Nether Heyford Playing Fields – ‘A community asset to be proud of’
There may not have been much organised sport at the Playing Fields since lockdown started, but that doesn’t mean they’ve been abandoned – far from it! Club volunteers have been hard at work keeping the playing surfaces and facilities ready for when sport can resume. Indeed, it has been reported that many people (both new and longstanding friends) have been enjoying the good weather and open space the fields have to offer – and we welcome all to make use of what is a fantastic local asset. Some might find it surprising that the facilities have only been in existence for 34 years – which makes what has been achieved in that period a truly outstanding achievement. With that in mind, here is a brief history of the Playing Fields and our plans…
In the mid-1980s, the Parish Council realised that with the growing population, the village green which had always been suitable for community sporting activities, was sadly no longer fit for purpose. Consequently, the decision was made to purchase 14.47 acres of land to be used for sport from Mr Spokes at a cost of £39,500 which is now Nether Heyford Playing Fields. The acquisition was funded by the sale of allotments on Furnace Lane and the Purchase Agreement was signed on behalf of the Parish Council by Mrs Sally Foulkes and Mrs Joan Kirkbride on the 1st August 1986. There were several conditions to the sale, the main ones being that no building could be constructed on the site without the written permission of the vendor, although this would not be refused if the request was in pursuance of sport. Also, if the land ceased to be used for sport and was to be disposed of, it must initially be offered for sale back to the vendor at the current agricultural price of land. Once purchased the Parish Council set up by a Declaration of Trust, the Nether Heyford Playing Fields Association Committee to administer, manage and financially indemnify the Parish Council from any costs and with the remit to support sport and leisure for the local and outlying community. The Parish Council remain the Trustees.
The formation of the Playing Fields in the early years required the movement of the old portacabin changing rooms from the Village Hall to the Playing Fields to form the existing pavilion. The following seasons saw the setting up of football and cricket teams at the new location, together with the construction of tennis courts, then later in 1996 a Bowls Club was formed with the grant of £72,000 from the Sports Lottery and South Northants Council.
Over the years the Playing Fields continued to develop with the increase of participation in the four main sports clubs. These four clubs form the Playing Fields Association. They are all independently run with their own committees and finances.
The cost of running the Playing Fields – and excluding the running costs of individual clubs – is in excess of £10k per year (e.g. utilities, maintenance and insurance) and is met mainly from Member Club annual fees, a grant of £400 annually from the Parish Council (although the Parish Council has contributed to specific projects), the 300 Club (currently paused until the end of lockdown), and percentage of the Bar profits.
The Football Club now has two Saturday senior teams and various age groups including U7, U9, U12, U15, and U18s teams and an enjoyable ‘Thursday evening of walking football’ was gathering momentum pre-lockdown. They also hire out their facilities to two Sunday teams. The Cricket Club hoped for the first time in their history to field three senior Saturday teams prior to lockdown. They also enthusiastically promote youth sport with competitive cricket for U11s and All-Star cricket for younger children and have recently completely renovated their nets. The Tennis and Bowls Clubs also have strong membership of about 60 members each. The Tennis Club are currently refurbishing their Tennis Courts with new surfaces and fencing. Also, in recent history (in 2017) an additional 2.35 acres of land was purchased from Northamptonshire County Council with a grant of £45,000 from South Northants District Council, and with further funding from SNC (£10,000) and the London Marathon Charitable Trust (£20,000), a brand-new Netball and Basketball court has been constructed. The planned introduction of a Ladies Netball team has been delayed due to lockdown, but hopefully only temporarily!
The Playing Fields have also established close ties with the village Scouts and Bliss Charity School – with the procurement of a storage container so that they can safely store their own equipment and make use of the facilities. Along with the Parish Council , the Playing Fields also supported the creation of the Community Orchard at the allotments by planting the hedge that includes several varieties of fruit trees.
The Nether Heyford Playing Fields Committee has been lucky in gratefully securing grants over the years which have been used to construct Bowls Club Changing Rooms, Basketball/Netball Court, Land purchase and other minor projects, and the committee are continuously working tirelessly to improve the facilities… we have plans for the construction of a new building with new changing rooms, storage facilities, kitchen and toilets. It has been designed by Ellis Architectural Design and Planning Permission has been approved (reference S/2019/1393/MAF for those interested). The provision of this building will be extremely challenging as the cost is estimated at approximately £450,000. It is hoped to raise the money by matched grants from South Northants District Council, Sport England and the Football Foundation.
Over the years the Playing Fields have been supported by the Parish, Local and District Councils, local farmers, grant bodies, professionals and numerous individuals all of whom are too many to mention. The Committee and Clubs are lucky to have so many enthusiastic individuals serve on their respective committees and give their time for coaching and ground maintenance. The 17 acres of Playing Fields are now a valuable and much prized community asset of which we should all be rightly proud. We encourage and welcome everyone to enjoy all it has to offer and thank you for your ongoing support.
NHPFA Committee – June 2020
Published in the July / August Edition of The Prattler 2020