Jermaine Jenas returned to the city where he grew up to see how funding from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund (PLFAFF) has boosted one of the areas where he honed his skills as a youngster.
The former Nottingham Forest, Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder saw how the new £1.8 million Forest Sports Zone is making a difference to the centre of Nottingham when he attended the official opening of the venue last week.
The Forest Sports Zone, funded with a £900,000 grant from the Facilities Fund and developed in partnership with Nottingham City Council, has a full size floodlit all-weather 3G pitch, a floodlit sand-based multi-activity pitch as well as a new pavilion with six changing rooms, catering facilities and indoor space for education, club and social activities.
"I spent a lot of time playing on that pitch," Jenas told premierleague.com. "I am very aware about how tough that particular area was and also the limited facilities that it had. There was a big patch of grass there and if it rained or snowed, no-one was able to play football.
"The inner city getting attention and care with these pitches will make a massive difference. To see the looks on kids' faces and to see the coaches that watched me in under-9s and under-10s football standing there on this new surface and feeling proud was a nice moment for us all.
"The area was renowned for crime years ago and a lot of the issues were because there was nowhere for kids to go. Now they can train and be a part of something."
Located on the Forest Recreation Ground where Nottingham Forest FC was founded 150 years ago, the Forest Sports Zone will be used by Nottingham Forest in the Community (NFITC) to deliver soccer schools and community-based initiatives such as health and exercise activities.
"It will be perfect for the Nottingham Forest Academy as it will be great for them to go down and scout and see all the new inner city kids that maybe would not have had the opportunity," Jenas added.
"But finding talent is secondary, it's a bonus. The bigger picture is for Nottingham city as an area. You can already see people going there for training and taking their friends with them. It's going to have a big impact on things like obesity and the development of kids within sport."
NFITC say they are excited about the opportunity to extend their reach in the community with chief executive Graham Moran saying: "Forest in the Community are delighted to have a home on the site where Nottingham Forest were founded 150 years ago.
"Having this facility will enable us to deliver increased provision of healthy physical activity for the benefit of local people as we will be on site 13 hours a day, seven days a week."
Although Jenas says the venue was not primarily built for producing first-team players, the BBC Sport pundit believes that young talent will be nurtured by simply having a facility that can be used all year.
"I am a Forest supporter and I want my team developing young talent and that's the way to do it," he said. "That's how I was found. Luckily enough for me, we had a patch of grass but in the inner city it's a lot more difficult to find space to play football.
"Over the next 10 years, when all these kids have had this brilliant education on better surfaces, in snow or rain, that's only going to improve their skill levels."
The PLFAFF, which is delivered by the Football Foundation, invests in local communities by building or refurbishing pitches and facilities which improve the playing experience for players while attracting new people to the game.
"The zone shows how the investment in facilities is a very important part of the Premier League and its clubs' commitment to the development of football outside the League," Richard Scudamore, the League's Executive Chairman, said. "The Forest Sports Zone is one of the largest projects funded by the Premier League and FA Facilities Fund in the last year and it will provide a fantastic hub for local community football."
Forest Sports Zone
- Nottingham Forest In The Community (NFITC) will use the Forest Sports Zone as its home
- The Zone will be open 13 hours a day, seven days a week and offer 9,100 hours of sporting activities a year
- NFITC will run Forest Soccer Schools at the site, as well as a wide range of community programmes
- The venue will also incorporate NFITC's Advanced Coaching Centre, which will provide a pathway for local footballers into the Forest Academy