The Duke of Westminster officially opened the new King George V Community Sports Hub in Blacon on Friday. The £1.8 million facility comprising a full size floodlit 3G pitch and a clubhouse will be available for community use as well as providing a permanent training ground for Chester FC. The Duke paid tribute to community effort which made the development possible as well as the leadership role of Jim Green, Chief Executive of Chester FC community trust.
Said the Duke : “Its wonderful to be here for what marks a wonderful day, not only for Chester FC but for Blacon and Chester itself. I cant begin to say how impressed I am with the whole site, its clear that a great deal of work and effort has been ploughed into what we see. The most exciting aspect of it all for me from my perspective is knowing that the facility will benefit hundreds if not thousands of young people for generations to come. I’m delighted that it will finally provide a much needed home for Cheshire’s women and girls football which has been long overdue. I’m particularly proud that the Westminster foundation has been involved in the project, this is the third time I’ve been to the site. These facilities will improve the health and wellbeing of everyone that uses them and more importantly everyone can have fun in the process. Places like this don’t just spring up from nowhere, I’ve been heartened by the support, both locally and from partners to deliver such a high quality environment. If I’m to single out anyone, I’d like to thank Jim. His passion hard work and ability to bounce back from numerous set backs has been crucial to getting us to this point today. This project sends a very strong message to the rest of the country, it shows collectively that we care and want to support our young people , let this be a springboard into the next generation of Cestrians. “
Jim Green told the assembled crowd of stakeholders, partners and funders that “It feels like its been a really long journey, but in reality in terms of spades in the ground to where we are are now, its been 269 days. Its far better than we could have imagined, its going to be a great facility for the community trust, everyone connected with the football club, and the community when you see days like this with schoolchildren from all over Chester. It wouldn’t have been possible without everyone’s involvement. I’m very pleased we have representatives from the Football Foundation, whose grant of a million pounds really sealed this. I’m delighted that His Grace The Duke of Westminster is here alongside representatives of the Westminster Foundation – their support in terms of the capital contribution was massive, but also to provide funding over the next 4 years to make sure the community really benefit from this project is exactly what we wanted and its brilliant to have their support. ”
As well as the £1 million in funding supplied by the Football Foundation/ Premier League and the Governments Department of Culture, Cheshire West and Cheshire Council supplied £365,000 with £200,000 from the Duke (plus a further £320,000 over the next 4 years to deliver activity at the site), £100,000 from Avenue Services, £40,000 from the Ursula Keyes Trust (http://www.ursula-keyes-trust.org.uk/) with the remaining amount fundraised by Chester fans and the community.
“The council get a rough ride at times, but in my experience they have been nothing but supportive. From local members Councillor Gahan, Councillor Little, Councillor Richards…to the leadership and the officers. Avenue Services, they do an amazing job in Blacon very much trying to improve Blacon for local residents and have really bought into this process. The Cheshire FA helped us to put the football development plan to talk about how we’re going to grow participation in football, particularly women’s and girls football. Mr John Brimelow from the Ursula Keyes trust ,not a very well known charity locally , but came on board very early on. Without all of you none of this would be possible so I’d like to say a massive thank you on behalf of the community trust and the football club. ”
Reflecting on the journey taken Jim said that the idea for the hub originated in 2010 when the club reformed. ” We knew we needed another facility, originally a training ground, but as we are a community club, we realised it was more about something for the community . This particular site was identified 5 years ago. I can remember it being West Cheshire Art college , I think it was the Old Dee high school before that. Its a great space, located in Blacon where a lot of Chester fans live and we do a lot of work , but its also discrete and tucked away. Once we identified the site, credit to the council they bucked the trend nationally by investing in sports facilities. ” Alongside the 3G pitch, the clubhouse building has changing rooms, an office, kitchen and a multi purpose community room and is available for hire. “Its not all about football, obviously football is at the heart of it, but we want people to come here that are perhaps not interested in football bit could benefit from the facility. “
Other attendees present at the event included Chester FC’s principal sponsor MBNA and MP Chris Matheson. Albert Davies, Communications manger for the football club reflected : ” You look around and see the future generation of footballers. A long time ago I remember playing in these tournaments, its really exciting to see everyone here at the new facility. It means everything for the future of the football club, while it is a community facility, for the club and the first team, in terms of a training facility they have bounced around for years. They haven’t had a place to call home , some of the players are here today and they’re so impressed by it. This in a new era with a Cestrian in charge, a good young manager with fantastic ideas.”
The club’s Honorary Life President and match day coordinator Barrie Hipkiss praised the achievement of establishing the facility. “Its nice to see this tournament on. At my age its nice to see people out and getting fit and not just sitting with their laptops and phones, I’m sure its going to be big bonus for Chester. I watched my first game in 1946. I did my national service in 60- 62 and I’ve done voluntary work with the club since 1969. ” Reflecting on recent ups and downs in the clubs fortunes he commented that “I hope things will calm down now, and we can give Calum a chance, in terms of training facilities this will be great! “