John Penrose, MP for Weston-super-Mare, officially opened a state-of-the-art third generation (3G) artificial grass pitch (AGP) for Weston-super-Mare AFC recently (Friday 1 June). Their new facility was made possible thanks to investment from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund, which is delivered by the Football Foundation.
The grant enabled the Step 2 club, which plays in the Vanarama National League South, to replace a full-size grass pitch with the brand new 3G AGP. Unlike the original grass pitch, which could not support back-to-back fixtures and became unusable during the winter months, the club’s new pitch is available all-year-round and will facilitate increased playing demand.
The new all-weather surface joins Weston-super-Mare AFC’s stadium grass pitch, full-size grass pitch, three junior grass pitches and a training area. This benefits players in a range of age groups, with the new pitch supporting the club’s strong Academy system – which works to develop players on and off the field.
The club have a very successful foundation phase and Academy that not only develops the players on the pitch, but also off the pitch. This can be seen by the players that have progressed to the first team and on to professional football clubs. It can also be seen in the players that are now a major part of Weston-super-Mare AFC’s coaching set up, with the club able to offer both playing and work opportunities.
Weston-super-Mare AFC’s charity arm, the Sports Active Seagulls Community Trust, will take advantage of the new surface for the delivery of community outreach programmes including FA Football Mash Up. The Trust already has strong links with local schools and will team up with Westhaven School, for Special Education Needs pupils, to improve the local disability football provision.
Other users are set to include Sports for Schools and local grassroots clubs. The Somerset FA will also use the 3G AGP as a coaching hub, to deliver a number of courses on-site. It is also hoped that some of the local professional clubs Weston-super-Mare AFC has strong links with will use the facility for training.
The club were awarded a £642,727 grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund towards the project. They worked alongside the Football Foundation and the Somerset FA to compile a five-year Football Development Plan, which is a vision of how sport will be played on site with an emphasis on increasing participation.
Weston-super-Mare AFC currently has a total of 14 teams, ranging in age from Under-7 boys to their first team, as well as a ladies team and a walking football side. Thanks to the increased capacity of their new playing surface, it is expected that 16 brand new teams will be introduced on-site – including a brand new disability football team and two girls’ sides.
As a result, overall football participation for the site is predicted to rise by 210%. Participation for 14-25-year-olds is also set for a boost – an increase of 299% is expected due to the planned new teams, which will include an Under-23 side and a girls’ Under-16 side. The club will also use the new pitch to support the expansion of their existing Mini-Soccer programme, and expect to establish a new Under-6 team as well.
Founded in 2000, the Football Foundation is the largest sports charity in the UK funded by the Premier League, The FA and Government, via Sport England. It develops new and refurbished grassroots sports facilities in order to improve the quality and experience of playing sport at the grassroots level. Since it was launched in 2000, the Foundation has awarded over 17,000 grants worth more than £615m towards improving grassroots sport, which it has used to attract additional partnership funding of £817m – £1.4bn of investment into the grassroots game.
Since 2000, the Football Foundation Funding Partners’ investment has provided 222 grants worth £9.6m towards grassroots sports projects worth over £21m across the whole of Somerset.
By providing more high-quality facilities, coupled with coaching at the appropriate age group, the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund aims to improve the experience for regular players as well as attracting new players to the game. Many of the new state-of-the-art facilities will serve to strengthen the connection between professional football clubs and their local communities, particularly in the most deprived areas of the country, through the professional clubs’ community trusts’ outreach work.
John Penrose, MP for Weston-super-Mare, said: “It is fantastic that this new all-weather pitch is going to have such a positive effect on grassroots football for our area, through investment from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund. Weston-super-Mare AFC will now be able to cater for more local youngsters getting involved in the game, thanks to the increased capacity their new pitch provides. I’m honoured to officially unveil this brand new facility for them.”
Oliver Bliss, Managing Director, Weston-super-Mare AFC, said: “I would like to thank John Penrose MP, Peter Trego, Somerset CCC and Scott Murray, Bristol City FC, for opening this fantastic facility. I would also like to thank the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund for making this project possible. It is such a good facility that so many people have been looking forward to opening, it will be a great experience now for all of our junior and academy teams. For everyone involved, the players, the parents, the coaches and the club, this will have a major knock-on effect on the quality of grassroots football in the area and it will improve the numbers that are participating in the sport and also the quality.”
Paul Thorogood, Chief Executive of the Football Foundation, said: “Grassroots sport plays an important role in communities across the UK, creating opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds. That is why I am delighted that Weston-super-Mare AFC has now opened their state-of-the-art 3G AGP, thanks to investment from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund. My thanks go to John Penrose MP for doing the honours.
“Continuing to improve access to high-quality facilities like this one is a key aim for the Premier League, The FA and the Government. Delivered by the Football Foundation, their funding supports projects for clubs and organisations all over the country and is helping to boost the number of people benefiting from sport through better facilities.
“Grassroots football provides so many benefits for members of the community, not least of which is the opportunity to enjoy themselves. Love for our national game, something that can be found across the country, is an integral part of what drives the Foundation and its Funding Partners to keep increasing the standards and quality of our facilities.”