Posted: 23.02.21 at 11:35 by The Editor
GRAYS Athletic FC's vice chairman Glyn Jarvis is hoping councillors will be impressed by the club's commitment to making a community success of the venture if they are allowed to take over Thurrock FC's Ship lane ground.
Mr Jarvis, a long-standing club supporter and a prime mover in establishing the fan-based takeover of the club, will address members of Thurrock Council's planning committee on Thursday (25 February) when a planning application put forward by Group 1 Automotive is debated.
The company wish to convert part of the site to a car preparation plant but plan to gift Grays and the local community the football stadium at Ship Lane.
They will also pump cash into the improvement and maintenance of community pitches at the Belhus sports centre to offset the loss of youth pitches at Ship Lane.
Officers are recommending that the application be refused because it is in the green belt and there are not enough ‘special circumstances’ to override refusal but Mr Jarvis and many Grays supporters believe the balance of the argument can be swayed by the benefits to the wider community and he will be making a plea direct to councillors.
In it he will say: "As part of the planning permission, the Club will enter into a binding agreement for Thurrock FC’s main pitch, changing rooms, clubhouse and car parking to be used for continued football purposes in perpetuity and sign a Community Use Agreement, prepared in conjunction with Sport England, to secure the wider community use of the facilities for football over the long term.
“This will bring the former ground back into use for competitive games and training for our first team and Under 23 team, which will take about 50 per cent of available pitch time.
“The other 50 per cent will be devoted to a women’s team, boys and girls youth football, disability football, “walking football” (for the over 50s), “end of season” local youth cup finals and the staging of some charity matches supporting good causes.
“It would also release about 120 hours at Aveley Football Club’s Parkside ground, which our first team currently use for our games, for other community football use.
“It was stated in the officer’s report that ’it is considered unlikely that the pitch could tolerate more intensive community use beyond the ‘primary’ use by the GAFC first team. Therefore, compared to a 3G pitch, community use of the existing playing pitch would offer very little benefit’.
“We do not believe this is a fair assessment of our plans for community use at Ship Lane. Many other senior non-league clubs with grass pitches pride themselves on their commitment to make their facilities available in the community and we have every intention of doing the same as described earlier by ensuring that about half of the available pitch time will be for the wider community.
“The club acknowledges that a 3G artificial pitch would be a better long term option and if funding became available, we could increase community involvement even further.
“The Club, which is a full member of the Football Association, became 100% supporter owned and run in 2016, when it was granted permission by the Football Association, Essex County Football Association and the Isthmian Football League to transfer our membership structure from a private club to community ownership.
“We are one of the first football clubs in the country to be owned by their supporters. We have been without a home ground since 2010 when the Recreation Ground in Grays, which we had occupied from 1906, was sold by the private landowners for housing and we have ground shared with other clubs since 2010.
“Despite not having our own facilities, the club has developed an open and inclusive community ethos with over 20 teams comprising more than 400 players, boys and girls, including many youngsters who had previously been associated with Thurrock FC before that club folded in 2018.
“The Club has players through all age groups from our girls starting at four years of age – our 'Wildcats' – to our 'Walking Footballers' aged 50 to 75, who all play under our name.
“Hundreds of local parents have been able to encourage their children to participate in our national game, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide affordable “football for fun” and competitive football for all our age groups, due to the unavailability of pitches and spaces in the borough.
"The council recently adopted their Active Place Strategy which recognises the lack of good quality grass football pitches in Thurrock and the closure of the Thurrock FC facilities in 2018 has exacerbated an already difficult situation, especially for our younger boys and girls, whose wellbeing is being badly affected by being prevented from using football to help reduce obesity, enjoy a healthier life style and have important social interaction with other young people.
“The retention of the ground at Ship Lane, the £500,000 being made available for improvement to existing football pitch provision in Belhus Park and the release of 120 hours of the Aveley Football Club Parkside facility for community football use, will go some way to help to relieve some of the pressure on the very limited spaces currently available for community football in Thurrock.”