The first of the new Parklife grassroots football hubs in England was unveiled in Sheffield on Wednesday morning.
FA chief executive Martin Glenn was joined by Sports Minister Tracey Crouch, Sport England chairman Nick Bitel and Lord Mayor of Sheffield Denise Fox to officially open the country’s first Parklife grassroots football hub at Graves in Sheffield.
The programme is The FA’s bold plan to address poor facilities in grassroots football and an example of the governing body’s commitment to football for all - through investment in pitches, facilities and participation programmes.
Glenn also used the opportunity to announce plans for a national expansion of Parklife - which will see multi-pitch football hubs built across England’s urban heartland over the next five years with The FA, alongside the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), the Premier League and local partners, set to invest £200m in the project.
The entrance to the new Parklife hub at St. George's Park Sheffield Graves
Wednesday marked the start of a three-month bidding process for local authorities to submit expressions of interest to be part of the programme, with planning applications already approved for Parklife hubs in Liverpool and west London.
In Sheffield, the city council made significant financial contribution to the construction of three sites. In addition to Graves, in the south of the city, a further site has opened in Thorncliffe to the north with Westfield in south east Sheffield due to start construction next month, subject to final approvals.
Glenn said: "The FA is committed to football for all - through significant investment in pitches, facilities and participation programmes. The Parklife Football Hubs Programme exemplifies this.
"We have a marvellous facility here - and it is the start of something very special. As Parklife expands nationally, it will mark the end of a story all-too-familiar to the grassroots footballer of poor pitches, woefully inadequate changing facilities and a battle against the elements to get fixtures completed each winter."
Local girls get involved on Wednesday morning, as St. George's Park Sheffield Graves was officially unveiled
The first two hubs at Graves and Thorncliffe will host league matches for up to five resident clubs, played on state-of-the-art 3G artificial grass pitches (AGPs) – which will combat the inevitable disruption caused by frozen and waterlogged surfaces during the harsh winter months.
Typically, a well-maintained natural turf pitch can offer 6-8 playing hours of football a week, however AGPs can easily accommodate double that volume on a daily basis – massively increasing the number of playing opportunities and offering football at flexible times in-keeping with the demands of the modern footballer.
The centres are fully accessible, present opportunities to play flexible forms of the game and are available for use by other sports. They are run and maintained using a self-sustaining model through the establishment of a newly formed Sheffield Football Trust. Leisure facilities operator Pulse will be responsible for day-to-day operation of the facilities having won the contract through competitive tender.
The Parklife model supports The FA’s priority of giving every child that wants to play football access to a qualified coach and supports the recruitment and development of referees and volunteers to ensure a high quality playing experience.
Left: Sports Minister Tracey Crouch shows her skills in Sheffield
"Better football facilities are crucial to help strengthen the sport at the grassroots and that is exactly why the government is backing this project with funding," explained Crouch.
"This state-of-the-art facility will be a big boost to community football in Sheffield, with the all-weather pitches perfect for year-round use as well as for developing talent and coaching young people in the city. I want to get more people involved in sport for the positive impact it has on people's lives and partnerships such as this one, bringing together The FA, local authority and government, can help achieve that."
Bitel added: "Sheffield marks an important milestone in our drive to improve the quality of community sport facilities across the country. We look forward to working with other local authorities who share our goal of creating top class facilities which can be used and enjoyed by the whole community, all year round.
"Having access to a quality pitch, clean and warm showers, and welcoming facilities can make a huge difference to someone who wants to use them regularly. But this is only half the story.
"It’s crucial that once the new hubs are up and running, they welcome people who might not think that sport is for them. We want everyone in England, regardless of age, gender or level of ability, to feel able to engage in sport and physical activity."
Martin Glenn, Tracey Crouch MP, Nick Bitel and Greg Clarke at the unveiling of St. George's Park Sheffield Graves
Councillor Mary Lea, Sheffield City Council cabinet member for Culture, Sport and Leisure said: "This is a very exciting time for football in Sheffield and we are proud to be leading the way on this national scheme with The FA. With hubs opening across the city we now have top class facilities at grassroots level and this will make a huge difference in our local communities, allowing all those who want to play with the opportunities to do so. In terms of sports participation, community activity and the associated health benefits, it's a win for Sheffield."
The Expressions of Interest Document is downloadable below.