teams, and the local community. Set in the grounds of a Grade I listed manor house which was originally built in 1260, the sports centre includes an indoor tennis centre, a fully equipped strength and training facility and a large community gym. It is also a wedding venue and conference centre.

This facility must work effectively in different ways for a variety of people, so the immediate brief was to make the space as flexible as possible. The venue is split into two areas; the main dining space which traditionally feeds training athletes or conference delegates, and the front café primarily used by the public. Our client wanted to create a better synergy with the two places so they could open as one large area or be used as individual spaces. Previously, the front café was often used for people to relax in during the evening, however, the client felt it was being underutilised, so our aim was to make this area more adaptable for evening use.

We installed adjustable lighting so it can be dimmed down and the café counter is completely flat, to enable to counter to transition into a bar in the evening or for functions, giving it a sense that it was fit for purpose rather than a closed café. The old food displays were removed and instead we included under counter induction heating and frost cooling to keep food at the right temperate. A large lockable glass-fronted American style display fridge was included in the design so drinks for the evening can be seen but locked away if they aren’t required. When it came to furniture, we included upholstered banquette seats which were fully mobile, to accommodate large or small groups.

The client wanted to create a light airy space which suited the Abbey’s beautiful surroundings, so we used natural finishes and biophilia to create a calm oasis. Storytelling always features in an ABDA design and we were keen to bring in Bisham’s sporting heritage. We used touches of bronze, silver and gold on the round table edges and created a feature wall which represented the medals won by athletes who had trained at the centre.

Most of the team at ABDA are sports fans, so there was certainly a sense of pride that we were involved in creating this new facility for some of the nation’s most elite athletes. It was also a real boost for the team to work on such an exciting project during the pandemic when we have such a big summer of sport ahead of us.

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