Britain is on a mission to preserve its grassroots sporting heritage as never before. Constrained on all sides by national cutbacks, rising overheads and pressures to transform them into housing and retail and commercial developments, club sportsgrounds and playing fields are battling keep their corner that is forever England.
Diamond Jubilee year will mark a key contribution to the fight for survival as a national scheme to protect fields in perpetuity advances towards its goal of safeguarding recreational acres for the community.
The Queen Elizabeth II Fields Challenge, run by Fields in Trust (FIT) - the operating name of the National Playing Fields Association - and supported by HRH Prince William and SITA Trust, is aiming to protect 2,012 outdoor recreational spaces in communities across the country as "a permanent living legacy" of the Diamond Jubilee.
A wide range of funding is available to help ensure designated fields are not simply protected but are done so "in optimum condition", FIT states. Funding attracted from the sources detailed below may not necessarily cover all the costs of capital projects that sites wish to undertake, but those running QEII Fields are proving resourceful in weeding out other funding streams, as our case studies reveal.
The tally of sites protected to date has passed the halfway mark and FIT is "confident" of reaching the target by year-end, it told Pitchcare. First out of the starting blocks was Fareham local authority in Hampshire, which nominated a site last April.
London Olympics borough, Greenwich, due to gain Royal status this year, has put forward three sites, one of which FIT used as the venue to launch its Save A Space For Me scheme - http://www.qe2fields.com/news_details.aspx?newsid=6e480ea4-c5fc-4ba6-85d5-b6f54e9c251d
Edinburgh City Council has nominated the most sites for a city - twenty-two, whilst Salford put eighteen forward, but later wanted to whittle those down to two through the Save A Space For Me vote.
Once designated, a Queen Elizabeth II Field can apply to SITA Trust's £1m fund for improvements to its recreational facilities.
The fund has two strands:
First, the QEII Fields Volunteer Support Fund will award up to a maximum of £5,000 for projects where it can be demonstrated that volunteers will be extensively involved in the delivery of a project.
Second, the QEII Major Works Fund will award up to £25,000 for projects that also focus on delivery by volunteers, but that allow major works to be carried out by contractors.
A registered and accredited environmental body, the not-for-profit SITA Trust, is an ethical funding company that operates under the Landfill Communities Fund, supporting community improvement projects in ninety funding zones around qualifying waste processing sites owned by the recycling and resource management company SITA UK, which contributes money to the Trust.
The Trust was the first environmental body to be accredited by the Landfill Communities Fund regulator Entrust, and it has supported more than 3,000 projects, totalling more than £87m since it began funding in 1997.
T: 01454 262910.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website at: http://www.sitatrust.org.uk/projects/qe2fields
Sport England's People, Places, Play Legacy Fund: QEII Fields, or those who apply for funding and would consider becoming a QEII Field, gain added weighting. More at: http://www.qe2fields.com/funding.aspx
Fields in Trust has funds available in each county across Britain for sites to apply for. In the first round, it awarded over £55,000. http://www.qe2fields.com/countyfund.aspx http://www.qe2fields.com/news_details.aspx?newsid=53fea5a6-7245-4a8b-89c9-16691b850807
A £1m fund is available exclusively for fields in London to apply to. http://www.qe2fields.com/londonlegacy.aspx
Case study 1 - Prees Cricket and Recreation Club
Seeking funding for grounds maintenance is a popular option for QEII fields, FIT told us, with money being channelled into drainage improvements or to create, literally, a level playing field.
Others are on a more ambitious journey, but started out with pump-priming from QEII Fields Challenge funding. Like Prees Cricket and Recreation Club in Shropshire, for example, which received £2,500 to help meet the costs of relaying the all-weather cricket pitch.
Prees is an old friend of Fields in Trust. The club has been operating in its present form since 1932, although there are records of tennis, cricket and football taking place in the village dating back to 1862.
FIT has a long history of supporting sports clubs and, in fact, grant-aided Prees back in 1932, kicking off its life as a registered charity.
Club secretary Brian Hughes and his colleagues saw the potential of the QEII Fields Challenge to help them celebrate the Diamond Jubilee by protecting the land as a sports facility in perpetuity, and to possibly access funds for improvements to the club.
