Ryde Arena reborn – the story so far

On 21 November 2015, high winds ripped off the flat-roof area of Ryde arena, leading to its closure. But the rink will soon be reborn, with a new watertight roof and refurbished inside

The first signs of new skating life at Ryde Arena were seen at last at the end of January, when hockey players returned to the rink for matches behind closed doors. Figure skaters returned at the start of February for private patch sessions, resuming training schedules that stopped at a crucial point in the season, weeks before the British Synchronized Skating Championships.

But both hockey and ice skating survived the temporary loss of the rink. Wightlink Raiders played away, scoring successes and seemingly unhindered by the lack of home ice. And the ice skaters travelled to rinks as distant as Oxford and Bracknell, with all four synchronized skating teams still medalling at the championships.

So how has the rink come so far forward in just two and a half months? Perhaps, as with the best tales, it is sensible to start at the beginning… Ryde Arena Trust takes up the story:

On the 21 November 2015 high winds suddenly changed direction causing the flat roof area of Ryde Arena to be lifted and ripped off. This roof covered the bar and office on the first floor with skate hire, the cafe and part of the Arena area underneath; the roof above the ice pad itself was unaffected, being of a different construction.

Heavy rain followed over the next few days and the water started to pour in because the area of roof affected was too large to cover temporarily. The water penetrated the electrics, at which point Environmental Health declared the building unsafe for public access. Staff were asked to work from home and the building was closed, with the exception of three visits a day to empty the buckets, mop up and maintain the ice pad.

Prompt inspections were made by the insurance company and quotes were obtained from firms for the roof work. It was imperative to start the repairs as soon as possible to try to lessen further damage internally. Unfortunately, the weather was hostile and, coupled with the Christmas period, work could not commence until January. It was just too dangerous to be on the roof before then. The wettest December for many years saw water work its way down through the first floor and into the ground floor rooms, relentlessly creeping into all sorts of unforeseen places. The arena got a good deal on a bulk buy of buckets.

No work could be started on the interior until the roof was watertight. Although the damage was initially thought to have been contained within one end of the building, it became clear that water had entered and damaged one of the dehumidifiers that maintains the atmosphere over the ice pad. This now meant that the arena was becoming extremely wet with a build-up of condensation causing further damage to new areas, including the fire alarm. Two rental units were brought in from the mainland to dry out the arena, and will be in place until the new permanent dehumidifier is installed.

While waiting for the roof to be finished, staff and volunteers took the opportunity to carry out some much needed repairs within the area not affected by the insurance claim. They replaced the rubber matting in the walkways, rubbed down and painted all the railings in the tiers, scrubbed and cleaned all the floors, seats and walls.

Because of damage to the fire alarm, however, access was restricted to a maximum of 20 people at a time, limiting not just the number of volunteers that could be admitted, but the number of people that could be admitted to behind closed doors events.

Saturday 30 January marked the first time that skating activities could take place. The Arena was able to permit the Junior Raiders to play their hockey games behind closed doors, with the Wightlink Raiders themselves playing a match on Sunday 31 January. A temporary fire evacuation procedure was put in place, because of the state of the fire alarm, meaning that the Arena had to limit the number of people coming in.

After the fire officer had given the OK to procedure, it became possible for patch sessions to proceed, and on Monday 1 February the figure skaters were allowed back in for private lessons. On the weekend of 6 and 7 February, hockey spectators returned for the first time since the Arena lost its roof. The Arena now has a temporary bottle bar and can offer hot dogs and soup.

So the venue now has a watertight roof, and a clean, dry arena. A new reception desk is being built and the offices have been moved downstairs. A fully working fire alarm should be in place this week. A professional inspection identified a number of electrical issues that have now been fixed.

There is, however, still a way to go. The next step is the stripping out and drying of the damaged end, before the refit of all areas can commence. Meetings are taking place this week to plan the schedule, with the aim of giving priority to the skate hire and cafe areas. When these are finished it will be possible to offer public skating once again.

According to Ryde Arena Trust, the Christmas period was demoralizing, smelly and damp for the staff having to enter the rink. It felt as if the problems were just getting worse and worse every time it rained. With the completion of the roof and the building now being watertight, it is at last possible to see a real difference. Progress is being made daily, staff are gradually being able to return to their duties and the clubs are using the ice for training and lessons.

Through it all, the staff and volunteers have been amazing. They have rallied round and taken on tasks and requests when asked, all working towards the end goal of getting the customers back in as soon as possible.

A clearer picture of timescales will be known later this week after a planning meeting. If all goes as intended, the trust hopes to be able to open the rink for public skating by Easter.

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