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Fond farewell to the Magnet after 45 memorable years

This weekend will see the Braywick Leisure Centre open for the first time. Its predecessor, the Magnet Leisure Centre, has been standing in Holmanleaze since 1975 and became a key part of Maidenhead life. Reporter Kieran Bell spoke to some of those associated with the old centre about their memories.

A new era is on the horizon for Maidenhead as the state-of-the-art Braywick Leisure Centre opens this weekend, but the move will see the town wave goodbye to a key part of its history after 45 years.

The Magnet Leisure Centre has been a versatile place – it has held counts for the general and local elections in the town; starred in TV shows the Antiques Roadshow and Dickinson’s Real Deal; and has become the long-serving home for a variety of clubs and charities for their cherished showpiece events, like the annual Lions Club Swimarathon.

It also had a cameo in hit 1991 sitcom The Brittas Empire, which poked light fun at leisure centres and staff of the time.

Opened 45 years ago in 1975, the Magnet was a big project, and while the building still stands (for now) there are also people working there who have been there since day one.

Jilly Jeffrey started part-time when the centre was first opened and has been there ever since on reception – with an impeccable sickness record.

“It has been very well used over the years, and of course everywhere we go, everyone knows me. My husband tells me to stay in the car when we go shopping,” Jilly joked.

When asked why she took the job in 1975, she said: “Well, it was brand new and it was state-of-the-art. I started off part-time because my son was three.”

Jilly added: “Not many people can say that they had wonderful enjoyment for all that time. I am very lucky.

“The other thing I am really proud of is I think the total number of sick days I took in 45 years equalled about a week. They said it must have been bad if Jilly was off.

“I have many memories of the Magnet, like when Prince Charles and Diana got married [in 1981]. We had a TV set up on the poolside.

“It was somewhere I got up and went to all the time and it was just great. I really wish the new Braywick Leisure Centre all the best and I hope that it is as happy a place as the Magnet was.

“I was always proud to say I worked there.”

Maidenhead Primary Schools Music Festival at the Magnet, 1983 (above)

Jilly worked under 10 managers during her long stint, one of them Kevin Mist, now the council’s monitoring officer.

He was manager between 1993 and 2003, after starting out in an assistant manager role.

Kevin fondly recalled the Magnet’s various TV appearances and also its popular discos – like Escapades – and war commemorations.

“It was a shock when I first arrived because it was a fantastically busy leisure centre with the discos on Saturday nights a real feature. And it is like a Tardis, you keep finding spaces,” Kevin, who started at the Magnet in 1988, said.

“It was getting 700,000 through the door a year, even back then. It really did have a buzz.

“It has always remained popular. It had about 800,000 annual visitors now (pre-COVID), even though it is a 45-year old building.

“It has always been a local leisure centre – which makes it special because everybody locally regards it as their leisure centre.”

When tasked with summing up his time at the Magnet, Kevin explained: “At times it was challenging, at times it was very fulfilling, all the time it was something to enjoy.”

The Magnet site is earmarked for redevelopment

Cllr Samantha Rayner, the council’s lead member for leisure, has not been associated with the Magnet for as long but says it has represented an ‘iconic’ part of Maidenhead.

“I did not get to visit it until 2012 when my husband was first elected as a councillor.

“My elections were always counted there so it holds special memories for me as well.

“It has always been a much-loved leisure centre – for me the Magnet has represented an iconic part of Maidenhead.”

Jilly will have one last walk around the Magnet tomorrow (Friday) before the doors are closed for good and the Braywick site opens on Saturday.

“I made so many friends there, lasting friends as well. It is going to be sad to see it tumbling down,” Jilly said.

“It has been a really fantastic place to work.”

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