Since nominating its ground last November and being granted QEII status in April, Prees has accessed money from FIT's Legacy Fund. As Brian explains: "Our old all-weather pitch was in such a poor condition that we were at risk of having to cancel our cricket but, with this help, we can renew our pitch, continue to play with our existing teams and hopefully start another U13 Team this year.' FIT plans a further round of the Legacy Fund later this year."
First things first, however: "We knew we owned the land, but had acquired it in dribs and drabs over the years. We had to trace the deeds of ownership to show Fields in Trust before we could gain QEII status, and we were already a registered charity, so we met that criterion."
The £7,500 cost to re-lay the all-weather with a tarmac-based surface has been fully met, Brian reports. On top of the FIT funding, the club attracted £3,000 from Lord's Taverners - "the maximum sum they will award for an all-weather pitch", Brian adds. "We had to apply for the money through the Shropshire ECB rather than apply direct.
Determined to fully meet the capital cost, the club successfully approached Shropshire council - its Community Fund Joint Committee providing the remaining £2,000. The new surface was due to be laid "imminently" as we went to press.
Besides its cricket square, with "four or five natural strips" and the all-weather surface, Prees runs two grass full-size football pitches, a junior playing area and an "Astroturf" sand-based training pitch - all tended by volunteers.
Turning his attention to the issue of improvements, Brian explains: "We can control our revenue costs but its capital projects that we cannot fund." But, that hasn't stopped Prees moving forward once again as it bids to install a 3G training pitch to improve sporting provision further still.
This time, Sport England is a key funding target for the expected £50,000 project cost, under the agency's £10m Protecting Playing Fields Fund <http://www.sportengland.org/funding/protecting_playing_fields.aspx > Applying as a QEII site is seen as a positive for a club seeking funding, FIT says.
"You have to apply to Sport England online. It's not overly complicated, but there is a bit of work involved to give yourself the best chance of success," Brian reports, "such as making sure you hit the hot buttons with the right terminology. We're still waiting to hear back."
In March, the club applied to the SITA Trust for a £25,000 input under its £1m QEII Fields Fund http://www.sitatrust.org.uk/qe2-fields which is available for `physical improvements'.
"This application will be for funding towards equipment to help us with the ground maintenance of our cricket and football pitches," Brian continues.
Does he have any top tips for others seeking funding? "Be sure to search around - explore as many options as you can," are his words of advice.
Case Study 2 - Dovecote Playing Field
The search for funding is becoming increasingly difficult for the smaller club or recreational site, says Andy Ellis, clerk of Barwell Parish Council in Leicestershire, who, however, can report major success in the authority's bid to fund significant improvements to Dovecote Playing Fields.
A QEII designated site, the field received £3,500 late last year under FIT's County Funds programme.
The money is earmarked for drainage works, which are due to begin soon in what is a £120,000 year-long project that should boost playing conditions for AFC Barwell, which rents the field - the only one in the village - from the parish council and turns out no fewer than twenty-two teams on it, spanning the 4 to 17-year-old age range, so usage is intensive.
"Around seventy games were cancelled during the 2010/2011 season," Andy recalls. "I can only imagine what the fines would have been."
Club and council have collaborated extensively to seek, and attract, as much funding as possible to meet the six-figure capital outlay, but it isn't easy, explains Andy.
"Professional grant-hunters know their way around the system but, if you are not one of these, there's plenty of work in store for you in preparing grant applications. They're all about including the right buzzwords."
Which are? "Community engagement, Big Society, those kinds of words. You have to justify to them that you need the money. It's alright just saying 'We have a bit of a soggy pitch and it needs better drainage', but that will not get you the funding."
Barwell Parish Council cast its net widely in seeking help for what is planned to be a total project value of around £800,000. "The plan is to demolish the existing pavilion and replace it with one housing four changing rooms and bar, together with forty car parking spaces. AFC Barwell's secretary, Karen Hollins, was keen to work with us to push the project forward, and we've been meeting every two weeks for the last year."
The Leicestershire regional branch of the Football Association asked for a sketch of the proposals and confirmed that they were prepared to support the bid.
The Football Foundation, who would grant-aid the project if the bid was successful, required a "full and thorough" independent feasibility study to be undertaken, Andy explains. "The specialist consultant tested the condition of the playing field and wrote a detailed specification of what would need to be undertaken as part of the drainage improvements, including levelling, reseeding and so on.
"Once the FA were happy that it met their standards, we put the ground work specification out to tender, so that we could progress this aspect of the total project as quickly as possible."
