England boss Gareth Southgate praises brand new all-weather pitch

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Andrew Jones, MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, unveiled a brand new all-weather pitch for St John Fisher Catholic High School recently (Saturday 7 October). The project, which has attracted praise from England Manager Gareth Southgate, was made possible thanks to a grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund, delivered by the Football Foundation. The MP was joined by Max Mills MBE and Mike Knowles, both staff members who were integral to the success of the project.

The grant has enabled St John Fisher Catholic High School, in partnership with the North Yorkshire County Council, to replace an existing grass pitch with an all-weather playing surface. The new floodlit third generation (3G) artificial grass pitch (AGP), which can be used all-year-round, is expected to boost overall sports participation at the site by 647%.

The new pitch will be used as a base for all training by partner clubs Harrogate Town AFC and Pannal Sports JFC, both of which previously had to travel due to a lack of football facilities in the area. Harrogate Town AFC, a local professional club, will also use the site to deliver community outreach programmes and holiday clubs.

The 3G AGP will not only benefit the partner clubs; St John Fisher’s pupils will be able to take advantage of the new pitch. This will not be limited to football, as the playing surface will also be used for touch rugby and multi-sport PE lessons.

The school worked alongside the West Riding FA and the Football Foundation to compile a five-year Football Development Plan, which is a vision of how sport will be played on site with an emphasis on increasing participation.

The new surface will serve as a training hub for the West Riding FA. The site will also be used by a number of local leagues including the Harrogate Junior League, Harrogate District League and the West Riding FA Community Leagues. This in addition to local clubs such as Knaresborough Town FC, Hampthswaite United FC and Beckwithshaw FC, who will use the facility.

It is expected that football participation across all ages will increase by 971% at the site, supported by the partner clubs’ use of the pitch for all training, as well as plans for introducing a number of new teams. This is expected to include three brand new disability sides.

Increasing female and veteran football participation respectively will be key objectives at the facility. Walking football sessions are planned at the pitch, and eight new female teams will be established – including a women’s open-age side. This will take the total from six to 14 female teams at the site, supporting a large boost in girls’ football participation.

The club worked in partnership with the West Riding FA to secure a £347,000 grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund.

Founded in 2000, the Football Foundation is the largest sports charity in the UK funded by the Premier League, The FA and Government, via Sport England. It develops new and refurbished grassroots sports facilities in order to improve the quality and experience of playing sport at the grassroots level. Since it was launched in 2000, the Foundation has awarded around 15,000 grants worth more than £580m towards improving grassroots sport, which it has used to attract additional partnership funding of over £800m – £1.4bn of investment into the grassroots game.

Since 2000, the Football Foundation Funding Partners’ investment has provided 523 grants worth £19.4m towards grassroots sports projects worth over £38.4m across the whole of West Riding.

By providing more high-quality facilities, coupled with coaching at the appropriate age group, the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund aims to improve the experience for regular players as well as attracting new players to the game. Many of the new state-of-the-art facilities will serve to strengthen the connection between professional football clubs and their local communities, particularly in the most deprived areas of the country, through the professional clubs’ community trusts’ outreach work.

Gareth Southgate, England Manager and Football Foundation Ambassador, said: “I have always been a big supporter of grassroots football and facilities such as this are vital to its progress. Floodlit all-weather pitches allow training and matches to occur all-year-round regardless of the weather, which helps to increase participation levels in the sport.

“I was so pleased to hear that this pitch will help Harrogate Town AFC to introduce five new girls’ sides and three new disability teams. Players who make up all our national teams have come up from the grassroots game and this pitch could produce some stars of the future, as well encourage more people to play for the love of doing so.”

Andrew Jones, MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, said: “I would like to congratulate St John Fisher Catholic High School on bringing this project to fruition, and thank them for inviting me along to help open the new all-weather pitch. This is a wonderful facility that will really benefit our local area, and I am so glad to see it already in use.

“Facilities such as this one are vital to grassroots sport, and help to provide people of all ages and abilities with a great social outlet, as well as a way to keep fit and healthy. The Football Foundation, which is part-funded by the Government through Sport England, does an excellent job of delivering these projects up and down the country.”

Robert Pritchard, St John Fisher Catholic High School Head Teacher, said: “Thank you to Andrew Jones MP, Mike Knowles and Max Mills for opening our facility. We are really grateful to the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund and the support of Harrogate Town in helping our school achieve this long held ambition. Our first-class school sports teams now have facilities to match their talent and dedication and we are thrilled that grassroots and community teams of all ages and abilities are already making good use of the pitch.”

Paul Thorogood, Chief Executive of the Football Foundation, said: “The Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund provides the investment necessary to improve grassroots football facilities. So, I am delighted to see St John Fisher Catholic High School join thousands of local clubs and organisations who have reaped its benefit, in this case through the opening of a new all-weather pitch. I'd like to thank Andrew Jones MP for taking the time to open the facility.

“Having delivered over £1.4bn of grassroots sports infrastructure projects, the Football Foundation has developed a network of accessible, first-class facilities in areas they will have the greatest impact – thanks to money from the Premier League, The FA and the Government via Sport England.

“These facilities are more than places to play football at, these facilities are hubs of physical activity, the bedrock of local communities and ‘homes from home’ for so many who also use them as social outlets to learn new skills, gain work experience and other qualifications.”