Wrexham Council and the Football Association of Wales (Trust) are looking to join forces to help improve local grass roots football.
As we reported this time last year a strategic partnership was being developed between the two bodies.
The report before councillors next week reads: “The initial work is now complete and includes an analysis of the current state of football in Wrexham and the facilities. The next stage is to develop a facilities transformation plan and it is proposed that this be developed as a partnership project led by the Football Association of Wales (Trust) governed by a steering group.”
The steering group will be made up Wrexham Council, the Football Association of Wales and Football Association of Wales (Trust), North East Wales Football Association and representatives from the leagues/clubs. It is hoped that Wrexham Football Club, Freedom Leisure, Glyndwr University, Coleg Cambria and other education providers will be involved too.
The outcome will be the ‘development of a series of new operating models for the management and future development of football in the County Borough’. For clarity it is noted this ‘will include options for future arrangements for Wrexham County Borough Council’s own football pitches and pavilions’.
Although the strategic review is not public, it is referenced in the report which comments on the 28 bookable football pitches and 13 associated football pavilions managed by Wrexham Council. It states: “The quality of the pitches is average to poor, a result of reduced levels of maintenance, poor drainage/construction and lack of capital investment over a number of years. Pavilions are in a similar condition, with many deteriorating and in a poor state of repair and without the necessary investment they will inevitably face closure.”
It adds: “The review revealed that whilst there remains a relatively strong base of local football clubs, many are facing a financial struggle and this is often compounded by them having regularly to move to find a suitable home pitch for matches. Most have long term ambitions, but lack a resilient, sustainable strategy to meet this vision. The Council’s mitigation plan, with a discounted season ticket for booking pitches, has only partially helped with the difficultly local clubs face.”
The report concludes: “The current model of Council-owned and managed facilities does not meet the
needs of the clubs”, noting a consultation had a low response rate.
As a result the partnership has defined aims as: “Stronger/bigger/self-sufficient clubs, Better more sustainable community facilities, More activity – better health and well-being of young people and adults and Sport-led solutions and accountability.”
Two options are noted in the report, one effectively the status quo “The Council continues to manage football facilities and Council owned football pitches. Without a sustainable management strategy and investment plan the facilities will continue to deteriorate and potentially face closure”.
The second reads more positively, and indicates a probable way forward: “New models are developed by the partnership with the Football Association of Wales (Trust) to manage football facilities and Council owned pitches.”
Cllr Bithell told us he had ‘really really positive meetings’ recently with the FAW Trust, and hope to come up with options over the next six months that could include new or refurbished pitches, and accessing currently non-public facilities such as school grounds, “We need to do a root and branch review of our facilities and come back when that work is complete.”
“To be fair to the FAW there is money available, they have said there is money but not how much, but it is about developing the partnership over the coming months.”
“It is about investing in grass roots football that will feed into bigger and better senior teams.”
“We are keen to work with them and they are keen to work with us.”
We asked Cllr Bithell if this was being approached with a view of outsourcing and asset transfers, along the lines of the recent community centre hand overs / closures, and if it fed into the ‘reshaping’ work of Wrexham Council.
“As far as outsourcing our facilities, we manage 28 bookable pitches, we have not made any decision about what we are going to do going forward.
“What we want to do is work in partnership with the FAW Trust , Glyndwr University, Coleg Cambria, all these organisations and come back to table with options for the future, and see how it all fits in with the north east wales football teams and the FAW Trust and then we will make a decision.”
“It is not about being negative, it is about promoting sustainable investment into Wrexham.
Lee Robinson, Executive Director of Wrexham Council, pointed to south Wales : “They have done a similar model in south wales, there was no one size fit all model, and have come up with all sorts of models that support the clubs best.”
Cllr David Kelly spoke about the possible football museum and the recent Colliers park announcements, “Wrexham has the potential to become a centre of excellence for the sport, based on a number of initiatives, and it all joins up.”
Cllr Bithell agreed, “It is all about joining up the dots now and hopefully it feeds into the professional teams.”
“We are going to be promoting girls teams, this is big on the national front now, that is part of this project as well.”
Council Leader Mark Pritchard offered ‘a big thank you’ to the FAW Trust members who met recently, adding he was ‘delighted’ that they want to invest.
“For too long north wales has not had the investment in sport, the proof will be in the pudding of what we get, perhaps more 3G pitches.”
“Personally I would prefer would us to run them, as Cllr Bithell said, we will have discussion and consultation on way forward.”
“Everyone who understands north wales understands its hot bed for football within wales itself, ignored for too long, I am pleased the FAW have realised what talent there is here.”
“We have fantastic talent here, and we need to take the opportunities and lets hope many northwalians will represent the country going into the future.”
Cllr Pritchard added: “We should never forget the valued work of the amateur clubs here and throughout wales, they are fantastic. Thousands of children training twice a week and playing games every week. These local community football clubs do a fantastic job, and they are sometimes undervalued, we should value and embrace what they do for Wrexham and across Wales.”