Having opened in April 2000, you might think by this point that you know all about the National Ice Centre. But that’s far from all that’s going on at their extensive base on Bolero Square...
Having opened in April 2000, you might think by this point that you know all about the National Ice Centre (NIC). You may even have seen some of your favourite big name artists there. Indeed, recent highlights at Motorpoint Arena, which sits within NIC, include global superstar Harry Styles, Dizzee Rascal, and homegrown musical behemoths like Sleaford Mods and Jake Bugg. Why wouldn't you? Acts as diverse as hip-hop royalty Ice Cube & Cypress Hill and living legend Tom Jones grace the stage in December alone, it’s not unusual… Bringing the big hitters to Nottingham is what they do.
But that’s far from all that’s going on at their extensive base on Bolero Square. NIC is also home to the world famous Nottingham Panthers of course (currently grieving the tragic loss of ‘Forever 47’ Adam Johnson), whose throngs of yellow, black and white-sporting fans make it plainly obvious to city visitors whenever there’s a game on. The Panthers’ is a truly family friendly and inclusive crowd, and a great community in itself. Keep an eye out for LeftLion’s regular match reports.
Arriving at the venue on a rather dull Friday afternoon, our mood was immediately lifted when greeted in the bustling foyer. Having walked through the door and straight past one of two Olympic-sized ice rinks, we were momentarily mesmerised seeing all the impressive ice skating talent practising their skills.
Handily, Disney on Ice preparations are well underway too, part of Disney’s 100 Years of Wonder tour. Glimpsing the rehearsals, the cast’s acrobatic abilities are in full swing, and although the lighting and staging was in the process of being added you can sense they’re about to bring the magic alive and take ticket-holders on an extraordinary journey. Combining nostalgia and childhood enchantment, the arena was swiftly transcending into a Disney-lover’s dream.
We know that these nostalgia-packed, high production spectacles are commonplace at the arena. But perhaps the less well known part of this establishment is the good work they’ve been doing behind the scenes to make East Midlands' largest venue more sustainable and accessible.
Whether you're four years old or forty years old, you can get on the ice - it's likely that you're going to be a bit uncertain about it at first, but at the end of the session you're going to come away with the same smile
There’s plenty of other action to be had for families and casual ice skaters too, and it’s a surprisingly open affair, with NIC bending over backwards to accommodate even those who wouldn’t normally feel able to join.
The National Ice Centre’s mantra is that “ice skating is something that the whole family can access, no matter who you are”. With this in mind, Kaylie Bickle, Operations Manager and part of the ‘ice accessibility’ team, outlined the various accessibility adjustments they’ve pushed forward. Particularly when it comes to wheelchair access, Kaylie shares that the team have “tried to make it so that every session is accessible - before COVID we had a particular accessible session, whereas now we've made it so that anyone can come on any day”.
“We've got accessibility sledges, so those who have added mobility requirements can sit on the sledge and be strapped in, and they can either be pushed or use hockey sticks to push themselves”. Wheelchairs and pushchairs can actually go on the ice, too, which came as a surprise to us; “in terms of safety of wheelchairs on the ice, it's actually not much different from using a wheelchair in any other area”.
Kaylie tells us that their entire team is dedicated to making sure that all visitors feel comfortable and supported during their visit working with any specific needs which need to be catered to. “We're more than happy to walk people through the building, make sure they're comfortable, where they're going, what they're doing and you know, whatever it is that they need, we try and make an adjustment so that they feel a sense of belonging here at all times”.
Beyond that, they try to offer something for everyone. “For us, it's about making sure that we're as diverse as possible in terms of the content that we put out there, so that people can see our activities and know there’s something for them. It doesn't matter who they are,” Kaylie explains “whether you're four years old or forty years old, you can get on the ice - it's likely that you're going to be a bit uncertain about it at first, but at the end of the session you're both going to come away with the same smile.”
A building this size inevitably takes a lot of upkeep and maintenance behind the scenes and with great size comes great responsibility. Being an arms-length Nottingham City Council-owned facility, they’re adamant on contributing to the city’s Carbon Neutral Nottingham 2028 target. “It's a good environment to get stuck into solving problems, that’s why I’ve stayed here so long”, Lee Chadburn, Head of Facilities reveals. During the first few years of his role at the venue his passion for sustainability led him to encourage all the teams, down to the box office staff, to get involved in taking action.
“We acknowledged that it wasn't just a management problem. It was everyone's, whether you work in the box office, whether you’re a cleaner, whether you're the CEO, wherever you are on the board, it was all of our challenge”. Their approach is based around motivating all teams to share the responsibility of tackling climate change, with Lee’s advocating that “you know your areas better than anybody else, what are we doing that could be done better?”. This drive resulted in 142 suggestions from staff; “some of them were ridiculous, of course, but some of them were really easy and simple wins. That got real ownership around the business”.
For the last few years, Lee’s been chairing a National Arenas Association green group focussed on reducing the impact of these massive venues. “We’re a flagbearer for arenas on green issues” he enthuses. Some of their successes include installing 1,000 solar panels - enough to power thirty arena shows, being the first venue of their kind to introduce eco-friendly reusable cups, and encouraging visitors to use public transport.
It's a good environment to get stuck into solving problems, that’s why I’ve stayed here so long
You can even keep it green when you’re feeling peckish, with the venue offering UK’s first ever vegan eatery in an arena, the Vegan Kitchen. Offering a wide range of items to suit Nottingham’s progressive tastes, you can expect plenty of gluten-free options too.
Besides the basic show and skate entry options, they also offer a range of premium experiences, that we’re told are less expensive as you might expect. So if you want to catch a Panthers game in luxurious style, and treat your friends and family too, there are pre and post-game meal experiences in the Spotlight bar, executive suites with “in-suite waiting service, a pre-game or interval hot buffet, and panoramic views." Or even if you’re in for a match or in for a show, you can “upgrade your night out."
Kaylie explains that they’re also looking out for the community feeling the brunt of the cost of living crisis, and make skating welcoming for all. As well as kids under five skating for free, they’re a provider of the holiday activity and food programme, “so children that would normally be having free school meals can come here for a nutritious warm meal, ice skating and multisports off the ice, and arts and crafts through free vouchers available from schools.” There are discounts on offer for others too, including with Active Nottingham and for Blue Light card holders.
Finally, it wouldn't be right not to round this off without mentioning the many imminent festive delights upcoming at NIC. Here’s a few family friendly tips for November and December:
Christmas Light Switch On - Saturday 25 November -
Be the first to skate in the Christmas themed rink as the NIC officially launch Christmas skating, with Jo and Sparky from Gem at Breakfast turning on the lights.
Festive Characters Skate - Saturday 2 December
Join NIC as their majestic tree twinkles, and elves, snowman, reindeer and gingerbread man skate around the rink with you for this a special festive session.
Santa’s Grotto - 9-10, 16-17 and 21-24 December
What it says on the tin, Santa's in town and you there's a huge ‘Where’s Wally’ style Christmas wall mural & quiz amongst other activities to keep the kids sweet.
Princess and Superheroes Party - 30 December
One of many family friendly parties throughout the year, the National Ice Centre will see out 2023 in style. Expect music, balloons, and a sprinkling of fairy dust...
From where LeftLion’s standing, The National Ice Arena is a big box of surprises, packed with good people doing great work. Being council owned it’s ours too, technically, so it’s one to support along with Nottingham’s many other excellent independent venues.
Find more via the National Ice Centre’s website
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