Caught in a Trap as school closes

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UNCERTAINTY surrounds the future of a grass-roots football club following the closure of a village school.

Earlier this year, Northumberland County Council’s Executive formerly agreed to shut the doors of James Calvert Spence College (JCSC) – Hadston Road, formerly Druridge Bay Middle School, and merge its pupils with JCSC – South Avenue, formerly Amble Middle School.

And the controversial decision, which was met with anger and disappointment by objectors, could have an impact on Morpeth Sunday League team North End Trap Broomhill, who play their home matches at the site.

While assurances have been given that the playing fields will remain for community use once the school closes at the end of August, the Division Two side stands to lose its current changing and storage facilities when the school is demolished.

This casts doubt over whether the Trap will be able to play its home matches there in the future.

Discussions are taking place to find a solution and a number of options are on the table which could keep the club at its current premises.

But nothing has been decided and those fighting the Trap’s corner admit they are in the dark about what the future will hold.

Manager Keith Morley said: “I’m not sure what is going to happen. I think we have won our battle to keep the pitch but when they demolish the school, we will have no changing facilities, toilets or storage for our gear.”

It is a painful situation for the club to find itself in after representatives have ploughed a lot of time and money into keeping their home pitch in shape and purchasing key equipment.

And the knife could be twisted even further if the club is forced to move if adequate facilities can not be provided.

Keith said: “If we have to move away, I’ve got to find storage for our goalposts and gear and as there are already three teams in our area using the other local facilities, we won’t have a home pitch.

“It would mean that every game was an away game. Would the boys be willing to travel away every week? I’m not sure they would fancy that. We have kept that pitch in tremendous condition by looking after it. It would be a crying shame after all we have spent to then have to leave.

“After all the money we have spent to make the school our home, I wonder who would reimburse us for our gear if we were to fold?”

Keith added: “When I asked for the pitch at the school, they had no gear to facilitate men’s football so I had to buy two sets of goalposts, two sets of back nets, corner flags, etc.

“I even had to get a set of sockets made and concreted into the field and we have also had to get a groundsman in to mark our pitch out.

“All of this has been out of our own pockets, but as a result we have been able to keep the pitch in great condition, apart from the molehills and rabbit scrapes which have to be sorted on match days.

“We have also paid a lot more in pitch fees than the other teams in our area as we have had to pay for the use of the school for each home game. But we were the ones looking after the place, so none of this bothered us.

“If we could keep our field of play, there is a block within touching distance of the pitch which could be left standing. It has running water and heating so with a bit of readjustment, ie toilets and showers, it would be perfect, plus I would be willing to put our steel posts up in the sockets for local kids to use for free, as long as we could keep our pitch for our competitive games.”

Keith was due to speak to the county council yesterday morning about the situation. The school closure came about after a decline in student numbers at both the Hadston Road and South Avenue sites, which forced the governing body of the Coquet Federation to propose the merger plan.

It said that it was the most effective way to provide the best education and increase resources for pupils as well as securing secondary education within the Coquet Partnership.

The controversial plan fuelled objections on a number of grounds and those fighting to keep the school open said that, if it was to shut, the future of the site needed to be handled correctly, including the retention of the playing fields for the community and the provision of suitable facilities.

A number of options have been thrown into the mix which could see the club remain at its home pitch, including retaining part of the school building to cater for such facilities or placing a portable building either at the site or close by.

This would also prove vital to other community groups who use or would use the school fields.

But this is still being thrashed out and no decision has been made.

Coun Glen Sanderson, Northumberland County Council ward member for Chevington with Longhorsley, said he would do all he could to help.

He said: “The playing fields are part of the community. Right from the time that the school closure was announced, I wanted to make sure that the playing fields remained for the use of residents for perpetuity. I have been assured that there is no chance of losing that facility.

“I want to make sure that the football club, which is now facing a time of anxiety through no fault of its own, is given some comfort from the county council and given some options about storage facilities and changing facilities.

“We need to look at all the possibilities. We have got to try to help the football club which has been put into this state of uncertainty, which is very regrettable – like the whole of the school closure was. I think the county council will help as much as it can.”

East Chevington Parish Council strongly objected to the merger plan.

Chairman Coun Scott Dickinson said: “What we said all along is the school fields have always been part of the community, whether for a community football team or a community fete.

“It is crucial that they are kept for community use. We don’t want everything to be flattened and taken away and left with no facilities.

“I don’t think the provision of the playing fields is a lot to ask when so many local people will lose their jobs and the school, which is a big feature and service within the community, is going to be demolished.

“I am worried about the football team. They have played there for a number of years now. It is their home pitch and they have invested in making it their home pitch and this is a bit of a raw deal.”

He added that there were viable solutions to ensure that alternative facilities were provided for those using the site.