We Need More Sports Pitches in Rayleigh

The Echo has the following story tonight about King George’s Field in Rayleigh. It indicates how much demand there is for somewhere to play football – whether for a proper match, or for training, or just for a kickaround:

Footballers are up in arms over Rayleigh Town Council’s plan to charge a hire fee for having a kickabout at King George’s Playing Field. Amateur teams and casual players have been informed they will have to pay as much as ?500 to play the beautiful game at the park.

But youngsters and adults alike are outraged by moves to evoke a pay to play scheme for “organised sport” at the Rayleigh venue.

“Anyone who lives in Rayleigh knows King George’s is the home of football,” said regular visitor to the park Dave Cook, 25. “Kids and adults of all ages meet there for a kickabout all year round – there is always somebody playing football at the park.

“But now we are being told we have to pay to play. I think it is just ridiculous.”

Cook’s friend, Dan Williams – another Rayleigh resident – confirmed they were approached by two people claiming to be town councillors on Sunday morning. They informed the total group of 12 men they couldn’t use the park and would have to pay a fee if they wished to play football there.

“I was just gobsmacked,” added Williams, 26. “I’ve been playing football over King George’s for the best part of 15 years and I have never heard anything so outrageous.

“There are two marked pitches with goalposts at the park and I can understand them asking you not to play on them to protect the surfaces for the teams who pay for them. “But maybe they should put up a sign and rope off the pitches.

“They also need to take the goals down as any group of kids with a ball will play in them. “King George’s is a big park and there are plenty of other unmarked spaces.

“But we were told that we would be charged to use them too as the park is privately owned. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. What are they going to do next – charge people for walking their dogs over there?”

Rochford District Council confirmed that King George’s was in fact public open space when it was passed over to Rayleigh Town Council a few years ago. “We passed the park over to Rayleigh Town Council and it is under their remit now,” said a district council spokesman.

“There is no problem with a father and his kids playing football at the park. “But it becomes a different matter when the sporting activity is deemed organised’. “When this is the case it is up to the town council if they want to make a charge.”

Rayleigh town councillor Tony Humphries, who is chairman of the King George’s Playing Field committee, said these moves had been taken to protect the park. “The problem we have is that the rising population of Rayleigh has outgrown the park,” he said.

“Under the guidelines set out by Sport England you should have a pitch for every 1,000 people. “We have 33,000 people in Rayleigh and are struggling to hit that quota.

“We are not trying to be brutal and stop people playing football. We just have to get the balance right. “This is not common land and it is our responsibility to ensure the park is not being used exclusively by any one organisation.

“And we have to protect the two pitches for the teams who pay to use them over the course of a season. “For instance, the Rayleigh Boys Club, which has 300 members, use the park on a Saturday for training free of charge.

“The parents pay ?1 a week for their children to attend these sessions. And I know some of this goes towards buying nets and balls. “But if they can pay ?1 a week, I’m sure they can manage ?2.

“Any monies generated will go back into looking after the upkeep of King George’s Playing Field.”

Humphries also confirmed that he had approached groups of players and asked them not to use the park over the weekend. “We asked people not to play because of inclement weather to stop the pitches from being spoiled further,” he added.

“We told one group of lads they couldn’t play, but they carried on for another hour-and-a-half. “When they did leave another set of boys came along and put up a net in one of the goals on the pitch and started playing.

“We need to look into ways of stopping people using the pitches if they aren’t paying for them. “Maybe we will have to take the goalposts down when the pitches aren’t being used.”

King George’s Playing Field is one of 450 sites up and down the country which comes under the wing of the National Playing Fields Association. Their deputy chief executive, Don Earley, said the land was part of a charitable trust.

“Our position is of an overseeing guardian protecting the area from development for future generations,” he said. “The running of the ground is the council’s responsibility as is the allocation of funds to the park which they generate.

“This field is open to the general public, but it is up to the council to make any arrangements to protect the wear and tear of the pitches. “People will use the park to play football both on the pitches and in other areas – I know I did as a child.

“But it is down to the town council’s opinion – not us -whether there should be a charge for these areas.”

Rayleigh Boys were unavailable for comment, but it is believed they have been told they will not be able to train at the park for free after April.

Now that the Town Council have taken over the management of King George’s Field, they are not finding easy to build bridges with the people who have been playing there. Councillor Tony Humphries shouldn’t be singled out for any criticism – he’s one of the very few District Council Tories who’s shared our concerns that Rayleigh needs more sports pitches. He’s quoted as saying : “Under the guidelines set out by Sport England you should have a pitch for every 1,000 people.
We have 33,000 people in Rayleigh and are struggling to hit that quota.”

Why are we struggling to meet that quota Tony? Because the District Council didn’t follow the guidelines of Sport England. They set a lower standard for Rayleigh. If they hadn’t done so they probably wouldn’t have been able to let Wimpey and Asda build on the sport pitches on the Park School site! We have been campaigning against this lower standard for several years but it’s been hard to get people to take notice. Your Conservative District Council colleagues haven’t wanted to set a proper standard for Rayleigh!

