25 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Edinburgh Leisure

Kerry Teakle | Friday 31st March 2023 11:02am

Edinburgh Leisure, the biggest club in town, turns 25 on 1.4.2023, officially being born on 1.4.1998, when Tony Blair was Prime Minister in the UK, Bill Clinton was the President of the USA, and Titanic was the top movie at the Box Office.   

While you probably know Edinburgh Leisure for our venues and sports facilities, I bet there’s a lot things you probably didn’t know about Edinburgh Leisure or our venues.  We may celebrate our birthday on 1st April, but these facts are no April fools. 

1. We’re not the ‘Council gyms’ 
Contrary to the popular belief, Edinburgh Leisure aren’t the ‘Council gyms’, as we’re often referred. While the City of Edinburgh Council might own the various physical venues, Edinburgh Leisure manages the venues, as a separate organisation.  We have a close and good relationship with the Council and they remain our biggest funder but we operate as a charity and have a separate organisation for the last 25 years, with our own Board, who scrutinise everything we do. 

Any monies we receive, whether from memberships, coaching fees, funding, and partnerships is reinvested back into the organisation to deliver all the services and maintain the venues that we manage.  

2. The biggest club in town 
Depending on where you live in the city, you’re probably familiar with your local Edinburgh Leisure venue such Leith Victoria Swim Centre, Drumbrae Leisure Centre, The Royal Commonwealth Pool or our newest venue, Meadowbank Sports Centre, which opened in July 2022, after a four-and-a-half-year closure for a major refurbishment and the build of a new sports centre.  

But did you know that we run 50+ venues across the city, which includes 1 world-class climbing centre; 6 golf courses; 12 superb swimming pools, including 5 Victorian ones; 14 state-of-the-art gyms; 3 soft plays; 32 tennis courts; 141 sports pitches; and 750+ fitness classes per week?  We like to think of ourselves as the biggest club in town for wherever you’re at – be that located, age or stage.  

3. Community access to the city’s high schools 

We also manage community access to the sports facilities at the city’s 23 High Schools, including the newest Trinity Academy Sports Campus, which opened in the summer of 2022, and boasts fresh, modern facilities, including a gym, studio and sports hall.  

4. Some get less for murder! 

Edinburgh Leisure’s staff are an important part of what makes Edinburgh Leisure special. Over the last 25 years, we’ve taken on in the region of 8,000 new staff. This is in addition to the staff we ‘inherited’ in April 1998, which was approximately 650.  

We have 59 members of staff who have been with us for 15-20 years; 55 members of staff who have been with us for 20-25 years and 58 members of staff who have been with us for 25 years plus.  Some get less for murder but we like to think of Edinburgh Leisure as a great place to work with great benefits, reflected by the fact that we have managed to keep some of our staff for so long. 

5. There’s more to Edinburgh Leisure than our venues 
Did you know that Edinburgh Leisure delivers 22 projects within our Active Communities programme, which aim to break down barriers to physical activity and help people to lead healthier, happier, and more active lives.  We currently support over 10,000 people in Edinburgh every year affected by health conditions, disabilities, inequalities, and poverty to get active and stay active. 

6. Proud to have supported over 3,200 Ukrainians and refugees. 
Over the last year, we have supported 3,240 new refugees, asylum seeks and migrants to access our gyms, swimming pools and fitness classes free of charge through our Relocated People Programme, to protect their health, wellbeing and connect to their new communities.  

7. Supporting care experienced and young people to enjoy healthy and active lives 
We’ve supported 1,000 care experienced children and young people to enjoy the healthy and active childhoods they deserve through Looked After & Active and You Can.  

And in the last year, we have supported 100 young people experiencing mental health issue through a pilot project Be Strong, Be You to recover and thrive.  

8. Take a Turkish bath 

Only three Turkish baths are still in operation in Scotland, and one can be found hidden inside Edinburgh Leisure’s Portobello Swim Centre. Designed to relax and refresh you after a hard workout or just a stressful day, the idea is to take a dip in pools of various temperatures as many times as you like before cooling down in the suitably grand-sounding Frigidarium.  

9. The Commie boasts Edinburgh’s only 50 metre pool 
The Royal Commonwealth Pool (affectionately known as the Commie) boasts Edinburgh’s only 50-metre pool. The pool was commissioned by the City of Edinburgh Council under a plan by the then Lord Provost, Sir Herbert Archbold Brechin in 1966 as part of a wider project to bring the Commonwealth Games to Edinburgh, who hosted it in 1970.  

10. Dive in 

The Royal Commonwealth Pool has hosted three Commonwealth Games in 1970, 1986, and hosted the diving for the Glasgow 2014 Games.  

In October 2015, the Commie added a new 1m platform to its existing world class diving facilities, making it possible to specifically launch coaching for children with a wider range of needs. Part funded by sportscotland, the new 1m platform joined Olympic standard facilities including 5m, 7.5m and 10m platforms, and three 1m springboards. The 10-metre diving board is the same height as two giraffes!