They've been appointed and go-ahead for the pitch works was granted in May, with £470,000 funding given in principle by the Football Foundation, Andy adds.
AFC Barwell submitted a business plan to the Foundation, one that confirms the commitment by the club to a continuing programme of maintenance for the upgraded playing field.
Bolstering the major tranche of funding is £50,000 from Sport England; £6,000 from Hinckley and Bosworth Parish Community Jubilee Fund and £10,000 from Leicestershire County Council Big Society Fund.
"AFC Barwell has been very active in raising funds," Andy says. "It raised £6,000 in summer 2010 from an initiative called 'I'm a Barwell manager, get me out of here', which was sponsored by the local pet shop."
What's his top tip for fellow funding seekers? "Involve as many people as possible in the process. Rose, from Voluntary Action Hinckley and Bosworth, helped search online for funding sources and we found the Leicestershire Funding Tool Kit very helpful as a source of potential funders."
As Andy stresses, Dovecote Playing Field might not have been under pressure to be redeveloped for housing (although the village itself is, he says) but dedicating it "early on" under the QEII Fields Challenge helped when approaching possible funders, whilst the covenant protects what is an invaluable sporting asset locally from any possible threat in the years ahead.
Covenant confers lasting protection
Across Britain, clubs, fields and recreational grounds are busily trawling through old records to assess the degree of protection that may be already in force, especially when the spectre of redevelopment rises up.
Campaigners, fighting to protect Weymouth's popular Marsh area playing fields from any move to redevelop it or build houses on the site, had cause to celebrate recently when they unearthed a deed of covenant that reportedly safeguards the sporting amenity for the future.
Weymouth and Portland council's management committee had narrowly refused to back plans to submit the Marsh for QEII designation because of alleged "queries" including its potential "future development". But records tracking back nearly half a century appear to prevent any prospect of that happening.
Campaigner Michael Wheller said: "We have discovered a Deed of Covenant dated June 6th, 1964 between the National Playing Fields Association and The Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the Borough of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis restricting the use of land to that of a Playing Field."
The document was extremely specific and contains official seals signed by the council's then Mayor, Sid Porter, and Town Clerk, E.J. Jones, he added. The covenant also includes a plan specifying the playing field area involved and outlining it, in colour, to ensure there would be no misunderstanding about which area was being referred to.
"The discovery takes the protected area at the Marsh completely out of council hands as far as future development is concerned, because they have no right to even consider that land for development when they themselves agreed, forty-eight years ago, that it should only ever be used for playing fields", Weller concluded.
Wrangles over the playing fields have erupted more than once. In 1985, the council reportedly first supported and then opposed proposals to use the land for a new Weymouth football stadium, a nightclub and housing.
"This same covenant was raised then and now seems to have been conveniently forgotten," declared co-campaigner Ann Axenskold. "This covenant should have been known about by the present council who ought to honour and respect their agreement rather than quietly forgetting about it."
Fields in Trust has reportedly assured the campaigners that it will be uphold the covenant. Given that the 2012 Olympic sailing events are centred on Weymouth, news of a threat to the future of a nearby community sports facility might well have created red faces in the town hall.
Protected fields and open spaces improve their lot
Staining Millennium Recreation Ground, Lancashire - drainage and levelling
Catterall, Lancashire - drainage of football pitch
Crambeck village playing field, North Yorkshire - levelling and resurfacing of the field
Shrewton Recreation Ground, Wiltshire. Established in the 1940s from community funds raised to welcome home men and women of the parishes after service in the Armed Forces during the World War II
Melton Country Park, Leicestershire - received a £1,000 grant towards a new football pitch;
King's Stairs Gardens. London - described as a "unique and beautiful green space", and is one of the few remaining riverside parks in central London with superb river views. Situated within the Edward III's Rotherhithe conservation area, it is part of the Thames Path and the Jubilee Greenway, and a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation. It is freely accessible by all, 24/7, well managed and maintained by Southwark Council's Parks Department. The park contributes to an unbroken green corridor from Surrey Quays to the Thames. The Jubilee Stone by the riverside walkway commemorates the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, replacing an earlier stone unveiled by the Queen on her Silver Jubilee in 1977.
And we just had to mention ...
Forever Young - Kirriemuir Hill, Angus, Scotland. Gifted to the local community by J M Barrie, author of Peter Pan, which overlooks the cricket pitch where he used to play.