We have been prodding the District Council to create some sports pitches again near the new Leisure Centre, with some success.

Land For Sports Pitches

Hopefully, the mini sports pitches will be ready for the 2009 football season. The next question is ? who should be playing there? Should they be available for any youth football club to hire them from the council, or should the pitches be leased to one particular club? If they are leased to one club, we can see some advantages:

? A club may be able to get more lottery or sports grants for a pavilion than the council could.
? A club might be able to control things better, to prevent nuisance to any homes nearby.
? They might be able to share their pavilion with another local organisation, such as a pre-school.

But there?s one possible disadvantage:

? Leasing it to one club might be unfair to others in the area.

What do you think? Please let us know.

  • Cllr Humphries and his colleagues may not think it unreasonable for parents of children to pay double the current amount in order to kick a football around on Saturday mornings but this is in addition to the fees already payable for pitches elsewhere in Rayleigh; this all adds up to a considerable sum. Add to that the increase in parking charges and it all leaves a sour taste.

    Perhaps it would have been better for a “Friends of King George’s Playing Fields” organisation to be set up, in accordance with the suggestions provided in the governance document? Everyone could have worked together in a spirit of co-operation; after all, isn’t Rayleigh’s motto “in requiam laboramus” – we work for the future? Perhaps such an organisation could have had more input into who it allows to play in the park. A visit to King Gerorge’s on Saturday mornings will leave any decent person disgusted at the foul language and aggressive behaviour of a certain team who have nothing whatsoever to do with Rayleigh Boys.

    As a parent of a football child, I am dismayed and disappointed (and that’s not just because I support Manchester City). However, I am grateful to the committee of Rayleigh Boys who I am sure are working with integrity to secure a bright future and a home for a team who have served the community for over 30 years.

  • The more cynical of you may have thought that my aberrant use of “requiem” was in fact deliberate and that I had wittingly suggested that the Rayleigh motto was “we work for rest”. However I can assure you that it was either a Freudian slip or because my Latin is a little rusty- either way, of course, it should have read “in reliquam laboramus”
    I apologise for any offence caused to my fellow Latin scholars.

  • In view of the UN’s report which puts the UK at the bottom of the league for the way we treat our children, shouldn’t we be ashamed of the lack of provision for healthy activities for our youngsters? And isn’t it disgraceful that our local councillors think that the children in our district don’t deserve the same standard as others? For the sake of our health (physical and mental) we should make provision for outdoor exercise and encourage people of all ages to use them. As Alison Mayor might say: Mens sana in corpore sano.

  • It must be a difficult task for the town council to provide and maintain decent facilities for outdoor sports in a rapidly growing town (especially when half the field has been turned into a car park) – perhaps if there had been democratic consultation the situation regarding use of the fields for football could have been resolved in an amicable way. res ipsa loquitur.
    If we are short of space in Rayleigh, why do we allow a team from outside the area to use the fields?
    There are lessons to be learned here I’m sure.

  • If councillor Humphries is concerned about the number of fields and areas for people to play sport perhaps he could champion the improved use of existing safe and secure fields. Such a place would promotion of the use of school facilities outside of school hours.

    18 months ago the committee stood fully opposed to the building of an all weather pitch at Sweyne Park School; now that it is built I hope they are a little ashamed to have wasted so much time and energy in opposing something so innocuous. However, they did manage to achieve some damage by insisting on such strong rules against its use as to leave it as a great but unaccessible facility, and this in the middle of a town so short of play space that councillors want to charge for use of open space.

  • Will Democracy finally decide the fate of Rayleigh youngsters wishing to play football in the community.

    As the ongoing dispute by Rayleigh Town Council towards Rayleigh Boys Youth Football Club continues, and being the father of a boy who represents our community, I have now become so despondent with the council for discouraging our children from meeting the nationwide opinion that getting kids involved in exercise and not being glued to the play station etc can only improve the country as a whole.

    Ask my son before the run up to football training, his thoughts and he will say that there is nothing more on his mind then playing his beloved football with his friends in preparation to playing other neighbouring teams win or lose. This said I feel totally ashamed at the way my son and many other children are being treated by Rayleigh Town Council Elect, It has for some time been the option of many parents that the council have, in recent month’s reverted to the urge of gaining revenue by whatever means possible.

    Obvious proof of this came to light last weekend when yet again the council cancelled all training due to adverse weather conditions which resulted in the very poor condition of the playing surface. This in my opinion and also the opinion of many other parents was that the correct decision had been made. However, after explaining to my son that he couldn’t train for these reasons we decided to take a walk instead. To my horror and disgust I find that the council had indeed let a pre paid match continue at King George Playing Fields.

    RBYFC having to rely on the fact that they are not charged to use the local facilities in return for offering over 330 plus young people the opportunity to get away from all the “stuck in doors entertainment” activities pushed onto the youth of today are in the opinion of most parents being very harshly treated and are being prevented from continuing with their excellent commitment towards the local children of the community.

    The only way forward in which most parents now see is to exercise the right to a democracy and show their discontentment at the next election, which can’t come soon enough in my opinion.