Sports facilities are often at the very heart of village life; bringing communities together and bridging generational gaps. The Buckinghamshire village of Great Brickhill is no exception and a recent project to improve its facilities saw several organisations - and the broader community - join forces to bring the vision to reality
Sport has been at the heart of village life in Great Brickhill ever since the early 1900s when the Duncombes, whose family seat has been in the village for over 400 years, donated land in the village centre for parishioners' recreational use. Cricket and tennis have shared the land over the years, with the Great Brickhill Tennis Club established in the late 1960s to expand tennis membership and rebuild the original court. Both cricket and tennis now have thriving clubs, with memberships ranging from juniors through to the husband and wife founder members (90 and 87 years respectively) who can still be found on the tennis courts.
This community-wide love of sport was the driver behind an ambitious project to revamp the sport facilities, which are situated at the heart of the village next to the parish hall which was built in the 90s.
With the cricket and tennis clubs both looking to upgrade facilities on the shared site, and the Parish Council having identified the need for an area suitable for a range of different sports and activities, it seemed a natural step for the organisations to join forces in their approach to the project. Tennis Club Chairman, David Bratt, who became Chair of the Managing Committee, says; "Our 'wish list' included new non-turf cricket practice net facilities and a new Multi Use Games Area (MUGA) alongside the upgrading of fencing and installation of floodlights to the existing tennis courts; so a task force was put together to identify and target funding streams that could help the partnership generate the capital and also to appoint suitable contractors."
"We were aware that the project was ambitious, but were in the fortunate position to have two members of the tennis committee - myself and Paul Murray - who had both recently retired from positions involving the management of major capital projects - who had the time to dedicate to the project without the nine-to-five getting in the way. Equally important, we had Lee Morgan, a professional contract manager and Mike Turner, then Chairman of the Cricket Club, who lent their excellent practical skills to help steer the project in the right direction."
The funding 'jigsaw puzzle'
With briefs drawn up for the various elements of the project, the next stage was to identify and navigate the available funding streams to raise capital. Here, however, the 'joined-up' approach meant that applications had to be handled carefully, as David explains.
"Securing funding was perhaps the biggest challenge of the project, due mainly to the in-depth application procedures and strict criteria set by many of the bodies we approached. For example, the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB), which we earmarked to support the non-turf cricket practice nets, will only fund cricket-specific projects, so we had to treat this as a completely separate application. We were successful but, due to the way in which funds were allocated, work on the facility had to be finished by the end of 2013 so, although we would have preferred to start work on the MUGA element first, the cricket nets had to take priority and we juggled the schedule accordingly."
Thanks to a concerted team effort, over 60% of the overall project budget was secured from funding streams. Alongside the ECB's support of the cricket side of the project through the England & Wales Cricket Trust, contributors to the wider scheme included WREN (via the FCC Environment to the Landfill Communities Fund), the Aylesbury Vale Community Chest and Great Brickhill Parish Council; with the clubs' combined fundraising efforts also contributing significantly to the overall cost.
David says; "It was great to be able to tap into so many different funding streams and we are hugely grateful to the various bodies that supported the project. I think one of the reasons that we were so successful is that Lee, Paul and I had the time to commit to doing our research thoroughly and, whilst the process of applying can be rather laborious, it paid dividends. One piece of advice I would give other clubs looking to source funds is to make sure you do your homework and ensure your project fits the criteria set by the funding organisation - read the small print thoroughly to ensure you don't waste effort applying for streams you simply aren't eligible for."
A 'turnkey' solution
Whilst applying for the funding and the necessary planning permission, the partnership began investigating contractors for the various elements of the project. An introduction from Heras Sports Fencing led to ECB code of practice installer for non-turf pitches, total-play Ltd, being appointed to design and construct the cricket practice nets facility in late Autumn 2013.
Following in-depth discussion with the committee, the company then put forward a proposal to undertake the rest of the project in the New Year; effectively offering a 'turnkey' solution, as their MD, David Bates, explains:
"We are probably best known as cricket pitch specialists, however, we have always undertaken works for a wide range of sports and have recently seen an increase in the number of MUGAs we are being asked to install. Having a proven track record in this field and knowing that we had the capabilities to carry out the entire project - aside from the installation of the floodlights to the tennis court - we put forward a proposal to the management committee."
"This offered a number of benefits to the client - in the case of the cricket practice facility and MUGA in particular - where we were able to build the entire systems using our own skilled labour force. This meant the MUGA was constructed as a single project rather than in phases - for example, the floodlighting infrastructure was built during the base construction of the sports surface - reducing both project cost and time. In more general terms, utilising one contracting team and one site foreman - so having one point of contact - means the project runs a lot more smoothly and minimises the movement of plant on and off site."
With the cricket element of the project already complete, total-play's attention then turned to the tennis court fencing refurbishment. Here, the tennis club saved some money by dismantling the existing fencing and selling the 'scrap' to a sponsor of the cricket club. total-play then helped specify and install new powder-coated green uprights and robust green PVC covered chain link fencing alongside new kerbs to allow for future resurfacing, a 300mm wide mowing strip around the perimeter of the fence and stabilizing banking next to the playground.
The team then liaised closely with the specialist supplier responsible for the floodlighting system to excavate and lay suitable trunking for the electric cabling and install ducting and posts for the lights, meaning that the lighting team could undertake their installation seamlessly.
The MUGA element of the project saw total-play construct a fibre bonded, sand-filled synthetic sports surface suitable for 5-a-side football, basketball, mini tennis and netball on the site of a junior tennis court already demolished by the client. After specifying and overseeing the installation of new green Heras Sports Fencing, complete with recess goals, basketball hoops and a bespoke roof netting assembly, the team undertook the construction of the facility's sub-base, tarmacadam surface and laid the new carpet. The system was completed with the cutting in of two mini tennis courts before re-installing existing play equipment to a new site and undertaking landscaping to complete works on site.
Sport for all
With work on the tennis court, new cricket nets and MUGA complete, the partnership hosted a glittering launch event on 2nd May 2014 with celebrity guests in attendance including Alastair Cook MBE, England Cricket Captain; the Rt Hon John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons and former Olympic and World medalist, Kriss Akabusi MBE. The success of the project has inspired the partnership to make more plans for the future, as David Bratt explains:
"The village of Great Brickhill has needed somewhere safe for our children to play football, basketball and netball for many years, which the new MUGA facility now provides. The enhanced facilities for the tennis and cricket clubs will enable both clubs to continue to provide coaching, recreational and competitive sport for many children and adults in the village and surrounding area."
"The feedback has been fantastic and the facilities are getting a lot of use from the clubs, local school and the general public. Joint working is definitely a good way forward for village sports clubs and we have already identified further areas we would like to invest in - including rainwater harvesting and solar energy, for example - and are in the process of researching the next phase of development!"