Sunday, 20 June 2021

Youth football under threat from pavilion redevelopment

YOUTH football in Benson is under threat from plans to refurbish the village hall and pavilion.

YOUTH football in Benson is under threat from plans to refurbish the village hall and pavilion.

Benson United FC chairman James Merritt made the claim as the parish council exhibited artist’s impressions of the design on Friday night.

Under the council’s proposals, the changing rooms in the pavilion adjoining the hall would be transformed into a lounge and storage area and new toilets and a kitchen would be created.

Mr Merritt, of Sands Way, Benson, said that losing the changing rooms would affect between 60 and 200 youngsters who use the sports pitches next to the hall in Sunnyside every Saturday and Sunday.

He said: “It’s effectively a land grab. It’s not a sports pavilion anymore. It has got nothing to do with sport and everything to do with what the parish council would like to do.

“Nobody on the parish council goes down there on a Saturday or Sunday.”

Mr Merritt said the club had three girls’ and five boys’ teams  with children aged four to 10 but would lose its FA charter status without the changing rooms, which were also used to store equipment.

“The club will fold,” he said. “If we lose the charter status, we can’t provide football for the kids. We’ve been going since 1969, so by our 50th year we won’t be here.”

He said the money to build the pavilion came from the club, its youth section and the Sports Foundation.

Mr Merritt said the council, which owns the land, had not consulted the people who use the pavilion and he suggested that parents might want to start a campaign against the plan.

Parish councillor Michael Winton, a member of the halls committee, claimed the pavilion was rarely used and that footballers tended to arrive having already changed and left without using the changing rooms.

Mr Merritt admitted that some children did arrive in their kit but said the pavilion was needed for first aid, team talks and for when the weather  deteriorated.

He was supported by Martyn Spence, a member of conservation group the Bensington Society, who said the pavilion was built specifically for people playing sport and called the council’s plans “a retrograde step”.

Plans for the redevelopment, which would cost more than £470,000, have been been drawn up by architect Richard Cutler.

These would also involve turning the ground floor lounge of the parish hall into an office for staff, who currently work on the first floor. There would also be a store room and the kitchen and toilets would be upgraded.

The post office would be relocated from the pavilion to the main building.

A sliding partition would be fitted to the front of the stage so it could be used as a room when necessary.

Councillor Winton said: “I think the plans are great. We’re not actually changing the footprint but it’s better use of what we have.”

Councillor Teresa McTeague, chairwoman of the halls committee, said the council wanted to increase its rentable space.

She said the changes to the pavilion didn’t mean it wouldn’t be available for the football club to use, adding: “It could provide a better facility for them.”

She stressed that the plans were not finalised, adding: “It’s an opportunity to have discussions, which we’re doing, and it could be we decide to do nothing.

“We will take everybody’s points into consideration. I’m really looking forward to having a discussion with Mr Merritt.”

The original plans to refurbish the hall were costed at £500,000 and then scaled back last year to £250,000.

Cllr McTeague said the reason for the cost going up again was due to a “significant” increase in the price of tradesmen and materials.

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