A RICHMONDSHIRE entrepreneur has put his lockdown time to good use by investing tens of thousands of pounds into his sports and fitness centre.

On Saturday the ML Sports and Fitness Centre in Richmond reopened on the back of Government guidance related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Like most businesses, the centre, on the Gallowfields Road Industrial Estate, had to close in March as the Government sought to reduce the spread of the pandemic.

Over the last four months, owner Mike Layfield has been planning for the re-opening.

With none of his sports and PE sessions taking place due to schools being closed and with no cricket games taking place until recently, Mike – who plays for Richmondshire 1st team - was able to fully concentrate on the centre.

Over this time, he estimates he has invested around £20,000 in further improving the centre.

These improvements include installing new artificial grass on his indoor sports pitch, building a new, enclosed viewing area, with mezzanine, overlooking the pitch and spending £7,000 on state-of-the-art cricket analysis technology.

He has also expanded the free weights area in the gym added new weight training machines, introduced a sports nutrition shop and is beginning work on a new outdoor training area.

In preparation for the centre re-opening, Mike and his team of five have had to make the facility Covid-19 secure so this included installing electronic hand sanitiser stations around the centre, and introducing a new online booking.

Currently, only the gym part of the centre is open, but Mike hopes to be able to also open the sports pitch from September.

Mike, who is currently recovering from a knee operation which has ruled him out for the rest of the cricket season, said: “Like all businesses, it was a shock when we realised we would have to close indefinitely, but thankfully I was able to furlough my team and during the lock-down period I was able to start planning the improvements I wanted to make when we were able to re-open.

“The break actually did me the world of good as it gave me time to consider the direction I wanted the centre to go in and effectively start again from scratch.

“Now, we will have something for everyone, whether it’s casual gym goers who want to work on the new machines or take part in a few fitness or spin classes each week, children playing football or cricket, or elite local sportsmen and women following dedicated programmes.

“One of the things I am most excited about is setting up a new cricket academy.

“This will involve the use of PitchVision, a system which combines motion tracking and video analysis into one tool.

“We’re the only place in the North-East to have this technology which is used by England and other cricketing nations so it’s going to take our coaching to the next level.”

Mike, who demonstrated his entrepreneurial nature by leasing outspin bikes during lockdown, says the first weekend back went well.

He said: “Our plan is to take things slowly initially and make adjustments when it is safe and correct to do so, but for now, we’re just glad to be back.”