In September 2016, a memorial plaque and a meeting room at the Royal Commonwealth Pool was dedicated to diver Sir Peter Heatly. Sir Peter died aged 91 years in September 2015. A self-taught diver, Sir Peter dominated the sport in Scotland for more than 20 years and won five Commonwealth Games medals. His grandson, James Heatly, Sir Peter’s youngest grandchild is also a diver and competed in the 2014 Commonwealth Games at the Royal Commonwealth Pool, cheered on by his grandfather. 

11. Take a dip in a Victorian pool 

Edinburgh Leisure boasts not one but five Victorian pools at Glenogle, Portobello, DalryLeith Victoria and Warrender, which over the years have received substantial refurbishment and TLC. 

Whilst Edinburgh Leisure has succeeded in keeping the character of the ‘baths’ (poolside changing cubicles and beautiful Victorian architecture), we have added modern twists to them so whilst the venues have kept their charm, they are able to meet the demands of a modern leisure/fitness customer, which includes modern heating, upgraded changing facilities and meets the environment’s demands where energy recovery is essential. To swim in a Victorian pool with the natural light that floods in through their glass roofs is a relaxing experience like no other. 

12. Baths sign – the red and white sign outside Leith Victoria Baths, Junction Place 

By the start of the nineteenth century, industrialised Edinburgh’s public health was suffering from overcrowding and poor sanitation. The benefit of bathing was known to the upper classes but for most, having a household bathroom was completely unaffordable. 

In 1846, an Act was passed to encourage local authorities to build public baths and washhouses, later bolstered by the Public Health Act of 1875. 

Edinburgh took a while to get its feet wet but by the end of the century, the city dived in, opening grand public baths all over the city. Leith, led by an independent town council, commissioned their architect George Simpson to design the red sandstone Renaissance style Leith Victoria Baths, which opened to the public on June 30th 1899. The building had individual baths and a recreational swimming pool, while it also housed the public registry office and an adjacent steamie - public laundry facilities.  
The red and white baths sign at Leith Victoria featured in a digital tour of the city – Edinburgh’s 101 objects

Leith Victoria was where Irvine Welsh (famous for writing Trainspotting) used to swim, and the beautifully conserved pool is still in use today.  

13. Climb the walls 

Edinburgh Leisure manages Europe’s largest indoor climbing arena at Ratho. Originally opened as the Adventure Centre, Ratho, under previous owners in December 2003, in time to host the major climbing competitions – the Climbing World Cup in December 2003 and the World Youth Climbing Championships. When it fell into financial difficulties at the start of 2003, the City of Edinburgh Council rescued the centre in October 2005 and asked Edinburgh Leisure to manage it on their behalf.  

During construction, aircraft had to be stopped flying into the airport to allow the cranes to lift in the huge triangular pillars. 250,000 tons of rock was excavated although a lot of it was used in the building of the centre.  

The centre closed in August 2006 for 9 months to allow a substantial refurbishment programme and the completion of many of the building works. To mark this new stage in the venue’s history, it also had a change of name and fully reopened as the International Climbing Arena, Ratho on Friday, 25 May 2007.  

The EICA: Ratho has hosted three senior IFSC World Cup events (December 2003, September 2017, September 2022) and one senior IFSC European Championships (October 2019). It also hosted the IFSC ParaClimbing World Cup in September 2017.  

14. Waste not, want not 

The Caithness slabs used throughout the EICA: Ratho were originally meant for the Scottish Parliament but were the wrong colour!  

15. EICA’s bouldering room was originally going to be a scuba training facility  
The EICA’s bouldering room was originally going to be a scuba training facility – there is still a 10-metre tank under the floor. 

And Scrambles, the soft play area at the EICA: Ratho used to be the bunkhouse accommodation for travelling climbers. 

16. Edinburgh Leisure’s golf courses kept the nation active, even during lockdown. 

Edinburgh Leisure has six golf courses, all payable for just one membership. Open all year round (whether dependent) from Braid Hills to Carrick Knowe to Craigentinny to Portobello to Silverknowes and the Wee Braids Golf Course, each course comes with its own unique set of challenges, and breath-taking views of our iconic city. 

During lockdown in 2020 and again in 2021, Edinburgh Leisure’s golf courses saw a major upturn in membership and usage, as golf was one of the few fitness activities still allowed to remain open 

17. Dare you do the Dash? 

A new inflatable assault course on water, Edinburgh Leisure introduced AquaDash in February 2018 at the Royal Commonwealth Pool.  We have since added AquaDash Adventure at Ainslie Park Leisure Centre in 2022. 

Suitable for all fitness levels, it is the ideal activity for all the family to enjoy. Participants can slide, climb and bounce their way through thrilling challenges, beating each one and racing friends and family to victory. There’s a bonkers bridge, slippery slide, wacky wiggle discs and an adventurous action tower to name a few.  

18. Scale new heights 
Edinburgh Leisure launched Clip ‘n Climb, a new ‘action attraction’, the first of its kind in Scotland at EICA: Ratho in March 2016.  

