Businessman aiming to make Dagenham’s Sporthouse the “biggest and best in England”

A businessman is aiming to make a Dagenham sports club the biggest and best in England.

Hotel owner Paul Harris has taken over gym and training arena Sporthouse in Lodge Avenue and said he believes “there is no reason why this can’t be bigger than Crystal Palace”.

The centre already boasts an Olympic-sized running track, one of the biggest indoor sports halls in Europe, has hosted top handball and netball fixtures and is the official home of English futsal – a seven-a-side indoor football competition which is credited with helping hone the skills of some of the world’s top players.

It has been named as a venue by the Football Association for England internationals in the sport.

In the summer it also saw the likes of top Paralympian Oscar Pistorius use its facilities when it was an official Games training venue.

The 65-year-old proprietor of the Harefield Manor Hotel, in Romford, has owned the centre for just over a month and has plans to make it even bigger.

He said: “I was at the opening in March and it took by breath away, then I was asked to look at it by the people involved who wanted to get out and I said ‘yes’.”

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Having owned the Harefield Manor for 15 years, the former lawyer and banker, originally from Bow, said that his philosophy for running the sports centre is no different than for his original hotel.

“It’s all the same, what (money) comes in has got to equal what goes out, and make a profit. It’s a part of the Olympic legacy and if we get it right it could be quite amazing,” he said.

And he has staff who believe in his project. Phil Daniels, fitness manager, said: “We want to do all the things that a regular health club does, but we want to take it to the next level.

“There are probably only two other places in the country that compare with the equipment we have – Leeds Metropolitan University and the University of Loughborough.”