EXCLUSIVE: Football's coming home! Southwick win battle for return to Old Barn Way
Football's coming home... to Southwick's Old Barn Way.
Adur District Council has agreeed a deal with a former Premier League footballer’s charity to take over the facilities.
The council said that after 'significant mismanagement issues and safety concerns', they ended the agreement with the former leaseholder at Southwick FC last year. Initial estimates suggested up to £500,000 of repairs would be required to bring it back into use.
The termination of the agremeent meant Southwick FC - the Wickers - had to switch to playing at Southwick Rec and drop out of the county league, which it had helped form a century ago.
Since Old Barn Way was closed, a widespread search for suitable operators has been carried out with terms for a new 25-year lease now being agreed with the Russell Martin Foundation (RMF), a Southwick-based not-for-profit organisation which uses the power of football to help change people’s lives.
The charity, which is backed by the former Norwich City and Rangers player, has plans to work with the council to refurbish the entire site, transforming it into a community football hub, which promotes health, wellbeing and education in the area.
RMF has also agreed to offer the newly reformed Southwick Football Club (1882) the chance to use the ground for their home fixtures, meeting the ambition to return affiliated football to Old Barn Way. While there is much work to do to make the site fit and safe for use, it is hoped the ground can be ready in time for the new season starting in September.
Cllr Emma Evans, Adur District Council’s Executive Member for Environment, said: “This is very much a home win, a great result for everyone involved.
“We are well aware of the importance that Old Barn Way plays in the wider community which is why we have taken time to ensure we found a suitable tenant who could add value to the site and offer a sustainable home for Southwick Football Club.
“The Russell Martin Foundation has gone from strength to strength in recent years and has a really good track record of using sport to help change people’s lives. They are locally based, committed to investing in the site and have experience in running similar facilities in a responsible and inclusive way.
“We’re really pleased to be entering into a long-term partnership with them and confident this deal will see the reformed Southwick Football Club returning to their spiritual home.”
With terms for a new lease agreed, RMF along with the council will begin the process of making urgent repairs to make the site safe and secure.
The ambition - pending the lifting of Covid restrictions and fundraising efforts to invest in the site - is for academy sessions to start in August ahead of league football beginning in September.
Longer-term, RMF wants to install a sustainable cork based 3G pitch which will enable the ground to be used regularly all year round regardless of the weather and seek to upgrade facilities at the site to create a modern and fit for purpose community football hub.
To support these ambitions, the Council is set to agree the release of £50,000 of Section 106 seed funding to the charity to be spent directly on the ground.
Alan Sanders, Chief Executive of RMF, said: “We are under no illusions about the task ahead of us given the condition the site is currently in. However, we have been extremely pleased with the discussions we’ve had with the Council and Southwick 1882 who, like us, are fully committed to ensuring that we make a real success of this fantastic opportunity. We can’t wait to get started.”
Tony Kybett, Chairman of Southwick Football Club (1882), said: “We are absolutely delighted that we have been given the opportunity to return to our home at Old Barn Way and look forward to working in partnership with the Russell Martin Foundation and being an integral part of the community based football project that the residents of Southwick and Adur can be proud of.
“Without the tremendous support we have received locally, nationally and internationally the football club would have ceased to exist. Although it has been a frustrating ten months we acknowledge the work carried out by the officers and staff at the Council during these extraordinary times. They have ensured the proud history of football in Southwick will continue.”
The council has also agreed direct tenancy terms to retain Saferide Motorcycle & Scooter Training on the site, providing it with security from future tenancy issues and providing an ongoing income for the local authority.