Saturday 10 May 2014
The school lying in the shadow of Southampton FC's St Mary's Stadium faces an issue that many other education institutions confront during the winter months. Although fortunate to boast a large sports field, the grass area next to St Mary's Church of England Primary School often becomes out of bounds because of bad weather, forcing its 560 pupils on to a small playground to get their necessary exercise.
This is no longer the case thanks to a new £150,000 multi-use games area (MUGA) that was a result of a grant from the Premier League Community Facility Fund (PLCFF).
"To be able it have an all-weather pitch that we can use all year round is brilliant"
"We would like to say a big thank you to the Premier League and Saints Foundation for funding this because this pitch is invaluable," said head of school Jane Waddup, speaking at the opening ceremony attended by Southampton defender Jose Fonte and the club' chairman Ralph Krueger.
Waddup, who has taught at St Mary’s since 2000, described how satisfying it was to see a plan that was first devised seven years ago come to pass thanks to the collaboration of the Premier League and the club.
"We only have a fairly small playground for our pupils at this school, and whilst we are really lucky to have a field here, it gets very boggy in the winter, so to be able it have an all-weather pitch that we can use all year round is brilliant," Waddup said. "It’s really exciting for the kids – they absolutely love it."
The new £150,000 MUGA, a 3G surface which enables children to play a variety of sports in all types of weather, was funded by a £70,522 grant from the PLCFF and £79,000 from Southampton FC's charitable arm, the Saints Foundation.
Funded by the Premier League and delivered by the Football Foundation, the PLCFF has invested £18m to develop new or refurbished sports facilities for local communities across the country. The fund is open to all football club community-led organisations in the Premier League, Football League, and Football Conference, including the Conference North and South Divisions.
"I'm very impressed because this means a lot for these kids and this community," Fonte told premierleague.com at the opening. "They didn't have anything like this before. Finally it's here and you can see that they are enjoying it. The school can enjoy it, too, so it's great to see the kids happy and doing what they love, which is sport.
"It's just an amazing day for everyone"
"It has been a great job from the Saints Foundation and the Premier League. It is just a pleasure to see the work that the people who are involved with it put in. They can see the rewards now. You can see the support that we have and the community itself, just next to the stadium, means the world to them and it's very important for us to feel this support. We couldn't be happier with them, so it's just an amazing day for everyone."
The PLCFF-enhanced sites strengthen links between professional clubs and their communities, becoming venues for the clubs’ outreach work. For their part Southampton are involved in programmes that deliver high-quality PE coaching to many schools throughout Hampshire.
"Our school-based coaching programme is extensive in Southampton and Hampshire," said Mark Abrahams, Head of Saints Foundation. "We're in about 25 schools in the city and further 40 or so in Hampshire. So, about 9,000 kids are taking part in PE lessons delivered by the club in the community programme on a weekly basis.
"But it's important to have somewhere to play. We're focused on high-quality PE delivery but we've need the high-quality facilities to support that, so this is a great example where the two can come together. On a day like today, when it's wet and windy, it's an all-weather surface that we can see demonstrating its true benefit. It's a real legacy for the future."
Watching the kids from St Mary's being put through their paces by expert club coaches on the new pitch, it is not difficult to see why so many schools are taking up Saints Foundation's coaching programmes.
"It is important we have high-quality staff, can deliver the objectives of the curriculum and can ensure young people are adopting a sporting habit"
"We're one city, one club here, and the attraction of a Premier League club is immense," Abrahams said. "But we only stay in that school if we are a credible delivery agency so it is important that we have high-quality staff, can deliver the objectives of the curriculum and can ensure young people are adopting a sporting habit."
The more youngsters who take up football at an early age and have access to the right coaching, the greater the prospects of a local club unearthing a firt-team player on their doorstep. Here, Southampton have a good record in place with Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw or Calum Chambers among the players to have come up through the ranks to play for the first team.
"As a club we have a unique selling point of doing things the right way from an elite programme," Abrahams said. "A lot of the staff and coaches who work in the Saints Foundation also work in the Academy and there is a transition of skill-sets there that can have an impact at local level.”
Richard Scudamore, the Premier League's Chief Executive, was delighted to see the Saints Foundation's latest community initiative come together with the help of the PLCFF.
"Premier League clubs play a vital role as hubs of their communities as they help to regenerate and bring people together," he said. "It is our aim, through funding excellent facilities like this one in Southampton, to improve the experience for regular players and moreover attract new players to the game."
Southampton's unstinting commitment to their community was further demonstrated by the presence of Krueger, who also last month joined a 140-mile cycle ride from St Mary's Stadium to Villa Park to raise money for the Saints Foundation.
"The Premier League and our Foundation are about the balance we want to create in people's lives and this is a vehicle for that"
"It's beautiful to see the happiness of the children, playing on what is a high-quality surface, where you can play basketball, football and various sports, which can take place on a daily basis irrelevant of weather," said Krueger, before taking part in a question-and-answer session with Fonte and the schoolchildren.
"It's a facility that allows the children the balance they need to learn and educate themselves properly while leading healthy lives. I know the Premier League and our foundation are all about the balance we want to create in people's lives and this is another vehicle for that.
"We need to be conscious of what's going around us on in the world and we need to give back because we have a name and a brand that can support projects like this. I've lived in mainland Europe for almost 30 years and this attitude towards the community is not as prevalent there in the organisations I was involved with.
"I love the way Richard Scudamore and the Premier League have such a passion or these kind of projects around the world, because we are becoming an important global entertainment product and to leave your mark this way is wonderful because it is by no means the norm everywhere."