YOUNG sports centre visitors will take their first steps to fitness with a new £100,000 soft play area.
The play area will open at Sunderland’s Aquatic Centre in January, with its cafe being demolished and seating area moved to make way for the enclosure.
The multi-level facility will welcome babies, toddlers and youngsters, with Sunderland City Council pledging admission will be kept at affordable prices.
It will feature a ball pool, slides, rope bridges, climbing frame and crawl tubes.
There will also be seating for parents to supervise their children.
Council bosses hope the investment will help children become familiar with the centre and move on to take up other activities there, including swimming, exercise classes and its gym.
Councillor John Kelly, who oversees the council’s health, wellness and culture portfolio, said: “We already have thousands of children and adults using the Aquatic Centre and its facilities.
“With a new soft play area for the very young, there’s opportunities for more fun and fitness at a very early age.”
More than 1,000 children attend learn to swim lessons at the centre four days a week while nearly 2,000 children under the age of 10 are also registered users.
Improvements will be made to food and drink vending to replace the cafe which, the council says, operated at a loss.
Coun Kelly added: “We’re always looking at how we can update sport and leisure facilities, and we have to do this with reduced budgets.
“The council continues to have to make some tough decisions, and not having the cafe is one of them.”
The council says the area will also benefit children with mental or physical disabilities, offer a safe environment where they can play and let off some steam, develop better physical, social, mental and emotional skills and meet new friends and socialise with others.
It will also be available to book for birthdays and other special occasions.