With former students including Olympic stars Steve Cram and Victoria Pendleton, ex-England rugby international Martin Corry and Paralympian Stephen Miller, Northumbria University has a rich pedigree in turning out sports stars of the future.
Its secret is simple – world-class facilities which have not gone unnoticed by the country’s students.
Against stiff competition, Northumbria has been named in the top 12 universities for its sports facilities, the latest in a series of accolades for it following the completion of its £30m Sports Central complex in 2010.
Colin Stromsoy, who has been head of sport there for the last two years, said: “It’s great news for us and recognition of the work that has been done here.”
He admitted that prior to Sport Central the facilities at Northumbria were “dated”.
However, using the selection of London for the 2012 Olympics as a focus, university bosses took the financial plunge and invested the cash.
“We saw it as a great opportunity to link the sports and academic programme together,” said Colin. “Clearly we needed to investheavily.” Located on its city campus, it includes a gymnasium, a strength and conditioning room, a 40-metre running track, a 25-metre swimming pool, climbing wall and training and sport halls.
Sport science students enjoy state-of-the-art physiology, nutrition, biomechanical, gait and video (performance) analysis laboratories, which boast £800,000 of scientific equipment, located within the facility.
There is also an environmental chamber which recreates conditions from around the world, allowing athletes to acclimatise prior to competing in cold, hot or humid conditions, or at high altitude.
Such is its quality, Northumbria University is a regional testing centre for England Athletics, providing physiological support for athletes, as well as coach support within the England Athletics Coach Mentoring scheme.
“In certain sports our facilities are absolutely world-class, like volleyball,” said Colin.
And it is reaping rewards for the university. Team Northumbria’s women’s volleyball team were recently named the best sports team in Britain by British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS).
The first team, coached by Dave Goodchild, known as The Invincibles, won the award after an unprecedented season in which they won every game and the BUCS championship.
Meanwhile, Northumbria has gone from 20th place in season 2010/11 in the overall BUCS league for all sports, to a current position of 12th.
However, it’s not just about performance teams and elite athletes.
“We’re trying to make sure we offer equal opportunity to all students irrespective of their background or physical ability,” said Colin.
Northumbria does boast a number of top-level sports stars. Current students include Peter Bakare, who was a member of the Team GB volleyball squad at the Olympics, Paralympic swimmer Harriet Lee, who was world champion in the 100 metre breaststroke in the SB9 category, her fellow Paralympic swimmer Jack Bridge, who came fourth in the 2012, 100m breaststroke, also in the SB9 category, as well as able-bodied Team GB swimmer Dan Sliwinski.
Access to these facilities for ordinary students saw Northumbria chosen in a Student Experience Survey carried out by the Times Higher Education, putting it in the top 10 nationwide.
It ranks 102 universities and is based on responses from 12,000 students on issues ranging from accommodation to extra-curricular activities.
Northumbria is looking not just to consolidate its position, but move forward to the next challenge. “We want everything to be athlete-focused, coach-led and outcome-centred,” said Colin.