You’re never too cool to enjoy a go on the ice rink

SHEILA McLean recalls when she and fellow skater Alan McIver launched Murrayfield Ice Rink’s first children’s skating lessons – almost 60 years ago.

Saturday, 12th October 2019, 1:00 am
Updated Saturday, 12th October 2019, 11:40 am
skater Katie Powell (who competes in the British championships) and trains at the rink. Murrayfield ice rink

“We started off with two children one week and within the month, we had 120,” she laughs. “The owner of the rink, Mr Kerr, came rushing up to us, saying ‘No more children!’ – there was no room.”

Ms McLean, 78, and Mr McIver, 83, are still key members of the historic rink’s Murrayfield Ice Skating Club, which meets every Sunday morning. The club gives youngsters the chance to learn from the elder skaters, many of whom were successful competitors in their youth, as well as international figure skating judges such as Noel Grimshaw, who judged the first World Synchronised Skating championships in the US in 2000.

But now the club often struggles to attract young skaters to join them, while the wider rink is also suffering a fall in ticket sales.

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Murrayfield ice rink . EN feature Neil Hanna Photography www.neilhannaphotography.co.uk 07702 246823

When Murrayfield first opened its doors in 1956 – 17 years after it was first built and after being used by the government as a wartime storage unit – the rink, the largest in the UK, was packed.

“We used to regularly have 1,000 people on the ice on a Saturday night, skating to a live band,” explains managing director Richard Stirling, who first visited the rink 55 years ago, when his friend’s sister dragged him along as a thirteen-year-old.

“Now, it is not so easy.”

An increasing number of activities on offer in Edinburgh – from trampoline parks to bowling alleys as well as time spent on social media – have left the ice rink jockeying for children’s attention.

“There is something about this rink, it just gets into your blood,” adds Mr Stirling, who played for various Murrayfield ice hockey teams and worked as a part-time engineer on top of a full time job before becoming managing director. Since 1957, the rink has been owned by two local families, allowing over three generations of Capital children to learn to skate.

“It has such a history for Edinburgh locals,” he says. “The number of people who have met their partners here is phenomenal. But we just don’t get the same number of children coming these days.”

Behind the scenes, in a B-listed building which has altered little in the past 60 years, skating is thriving.

As well as a team of professional figure skating coaches who train beginners right up to elite skaters competing for the top spot at the annual British Figure Skating Championships, the rink also boasts an ice hockey team, the Murrayfield Racers, with training squads for all ages.

Last year, it welcomed more than 2,000 people through its doors during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival when it hosted French-Canadian contemporary ice dance performers Le Patin Libre.

It also has daily public sessions for recreational skaters and has been the launchpad for many top international competitors, including Livingston siblings Sinead and John Kerr who won two European bronze medals for ice dance.

However, the managers admit that for the art deco-fronted facility to remain open long term, they need a turnaround in attendance. The television comeback two years ago of ITV show Dancing on Ice had some impact on the sport’s popularity, but of those who either visit the rink independently after watching the show, or join the popular group weekend Learn to Skate classes, relatively few keep returning long term.

“I don’t know what the problem is with Edinburgh,” says Murrayfield Ice Skating Club treasurer William Findlay, who started out on the ice as a two-year-old, 50 years ago.

“There is too much to do. I think ice skating is not seen as cool. People usually do a couple of years, then give up, often when they hit that teenage stage, or when it becomes competitive and expensive.

“I think one of the problems is that people want results instantly these days. They see Dancing on Ice and they think they’re going to be able to do all of that after six weeks.”

He adds: “At the club, we’re trying to offer people a fun alternative to competitive skating, to show it is also a really sociable activity.”

On the ice, skaters are practising their spins and turns while group lessons are held at one end of the rink and older skaters practise pattern dances at the other.

Meanwhile, a new member, 13-year-old Nicola, is being shown the ropes by Ms McLean. “I like to coach the new people, give them a hand,” she explains.

Running an ice rink is a pricey business. Management installed a new cooling plant six years ago, which saves 450 kilowatt hours a year of electricity over the old version. Over a million pounds’ worth of investment has been ploughed back into the building over the last twenty years, however electricity bills still run to £15,000 a month.

Coach and duty manager Nicolas Salicis, a former competitive ice dancer from France, admits that the historic building makes outward renovation difficult.

Yet, the interior has an 1980s charm which sparks nostalgia for many Edinburgh residents.

“To compare with modern ice rink buildings, where parents expect a cafe looking out onto the ice, where they can see their children practising, would take an enormous amount of investment,” he says. “This building just wasn’t built like that. People don’t see the investment we do put into it, it’s about keeping the ice going.

“If a trampoline park isn’t used at night, they can turn off the electricity. If we did that, we’d be left with a paddling pool.

“A lot of people I meet in Edinburgh have fond memories of the ice rink, they say they remember coming here as children, but they’re just not bringing their own children here.”

Free places and an arrival time at the open day on Monday can be booked online at www.murrayfieldicerinkltd.co.uk or 0131 337 6933. Limited tickets will also be available on the day.