Concerned that government funding cuts were putting their local football pitches at risk, three local leagues from Blackburn took matters into their own hands. The path they’ve taken has attracted the attention of organisations such as the Football Association. Theirs could be a sustainable model for maintaining and improving sports facilities.
Facts and figures
Type: Creation of a collective of football leagues for the development of grass football pitches.
Type of organisation: Community Interest Company - East Lancashire Football Development Association
Use of facilities: Football. Plans to deliver cricket in the next phase of the project
Location: Pleckgate Road, Blackburn, BB18QA
Funding: Overall cost: £540,000. Sport England contribution: £90,000. Other significant funding: Power to Change £200,000, Football Foundation £98,979, Section 106 contribution £207,979
Key events and milestones
|2014||The East Lancashire Football Development Association (ELFDA) is formed, bringing together three formerly disconnected adult and youth leagues|
|April 2015||Sport England funding is confirmed|
|May 2015||Power to Change funding secured (this was when the ELFDA team knew their plans could become reality)|
|November 2015||Football Foundation grant £100,000 secured|
|April 2016||Community engagement day held|
|July 2016||Work started on developing/improving pitches|
|September 2017||Pitches open|
The East Lancashire Football Development Association (ELFDA) began with a group of people with the “desire and will to save grassroots football in the town”. They were spurred into action after attending a Football Association (FA) community engagement event. The message they heard was that reductions in funding from government were harming local councils’ ability to effectively run and manage football facilities. A lack of staffing and funds across the country was risking the future of football development.
When the council announced that it was due to dispose of the local football fields, ELFDA was established to organise for an asset transfer of this site.
A model for the future?
The innovative thing about ELFDA is that it brought together three largely unconnected league structures, representing the interests of over 400 teams. The expertise of a consultancy helped guide ELFDA through the set-up process as they felt “a little bit out of their depth at the beginning”. The eventual result was the establishment of a Community Interest Company (CIC) structure.
The council can’t look after the pitches, they haven’t got the money. If a council can’t pay for them we needed to step in,
Geoff Wilkinson, ELFDA social inclusion director
This innovation, of grassroots leagues working together as CIC, has captured the attention of the FA who want to see whether it can provide a sustainable model for others. They’re particularly interested to see whether ELFDA can successfully maintain their facilities as well as increase local participation. The excitement around ELFDA’s model is recognised in the considerable grant funding they’ve been able to secure as well as important local partnerships they’ve developed, notably with the local council.
A key moment for ELFDA was when they were able to appease local concerns over the development of their new facility. The local residents association had initially opposed the project.
A consultation event was held at which ELFDA explained their proposals and debunked some false rumours that had arisen. Key messages delivered were:
- The land could otherwise be used for a new housing development with more noise and disruption over a longer period of time
- There would be no floodlights or burger vans
- Residents would still have access to the fields as it was a community asset
- All concerns around car parking would be alleviated with marshals and volunteers.
This was followed up by a community engagement day in 2014. ELFDA directors were acutely aware that they would be making large financial decisions which could affect the lives of many local residents. Plenty of time needed to be factored into the process to allow for consultation and re-planning.
ELFDA put plenty of time and effort into allaying local residents’ fears about their project. One major concern was that the pitches would be ‘privatised’. But they very much remain a community asset – accessible to the general public.
A model for the future?
ELFDA’s innovation is to have brought three quite separate leagues together into one association. More than 400 clubs’ interests are represented, both adult and youth clubs amongst them. This way of working has caught the attention of the Football Association. It could be a way of saving and running public sports facilities in the future.
Since opening in September 2017, ELFDA have secured additional funding to make further improvements to their facilities. These changing rooms were just recently built.
ELFDA’s asset transfer came in the form of acquiring the fields on a 25-year lease from the council. Once funding from us and Power to Change funds was secured, ELFDA were confident that their project was viable. Their business plan is based on:
- A £560,000 investment to create a new football hub
- Establishing nine new pitches
- Consolidating football pitch provision into a multi pitch hub for improved financial sustainability
- A secondary school opposite the site having offered ELFDA the use of 180 car parking spaces for players, officials and spectators on match days.
ELFDA are hopeful that their new site will prove to be instrumental in supporting many local people. A facilitator of local alcohol and substance misuse recovery programmes thinks that service users will gain real benefits from using the facilities as an everyday social support structure:
“As service users they think I can find them a team but it doesn’t work like that, they need to be seen by managers of the football teams. Then if they start playing with teams without support it helps them with the next stages of life. They have new friends and wellbeing and take positive steps themselves. Their use of the ELFDA booking system might get them to a stage where they are forming their own teams.”
Now that their new facility is up and running ELFDA’s directors are planning to undertake a similar asset transfer at the nearby Pleasington playing fields (around four miles away).
They’re also considering applying for a second grant of £40-50,000 for an FA pitch improvement programme. This will allow them to look after the pitches through purchase of maintenance equipment and storage.
ELFDA's three take-home tips
- Take a long term view and persevere
- Link to local strategies and build relationships
- Play to your strengths but reach out to others where support is needed.
Our take on the project
Innovation is the word that stands out in ELFDA's case. Their approach to protecting and maintaining their local pitches has piqued the interest of the FA, local council and funders. And their progress is being followed with interest.
In terms of other outcomes that we would wish to see from any community asset funding we provide, the ELFDA also do well on the following:
- Participation: their new pitches allow both five-a-side and 11-a-side games to take place and have led to increased participation across leagues, ages, abilities and demographic groups
- Diversity: Black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities will be a central part of the user groups
- Community development: The facility will be utilised to support upskilling coaches and volunteers.