A secondary school is leading the way on a project that may bring a new sports facility for both its students and the local community to Low Fell.
Grace College, part of the Emmanuel Schools Foundation, is in talks with the Football Association and Football Foundation about constructing an all-weather 3G pitch.
The £750,000 facility would provide a year-round playing surface for both football and rugby. If built, it will enhance the college’s sports provision during the day and offered to grassroots clubs and the local community during school holidays, at evenings and weekends.
Grace College will part-fund the new pitch, but the project will only come to fruition if an application for funds from the Football Foundation is successful. Discussions are progressing well.
To support the bid, the college is appealing to the local community, grassroots teams and their participants to take part in a public consultation to assess demand for the new facility.
The results of the consultation, which will also estimate potential usage of the pitch by local clubs, will be used to support the application to the Football Foundation for funding support.
Mark Hall, principal of Grace College, explained: “Grace College is a wonderful school, but unfortunately we are not currently able to offer the high level of sports facilities that we would like, including an all-weather pitch. The land we have earmarked for the 3G pitch is at the bottom of a hill and consequently out of use for much of the year due to the boggy conditions.
“A healthy body plus a healthy mind equals a heathy heart for the community. Healthy schools build healthy communities. This is our mission and our deep desire for the students of Grace College, their families and the wider community we serve.
“This is also a fantastic opportunity to provide a new facility for the local community. We believe there is demand for an all-weather pitch and several local clubs have already expressed their support for it. We are in the process of preparing our submission to the Football Foundation and we really need to hear from people to find out if this is something they want in the area, what barriers they face to playing sport at present, and how much they might use it if it is built.
“Both the Football Association and Football Foundation have been very supportive to get us to this stage, but funding is subject to us demonstrating need and putting together a robust business case.”
Wrekenton Nou Camp, Cleveland Hall and Birtley Town juniors football clubs have already expressed their interest, and other sports including rugby and cricket are also involved with the consultation to improve the sports facilities at the college.”
As well as being a FIFA approved full size football pitch, the 3G surface will have a rugby shock pad to allow it to be used for rugby training as well as for football.
Grace College will be responsible for the upkeep and ultimate replacement of the pitch surface, which normally has a ten-year lifespan.
Mark added: “Rarely will one group have sufficient funds to build a facility like this without the kind support of the Football Foundation, and we are no exception. However, we can, as a college, ensure that the pitch is used both daytime and evenings. It will be in a secure location and will be maintained by our in-house team to keep it in top-top condition for all users. We really hope Grace College will become a second home for many of the clubs who use it.
“We have a buoyant community hire operation at our other schools which many local clubs make use of. Provision of a 3G pitch would allow us to do the same at Grace College. Income generation from the use of the pitch will be ring-fenced to support its maintenance, to improve other sports facilities at the college and to form a fund to renew the surface when its life expires.
“It would be a huge game changer for our students, our local grassroots teams and the wider community.”
The college intends to apply for planning permission for the pitch in February 2022 and make its submission to the FA in July.
To take part in the consultation, complete the questionnaire at www.gracecollege.org.uk
There will also be two consultation events at the college on Wednesday, January 12 from 6pm-7.30pm and on Saturday, January 15 from 10am-11.30am.