In addition to working with Hollywood stars at Wrexham Town, John Roberts, a key figure at AFL Architects, has been instrumental in shaping sports and leisure projects within the business. In this interview with UKREiiF, Roberts discusses his experiences, the transformation of leisure facilities, and the impact of architecture on community regeneration.

UKREiiF: John, tell us about your role at AFL Architects and your experience in sports and leisure projects.

John Roberts: I oversee sports and leisure projects at AFL Architects. We’ve been involved in football and sports for many years, and we’ve seen significant changes over the last decade. Clubs are now integrating with communities, and stadiums are becoming part of the leisure facilities.

UKREiiF: You’re also involved in music venues and regeneration projects. Can you share some examples?

Roberts: Yes, we’ve worked on projects like the Connexin Arena in Hull, which helped regenerate a rundown part of the city. It’s not just about the venues; it’s about rethinking what the leisure industry means to a city. For example, in Swansea, the arena is part of a regeneration process that aims to bring life back to city centers.

UKREiiF: How do these projects impact the local economy?

Roberts: They create footfall and bring in businesses, jobs, and a better sense of self-esteem. It’s about enlivening a town or city, bringing activity back into the city center, and making people proud of where they come from. It’s not just about the leisure facility; it’s about the entire local economy, including pubs, restaurants, hotels, and more.

UKREiiF: What considerations do you have when creating designs and plans for these projects?

Roberts: We start with placemaking, considering how it fits into the urban landscape. Then we look at the economic piece, ensuring viability and sustainability, both financially and environmentally. We also consider the business plan and case, making sure we hit the right notes.

UKREiiF: Can you give a specific example of a project that excites you?

Roberts: Southport’s Floral Hall is one of the most exciting projects. It’s designed as a theater and music venue with an exhibition center. I believe it will have a dramatic impact on the town. Hull is another great success, transforming the city’s image.

UKREiiF: Tell us about your involvement in football.

Roberts: I’ve worked with Chelsea, Liverpool, and other Premier League teams. Currently, I’m working with Wrexham Football Club, which has some interesting owners. The success of the football club reflects in the wider community, transforming how people feel about the city.

UKREiiF: Have you met the owners of Wrexham?

Roberts: Yes, online. They’ve added a sparkle to the town but remain quite grounded.

UKREiiF: What about towns that don’t have such endorsement or backing?

Roberts: That’s where the Levelling Up Fund should come in. It’s about making the right move in the right town at the right time, not just for vanity projects.

UKREiiF: How do UKREiiF’s values reflect your own?

Roberts: UKREiiF’s values match our aspirations closely. The relevance of the projects, funding streams, and open conversations about sustainability and regeneration resonates with what we’re doing. It’s about improvement and development, regardless of the size of the town or city.

UKREiiF: Thanks John, you’ve been a ‘great sport’.

Roberts: That’s a very good dad joke.