After a long search for a new ground, Uttoxeter Cricket Club had finally found a suitable home, but it was in a state of disrepair. Fortunately, an army of volunteers - and a couple of international cricket stars - came to the rescue
Danielle Wyatt and Chris Woakes of England take part in the NatWest CricketForce event at Uttoxeter Cricket Club
Relocation can be daunting enough when it's by choice and you're just one family; leaving and needing to find a new home for an entire cricket club takes it to another level. That was the task facing Uttoxeter Cricket Club when they found out that their lease was not going to be renewed.
The search for a new ground was neither swift nor easy; but the solution did come from somewhere close by. Just four miles down the road the village of Marchington offered a glimmer of hope. "The village club had disbanded in the early 2000s," says James Burton, head of fundraising at Uttoxeter, who led the committee overseeing the move. "There had been a little bit of cricket in the intervening period, but there hadn't been a permanent club for about 15 years."
The ground was in a state of disrepair, and investment was clearly needed to give the ground "a radical facelift", says Burton - so when Staffordshire Cricket Board and NatWest CricketForce, among others, stepped in to help, the sense of relief was huge. "Staffs cricket and the ECB putting faith in us - that was massive. It felt like some value was seen in our vision," he says.
CricketForce, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) initiative with long-time cricket supporter NatWest, helps community clubs upgrade their facilities, making it easier for communities to enjoy a huge summer of cricket.
"The building work started in around October last year, so it was a real race against time to get ready for the new season," says Burton. The club's first game was scheduled for 20 April 2019.
Volunteers helped the club get the ground ready
Ensuring that deadline was met - and adding a bit of excitement to the proceedings - were England cricketers Chris Woakes and Danielle Wyatt, who joined an army of volunteers mucking in with CricketForce.
"CricketForce has been massive for us," says Burton. "The number of people there from the village was phenomenal. People who we'd never even met came and supported us and gave their time generously.
"Chris and Danielle were brilliant. Everything we asked of them, endless photographs, autographs, you name it. They were getting stuck in.
"It was lucky some of our juniors weren't at school that day. It was a great chance to meet their heroes."
With the work completed, Uttoxeter were ready for their first game. As too were the locals. Starved of cricket since the early 2000s, many returned to the ground, keen to hear the crack of leather on willow.
"We've got a community," says Burton. "We've got somewhere we know is home, and we're starting to put structures in place and build on all the hard work that has gone before.
"Unfortunately, there was no possibility of renewing our lease at [Uttoxeter] racecourse. But we're obviously very happy to be where we are now. We're looking forward."
You can read the full article from Guardian Labs - NatWest CricketForce HERE