North East Wales

Rhyl Sun Centre: no more waves in the lagoon pool

Rhyl Sun Centre Image copyright Denbighshire County Council

The home of Europe's first indoor surfing pool, which also boasted a monorail and hosted an entire series of the Rod and Emu Show, is facing the wrecking ball. The plan to demolish Rhyl's Sun Centre has evoked vivid memories amongst those there in its heyday.

"Waves in the lagoon pool! Waves in the lagoon pool!"

For a generation of north Wales children, it was a battle cry - the cue to drop whatever you were doing, hurl yourself in the main pool and jostle for position as you waited for the Sun Centre's legendary wave machine to crank up.

When you got tired of that - if you ever did - there was plenty more to keep you occupied - four slides, a monorail, a surfing pool, a cone of chips from the snack bar.

For the adults, there were sunbeds and a bar. You could even enjoy a cigarette in between dips in the pool.

Image copyright Denbighshire County Council
Image caption Europe's first indoor surfing pool

Nowadays, of course, sunbeds are frowned upon, smoking is most definitely banned and water parks with slides and a wave machine are ten a penny.

But in 1980 - the year the Sun Centre opened - there was nothing else like it, not just in the UK but in the whole of Europe.

Despite its construction being plagued with delays, with costs spiralling to £4.25m - a staggering sum at the time - the new attraction quickly became a hit with visitors and locals alike.

"It was a fascinating place," said Glenn Mitchell, founder of the We Love Old Rhyl Facebook page. "The wave machine, the tropical look - it was warm, sunny, full of life and fun."

Image copyright Glenn Mitchell

Andrea Griffiths Rich, from Rhyl, was there at the grand opening and soon became a regular. "We loved the place," she said.

"There was a disco on a Friday night and there would be bands playing. We'd go swimming first and then to the disco. It was a great place for teenagers. There's nothing around here now for 11 to 15-year-olds.

"It would get absolutely chock-a-block. You'd have to queue for the slides and the monorail and even for the changing rooms sometimes, but we never minded."

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Media captionThis BBC archive footage comes from the Sun Centre's mid-80s heyday

In 1984, its fame spread across the UK as the location for the BBC's popular Rod and Emu Show.

"We got tickets to go to the Rod Hull show," said Dawn Jones, a teacher from nearby Prestatyn. "It was a big thing for Rhyl Sun Centre to have a prime time Saturday night TV show filmed there.

Ivor Stokes, who worked at the Sun Centre for 25 years, agrees it put Rhyl on the map.

"It was very popular for many, many years. It was the first of this type of thing anywhere in the country.

"It wasn't like a job. You were going to a leisure centre every day and every day was different. It was brilliant."

"It was so important that we got across to the staff that they treated the customer right," added Mr Stokes, who retired as retail sales manager in 2006. "We didn't want people to go home feeling disgruntled because when something's gone wrong, people tell everyone."

For a long time, this approach seemed to be working - in its 1980s heyday, the Sun Centre was getting about 4,000 visitors through its doors every day.

Image copyright Ged Fleming
Image caption A new exhibition centre will take the place of the dilapidated Sun Centre

But by the time it closed, nearly 34 years later, the customers were not quite so happy.

Travel review websites like Tripadvisor and Yelp were awash with complaints about cleanliness, run-down facilities and poor customer service.

By then it was run by Clwyd Leisure - a not-for-profit trust set up in 2001 by Denbighshire County Council to look after tourism and leisure facilities on its behalf.

The trust went into liquidation in early 2014 after the council cut its funding.

Image caption The Sun Centre has now been cordoned off ready for demolition

According to Mr Stokes, the Sun Centre's fortunes had started to slide in the early 1990s.

"We used to be open from 10 in the morning until 11 at night, every day and we had free buses to bring people to the Sun Centre from holiday camps in Gronant and Belgrano.

"But those camps eventually built their own pools and customers stopped coming at night. We had to start closing at six and that was really the start of the decline.

"In the end it was inevitable that it would close.

"In the early days, there wasn't the sort of facilities the Sun Centre was offering anywhere else, so people were coming. Now even small towns have aqua pools and slides. What we had just wasn't novel anymore."

In May 2016, Denbighshire council announced plans to demolish the building and build a new aquatic park further down the promenade, saying it was the "first piece in the regeneration jigsaw" of Rhyl.

But not everyone was so upbeat about the proposals - hundreds lamented the Sun Centre's demise on social media and one man even started a petition to save and refurbish it.

"It's a shame it's going as it was one of the biggest attractions of Rhyl," said Andrea Griffiths Rich. "It was a landmark."

But Glenn Mitchell believes it has had its day: "It could have been saved about 10 years ago but now it's too far gone. Unfortunately, it's time to move on."

Image copyright PAUL FROST
Image caption Surf's not up - abandoned boards inside the Sun Centre

"Everything changes and there are a lot of changes regarding regulations," said Ivor Stokes. "If you were to try to reopen it now, everything would be that out of date, they wouldn't meet health and safety regulations at all.

"It was only built with a 20-year life and now it's 36 years since it opened. You're talking about millions and millions to bring it up to today's standards and the building is in such a poor state, it's just not worth it.

"But it's nice to know that people view it affectionately. I am very proud to have been a part of it."

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