After the swimming pool opened in 1965, Plymouth City Council and sporting interests wanted to establish a sports hall and other facilities in Central Park but they could not make progress while funding was unavailable.  The opportunity came in 1969 when, despite stringent restrictions by the government on local authority spending, Plymouth City Council secured approval to build an exhibition hall as part of the Mayflower’s 350th anniversary celebrations in 1970.  Its size (120 feet square and 30 feet tall) ensured that it could become a ‘shell’ suitable to form the nucleus of a sports and recreation centre.

The exhibition hall was erected over four of the tennis courts that had been there since the park opened in 1931.  

The building cost £60,000 which was all that the Council was prepared to spend at the time.  Another £150,000 was needed to adapt the shell into a sports hall.  Early in 1970, the Mayflower Trust was formed for the purpose and a funding appeal was launched.  For every £1 raised by the appeal, £3 was to be added by national and local government, and the target for voluntary donations was set at £60,000. 

The final total raised was £64,000.  The biggest single contribution was £6,000 which came from a sponsored walk on Sunday, 25th October 1970 with over 8,000 people – mostly young – taking part.  Walkers were given eight hours between 10.00 am and 6.00 pm in which to complete one to ten 2¾-mile laps of the park.  35,000 cups of squash and 12,000 cups of tea – all provided free – were consumed by the walkers.     

The main conversion work was the addition of a single-storey extension on two sides to accommodate offices, changing rooms, a café, store and a plant room. The sports hall opened for public use on 1st February 1972.  In May the same year, the Mayflower Trust applied to make an annex for an indoor bowling rink, which opened in July 1973.

The indoor bowling rink nearing completion in 1973 with the main sports hall behind. Western Morning News 25th April 1973 (The Box accession reference 2732/31)

A further annex was made in 1978 for an indoor five-a-side football hall and another in 1980 for four squash courts.  In the aerial photograph below, the green-roofed building is the original hall from 1970, the grey-roofed building is the indoor bowling rink, the large white building is the five-a-side hall and small white building the squash courts.  Pellow’s Field is to the left of the picture and Plymouth Argyle’s football stadium in the middle.  The picture shows how much the development infringed the park’s green areas and related poorly to the surrounding spaces. 

Aerial view of the Mayflower Centre, comprising the main hall and two annexes, c1985

Being cheaply built, the Mayflower Centre’s maintenance burden quickly escalated.  A condition survey in 2001 identified an investment need of £2M for basic repairs and a further £8M to bring the buildings up to modern standards.  Before 2001 the aim had been to renovate the existing centre; after 2001 it changed to replacing the centre, and this was finally achieved when the Life Centre opened in 2012. 

The Box records include a photograph album with pictures of the swimming pool and Mayflower Centre being built and newly opened.  The accession reference is 1550/19.