The concept, first pioneered in New Zealand, allows you to simply be clipped onto an automatic belay system and start climbing without the need for a partner, making climbing safe and accessible for everyone, from pre-school kids to retirees. Fifteen different challenges are available, with 20 climbing lines, at each hour-long session.  

19. 750+ fitness classes a week 

A lot has changed in terms of group fitness since Edinburgh Leisure started 25 years ago. Back then, group exercise was all about step and exercise to music but now it’s all about products like resistance training, Les Mills body pump and new options such as HIIT (high intensity interval training). 

With 750+ fitness classes a week, whether it’s a fast-paced HIIT workout, strength & conditioning training, fun-filled dance class, cycle spin, relaxing yoga or a low impact class in the pool, Edinburgh Leisure has something for everyone, whatever age or stage. We also run virtual fitness classes in several of our cycle studios. 

For something a bit different, why not try Hydrospin, a class combining the dynamism of indoor studio cycling with the benefits of water-based exercise – yes you actually cycle on a bike submerged in the water! 

Or if you want to strut your stuff, try Sh’bam, featuring simple but seriously hot dance moves. It’s the perfect way to shape up and let out your inner star – even if you’re dance challenged, all in 45 minutes. 

20. Myzone 
Fitness trends have changed a lot since Edinburgh Leisure came into existence in 1998.  

Technology has also developed with wearable tech now the main trend, machines have built in apps such as Netflix, scenic interactive workout routes and on demand video workouts.  Twenty-five years ago, machines had LCD screens and 4-5 built in workouts.  

Edinburgh Leisure’s venues are invested in technology as part of the health and fitness experience.  

Myzone is the latest innovation in wearable fitness tracking technology. Myzone doesn’t measure speed, distance, or weight lifted – it measures the effort you put in. This means no matter how fit you are, if you push yourself, you’ll be rewarded.  

Available at Ainslie Park Leisure Centre, Craiglockhart Leisure Centrre, Drumbrae Leisure Centre, Meadowbank Sports Centre, Royal Commonwealth Pool and Leith Victoria Swim Centre, each of these facilities have Myzone display screens in their gyms, and studios. 

21. Sizing you up! 
And another technology trend, Boditrax can be found in the gym at either Meadowbanks Sports Centre or the Royal Commonwealth Pool.  It’s a quick, easy and accurate tool for measuring body metrics.  By using Boditrax, you’ll have a better understanding of your body composition and overall fitness levels.  

It's free to use whenever you visit the gym, so you can easily monitor your progress. 

22. Legendary gigs 
Edinburgh has played host to some truly unforgettable concerts down the decades and believe it or not, in addition to hosting two Commonwealth Games, Edinburgh Leisure’s old Meadowbank has hosted quite a number of these fabulous events.  

In 1989, Simple Minds played Meadowbank on their Street Fighting Tour after switching from Murrayfield. The switch was due to the band’s passionate anti-apartheid beliefs clashing with the Scottish Rugby Union’s decision to play in South Africa at the time. 

Meadowbank was used as a 25,000-capacity concert venue during T on the Fringe, an annual music festival.  Muse, My Chemical Romance, Snow Patrol, Radiohead, Pixies, Foo Fighters, Nine Inch Nails, Kaiser Chiefs, Razorlight are just some of the bands that played at the venue between 2005 and 2007. 

The last concert to take place at the old Meadowbank was in June 2016, when Sir Elton John performed. The concert coincided with the release of his album ‘Wonderful Crazy Night’. Elton John’s guitarist and music director Davey Johnstone is from Edinburgh, so the city was a very special event for Elton and the band. 

Foy Vance, the support act to Sir Elton John, recorded a video at the time featuring Edinburgh and Meadowbank. Entitled Coco, it was directed by Friends’ actress Courtney Cox, whose daughter, Coco, was the subject of the video.  

23. Sports Royalty 

Over the years, Edinburgh Leisure venues has hosted the best of sports royalty at their venues. Some of the UK’s top athletes have competed and won medals at Meadowbank and The Royal Commonwealth Pool including Allan Wells MBE, Lord Coe, Daly Thompson, Steve Cram, Roger Black, Linford Christie, Sally Gunnel, Dame Kelly Holmes, Sally Gunnell, Tessa Sanderson, and divers Tom Daley OBE, Grace Reid and James Heatly.  

24. Tennis Royalty  

Craiglockhart Leisure and Tennis Centre, Edinburgh Leisure’s flagship tennis centre has been home to tennis royalty over the years including Andy and Jamie Murray. 

The centre also hosted the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in May 2021, who visited the flagship tennis centre to learn more about LTC Youth, the new LTA programme that aimed to help more children enjoy the benefits of playing and staying in tennis, whatever their age, gender, ability, disability, or background. They took part in a series of LTA Youth drills with local children.  

25. A Big Help Out 

Volunteers are the backbone of Edinburgh Leisure’s Active Communities programme. They make an enormous difference to people’s lives and quite simply, many of our projects, couldn’t exist without them.  

In June 2018, our Ageing Well programme, which promotes healthy lifestyles for older adults

in Edinburgh, was awarded the prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS), the ‘MBE’ for volunteer groups. 



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