Bob 'The Cat' Bevan MBE was joined by Gillingham FC's Greg Cundle and Darren Oldaker to unveil a new all-weather pitch for St Gregory's Catholic School today, which is set to boost girls' football participation by 574% on-site.
Gillingham FC striker, Greg Cundle, and Gillingham FC midfielder Darren Oldaker were on hand to help famed after-dinner entertainer and Football Foundation supporter, Bob 'The Cat' Bevan MBE, officially unveil a new all-weather pitch for St Gregory’s Catholic School in Kent today (Friday 23 March).
The new facility was made possible thanks to a grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund, which is delivered by the Football Foundation. Local primary school children helped celebrate the event by taking part in a football tournament, in the presence of the Mayor of Tunbridge Wells, Cllr. Julia Soyke, and other community supporters.
The grant enabled the school to install a new floodlit third generation (3G) artificial grass pitch (AGP) with a spectator area. This is in addition to their existing 11v11 grass pitch and two 9v9 grass pitches. The all-weather pitch will not only benefit St Gregory’s Catholic School pupils, but also partner club Tunbridge Wells Foresters FC.
Currently, the grass pitches become unusable during the cold winter months. However, the new playing surface can be used all-year-round and is set to become a hub site for developing and improving the local game.
The pitch will provide a home ground for Tunbridge Wells Foresters FC, who previously played at a number of different locations, as well as offering a venue for training and fixtures to local users mSPORTi Football Academy and West Kent Schools FA. Other users will include Gillingham FC Community Trust, the charity arm of local professional club Gillingham FC, who are set to deliver a range of community outreach programmes.
In addition, the new all-weather facility will support the school’s Accelerated Curriculum Experience (ACE) Football Academy, which offers specialist coaching and a project-based curriculum. This is helping students to use football as a vehicle for learning, develop skills such as leadership, problem solving, teamwork and gain an understanding of internationalism, as the programme includes an annual football tour to a professional European football club such as Real Madrid CF and FC Porto.
St Gregory’s Catholic School were awarded a £444,673 grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund towards the project. The school worked alongside the Football Foundation and the Kent 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.
The school hopes to increase their number of teams from 12 to 18 thanks to the new pitch. This, along with Tunbridge Wells Foresters FC’s expected growth of 10 new sides, taking their total from 36 to 46, will support a predicted 685% boost in overall football participation on-site. Walking football sessions will take place at the new facility, and the school also plans to establish a new disability club with support from Tunbridge Wells Foresters FC, the SPACE Charity and the Kent FA.
Improving female football provision for the local area is a key objective at the new facility. The school and Tunbridge Wells Foresters FC hope to introduce a combined total of eight new female teams, and Gillingham FC Community Trust will deliver curriculum sessions for Year 9 girls, linked to an after-school club. As a result, a 574% increase in on-site girls’ football participation is expected.
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 380 grants worth £13.1m towards grassroots sports projects worth over £24.5m across the whole of Kent.
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.
Greg Cundle, Gillingham FC striker, said: “It’s fantastic that St Gregory’s Catholic School now has such a great football facility. I know from experience what football can do for you, and getting the chance to be involved in the grassroots of the sport will really benefit the school’s pupils and any other users. I’d like to thank the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund for their support of the project, and the school for inviting me along to help open their brand new pitch.”
Darren Oldaker, Gilligham FC midfielder, said: “This new all-weather playing surface is going to have such a great effect on the local game in Kent, and I’m really pleased to have been asked to help open it. It’s brilliant to hear that the pitch is set to have such a fantastic effect on female football – a 574% boost is amazing. It’s already obvious that, thanks to investment from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund, this new 3G AGP will be a great addition to the area.”
Bob ‘The Cat’ Bevan MBE, who is also an Ambassador for the County of Kent, said: “What a treat to help unveil this new pitch! I am a lifelong football fan at all levels – Premier, non-league and amateur where I played some 700 games. So, I’m really pleased to see this facility open for the area – and for the school. Grassroots sport is such a great thing to be a part of, which is why it is so important to keep money flowing in to it.
“The Football Foundation is using the investment of the Premier League, The FA and the Government, via Sport England, to create these great facilities all over England. The new pitch for St Gregory’s Catholic School will obviously be of huge benefit to its pupils, offering great new opportunities – my congratulations go to all involved in making this a success.”
Noel Bradbury, Assistant Headteacher, said: “I would like to thank all of our guests for coming along to help us celebrate the opening of this fantastic new facility of which I am immensely proud. Without the hard work of colleagues from the school, the invaluable and unending support of Stuart Newman, Julian Daddy and Peter Robinson from Foresters FC, Chris Metherell from Kent Sports Facilities Development and a grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund, we would not have been able to achieve this.
“The new 3G pitch has already made a massive difference. Our students and the community can continue to play football and other sports when the natural grass pitches are unplayable. We have already encouraged more people in our community to play, including women and girls, and we have programmes for those with disabilities and older people, keeping as many people as we can active, healthy and happy.”
Paul Thorogood, Chief Executive of the Football Foundation, said: “The Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund provides the investment necessary to improve grassroots football facilities. So, I am delighted to see St Gregory’s Catholic School join thousands of local clubs and organisations who have reaped its benefit, in this case through the opening of their new all-weather pitch. I’d like to thank Greg Cundle, Darren Oldaker and Bob Bevan MBE for taking the time out to officially unveil it.
“Having delivered over £1.4bn of grassroots sports infrastructure projects, the Football Foundation has developed a network of accessible, first-class facilities in areas they will have the greatest impact – thanks to money from the Premier League, The FA and the Government via Sport England.
“These facilities are more than places to play football at, these facilities are hubs of physical activity, the bedrock of local communities and ‘homes from home’ for so many who also use them as social outlets to learn new skills, gain work experience and other qualifications.”
For more information about the Football Foundation in Kent, please contact Darryl Haden, Football Development Manager at Kent FA.