Our Lady & St John Catholic College in Blackburn unveiled their fantastic new all-weather pitch earlier this week (Monday 26th February).
Chris Foy, former Premier League referee and current Head of Community and Public Engagement for the PGMOL, was joined by Blackburn Rovers FC midfielder Peter Whittingham and Blackburn Rovers Community Trust for the unveiling.
The new facility was made possible thanks to a grant from the Premier League and the FA Facilities Fund, which is delivered by the Football Foundation.
The grant enabled the College to develop the state-of-the-art third generation (3G) artificial grass pitch (AGP), replacing an existing redgra pitch that was no longer fit for purpose. The new playing surface, which also has a spectator area and significantly improved disability access ramp, is in addition to the College’s two full-size grass football pitches and a large sports hall facility.
Students will be able to take advantage of the new facility, which can be used all-year-round, and Lancashire FA is set to deliver a number of programmes on-site. Our Lady & St John Catholic College’s partner organisations Abu Hannifah Foundation FC, East Lancashire Football Development Association, Mill Hill FC, IMO Academy and Blackburn United FC will also benefit from the new 3G AGP.
The school was awarded a £590,890 grant from the Premier League and the FA Facilities Fund towards the project. The club worked alongside the Football Foundation and Lancashire 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.
This new facility is unique in that Blackburn Rovers Community Trust, the official charity of Blackburn Rovers FC, will be managing the facility out of school hours, and working with the community and key partners in order to develop all forms of the game. The Community Trust will be delivering weekly community outreach sessions including Premier League Kicks, holiday clubs and an adult small-sized league. This is in addition to the Community Trust managing the community-use bookings for the new pitch and the College’s other sports facilities.
David Dunwell, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Blackburn Rovers Community Trust, said: “We’ve been involved in the planning and preparation of this facility for about three years now.
“The Trust are the community managers of the site on evenings, weekends and during the holiday, looking after the facility as it hosts a variety of grassroots teams, community-based initiatives and weekend matches during that time. It's great for us and for the community, and great for the school to have the association with Blackburn Rovers FC.”
Lancashire FA will also be providing a range of community programmes at the new pitch, including FA Skills sessions. They plan to introduce the Football Futures programme at the College, providing more opportunities for young people through the game. In addition, the County FA will deliver ‘Girls United’ sessions, with the aim of improving girls’ football participation.
Roger De Nobrega, Lancashire FA Chief Executive, said: “Lancashire FA is delighted at the opening of the new state of the art facilities at Our Lady & St John Catholic College. They will play a vital part in increasing participation in Blackburn and provide grassroots clubs and leagues a community asset for the Borough.”
With support from Blackburn Rovers Community Trust and Lancashire FA, it is expected that the number of teams using the site will grow from eight to 89. A 580% boost in on-site football participation is predicted as a result. Many of these new sides will fall into the Under-12 to Under-16 categories, helping to aid retention and supporting an expected 845% rise in football participation for those between the ages of 14 and 25.
Improving girls’ participation is a key aim for the site, and seven of the new teams will be girls’ sides. With the added support of ‘Girls United’ sessions, and the College’s plans to establish a ‘Girls Introduction to Football’ programme, a 403% increase in overall female sport participation on-site is expected.
Gemma Donnelly, Head of Women and Girls Elite Football at Blackburn Rovers FC, said: “This facility is brand-new, modern and spacious, with every goal size available. It’s exclusive to us during a certain time period in the evening and is conducive for our learning environment, particularly for girls, who are able to train in a secure environment.
“When you can showcase a top-class facility like this and make it accessible for everybody, it will encourage more people to get involved, and that’s the key.”
Improving disability football provision is also a key objective, and the new 3G AGP will provide a venue for Mill Hill Pan Disability sessions. This is in addition to the College’s own SEN after-school programme. Our Lady & St John Catholic College and its partner organisations hope to set up player pathways within the local disability game, and will work to support disability coaches.
Chris Foy, who spent 14 years as a Premier League referee, said: “It is always wonderful to see new facilities like this open in Lancashire. Grassroots football provides so many great opportunities, and I’m especially pleased to hear of all of the community outreach projects taking place here – this will be so beneficial not just to the College, but to the local area. I’d like to thank them for inviting me to officially open their new 3G AGP.
“It is vital that money makes its way from the top of the game to the grassroots level, to continue improving standards and access to facilities across the country. Investment from the Premier League, The FA and the Government, via Sport England, is being delivered by the Football Foundation in support of this vision. Our Lady & St John Catholic College’s new pitch is yet another great example of the difference that this work is making.”
Mr Patrick Murden, Executive Principal for Our Lady & St John Catholic College, said: “We are delighted to be able to offer this first-class facility to our students and the wider community. The state-of-the-art all-weather pitch will serve to strengthen the connection between Our Lady & St John and the local communities, opening up a whole new world of opportunity for users, providing a venue for a wide range of sporting activities and giving our PE staff the facilities they need to bring out the very best in our students.
“Excellent schools are about excellent people, but excellent facilities matter. Investment from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund along with Blackburn & Darwen Borough Council has made this dream for our school a reality and we are extremely grateful. We look forward to working with Blackburn Rovers FC to develop the stars of the future.”
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 Our Lady & St John Catholic College join thousands of local clubs who have reaped its benefit, in this case through the opening of their 3G AGP. My thanks go to Chris Foy for taking the time to officially unveil the new facility.
“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.”
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 around 15,000 grants worth more than £580m towards improving grassroots sport, which it has used to attract additional partnership funding of over £800m – £1.4bn of investment into the grassroots game.
Since 2000, the Football Foundation Funding Partners’ investment has provided 482 grants worth £14.4m towards grassroots sports projects worth over £33.1m across the whole of Lancashire.
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.