The 2012 Olympics could yet deliver a lasting legacy to Grass-Roots Projects like Kingsbridge Community Sports. In the year when sport is the subject on everyone’s lips, communities across the UK as never before need to stand together and ensure that the provision of grass-roots sports facilities is increased to meet the demands of current and future generations.
A National Shortage of Sports Facilities
Despite population growth across many areas of the UK, the sad truth is that over the past 30 years more than 5,000 sports pitches have been sold into private ownership and in many cases these invaluable green open spaces have now been built on. Once these playing fields have been sold and developed, they are lost forever to the communities who once used them for sport and leisure activities. The detrimental impact on local community in terms of health,wellbeing and cohesion has been nothing short of devastating. Not only have organised sports declined as a result of the limited facilities available, but informal sport and leisure activities have suffered as well.
Birmingham Sells off Local Sports Pitches
Take Birmingham as an example. In 2002 there were 10 divisions in the Birmingham Amateur Football Association, today the league is struggling to maintain 8 divisions, with numbers dropping year on year. One of the main reasons for this decline in organised sport is the shortage of decent, affordable sports facilities. One local amateur Football Club in south Birmingham was recently informed that the nearest available facilities (with showers) was over 9 miles away from Clubs current location, and in a completely different part of the city. In the same area, more than 30 local Cricket Teams are without a home pitch, having no choice but to travel as much as 30 miles to play home fixtures. Meanwhile in recent years in the same part of the City more and more facilities have been taken away from the local community: -
- A large section of Billesley Common was controversially used to build a new 7,500 capacity facility for Moseley Rugby Club
- The 'Birmingham Sports Centre' synthetic football pitch in Highgate was sold for Retail Development
- Holders Lane & Pebble Mill Playing Fields could soon become part of a new University campus development.
The local sports clubs who have moved to new venues find themselves isolated, miles away from their communities and as a result all connection with the local area is lost. Families can no longer watch their local teams play, because the distances are too far- even for ‘home’ fixtures.
What will the 'Olympic Legacy' mean for Grass-Roots Sports?
So could the Olympics be about to change all this? Minister for Sport and the Olympics, Hugh Robertson MP said: "As part of the legacy from London 2012 we want to offer people better facilities and more opportunities to play sport. Not only will this lottery investment further protect playing fields from developers but also create new ones and improve pitches up and down the country." Sport England's Chair, Richard Lewis, commented: "This is a fantastic opportunity for sports groups to celebrate this summer's Games by improving local sports pitches. Every playing field that benefits will be protected from developers for at least 25 years, giving a generation of young people great places to learn sport."
The key for Grass-Roots Projects like Kingsbridge Community Sports is that the Local Authority like Birmingham City Council seizes the opportunity to capitalise on the Olympic Legacy. In order for any community group like Kingsbridge to access the kind of funds available through Sport England, the National Lottery and other National Grants, the project must have the backing of the Local Authority. The risk is that Council's could be so obsessed by raising capital by selling off assets to off-set against the 'Cuts' that they could be prone to making decisions based on short-term gains. The problem here is the danger of ignoring the long-term implications to the local communities, whose access to affordable sport and leisure facilities could be irrevocable lost.
Reversing the Trend
Its not all doom and gloom- there are cases where local Sports facilities have been retained for local community use. One such example is the recreational area adjacent to Balsall Heath Road in Birmingham, where local people fought Birmingham City Council to preserve the use of the pitches for local kids. Local Campaigner Joe Holyoak pointed out that the proposal to develop the land was contrary to both national and local planning guidance, yet despite this planning approval was granted. The community took the matter to the highest levels before the Council finally backed out of the proposal and the Playing Fields were retained for local use.
Kingsbridge would like to know your story. Are sports facilities in your area also under threat? Have you found ways of reversing the trend and protecting your local playing fields and so keeping your local facilities in the control of local people? Let us know firstname.lastname@example.org
Kingsbridge Project is a community based consortium, aiming to develop a vibrant and exciting new venue in South Birmingham. Our aim is to enhance the provision of sport and leisure activities for the benefit of a wide variety of local user groups, in an area where facilities are currently sorely lacking.
For more information visit http://www.kingsbridge-project.org/