A tale of two sports clubs

A major upgrade in sporting facilities at Dukes Meadows is being proposed by Hounslow Council. The proposals are open for public consultation until Monday 27 November and we are invited to have a look at them and give our opinions.

I’ve been to see the display at Chiswick Town Hall and had a look online and it all looks lovely. But to paraphrase the former US Secretary of State for Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the trouble with anything hypothetical like this is that there are ‘the known knowns’, the ‘known unknowns’, but there are also ‘unknown unknowns’ which have led Chiswick Rugby Club to support the proposals but the Old Meadownian Football Club not to at this stage.

Although the plans have come from the London Borough of Hounslow and consultants Continuum, the money for all this is to come from third parties. Once the consultation period is over, the next stage will be for the Parks department to apply to the Planning department for planning permission early in 2018 and then to raise the funds.

Chiswick Rugby Club get £1.3m investment in 4G pitch

Chiswick Rugby Club are fortunate to be acting on a ‘known known’. The Rugby Football Union is proposing to spend £1.3m on building the latest generation of artificial, all weather pitch at Duke’s Meadows. After the 2015 World Cup the RFU announced more than £50m investment which they promised to deliver over four years to provide 100 artificial grass pitches across England in order to grow the game. Chiswick Rugby Club, which has some 500 members, and currently fields four senior teams in addition to the Minis, 200 girls and boys aged 5-13, meet their criteria for investment. The RFU has offered to install a new 4G pitch, which will be lit, enabling the club to play at night as well as in all weathers. The RFU will own the pitch, ring-fencing 12 hours a week for the club and renting it the rest of the time at a reduced rate to others wanting to play rugby. A win – win for the RFU, the Council and the Chiswick Rugby Club.

The Old Meadownians are in a different situation.

Old Meadownians vote against the proposals

The Dukes Meadows proposals would provide a new football pavilion and two 3G artificial grass pitches for football as well as improvements to the grass pitches. ‘What’s not to like?’ you might think.

But unlike the RFU – Chiswick Rugby Club arrangement, the investment, through the Football Association’s Parklife scheme, would be a contract between the London Borough of Hounslow and the FA.

Old Meadownians have ten adult football teams and close ties with Chiswick Meadonians Youth and Chiswick School (they were formed by former pupils at the school). The club is a local success story, both on and off the field, being one of the largest and most successful amateur clubs in the London area, at a time when there is a significant decline in adult male 11-a-side football.

Their problem is this: currently they share changing rooms with the Thames Tradesmen rowing club at Chiswick Boathouse, which is to be knocked down and rebuilt. They have asked for ten changing rooms instead of the six which the Parklife scheme usually provide, as they are a big club. They have been offered preferred partner status with input to the design and operational model, but they say they are being asked to make a ‘leap of faith’ that the requisite funding will be available and they are concerned that they may end up worse off.

Club chairman Derek Barnett says: “the club has serious concerns over the proposed project costs and the uncertainties regarding the available funding such that a significant funding gap may emerge as the business plans and the funding strategies develop in the New Year.

Thus, whilst the current design incorporates sufficient changing rooms and a social space to support Old Meadonians’ requirements, no assurances can be given that these will not be cut back in the final plan resulting in a situation that the club will have access to fewer facilities than those currently available.

In addition, even as a Partner Club, Old Meadonians are likely to pay a pitch hire charge which is significantly more than the club can afford. This is coupled with the fact that the club will have less security of tenure than under the current arrangements. The ‘leap of faith’ requested by Parklife is deemed to be too high a risk for the long term future of a well-managed 88 year old club.

As a consequence Old Meadonians FC have voted to not support the Parklife proposal during the Public Consultation process”.

General improvements

Dukes Meadows is home to a number of sporting clubs. The area of unspoilt common land between Chiswick Bridge and Chiswick Pier is home to the Tideway Skullers rowing club at one end and Chiswick Pier Trust at the other, with Chiswick Rugby Club, Old Meadownians Football Club and Chiswick Cricket Club in between as well as three more rowing clubs, Barnes & Hounslow Hockey Club, two multi-sport centres: Virgin’s Riverside club and the Dukes Meadows Golf & Tennis club and the sportsground for a private school: King’s House, most of whom lease the land from the council.

The sporting facilities share the area with a large number of allotments and the Duke’s Meadows Trust, which runs an adventure playground and paddling pool, the Sunday morning Food Market and artists’ studios. The bandstand by the river is a popular picnic spot at weekends.

The proposals are intended to keep the unspoilt nature of the place but at the same time improve sports facilities. The hockey club is promised an improved pitch as well. The ‘public realm’ plans include things like tidying the bushes and putting in better lighting and signage as well as renovating the band stand.

There would be an increased number of parking spaces and there has been some concern expressed that there will be an increase in traffic generated by the improved sports facilities.