£200m grassroots football facilities project up and running with official launch of Sheffield Graves hub, as FA invites local authorities across the country to submit interest for nationwide rollout
The Football Association has officially unveiled the first of its new Parklife grassroots football hubs in Sheffield.
The official launch of St George's Park Sheffield Graves, which opened last month, marks the first step in the FA's ambitious plan to improve grassroots football facilities across the country and provide football for all - through investment in pitches, facilities and participation programmes.
FA chief executive Martin Glenn also used the opportunity to announce plans for a national expansion of Parklife, which will see multi-pitch football hubs built across 30 English cities by 2020.
Local authorities across the country are invited to submit expressions of interest to join the Parklife programme in a three-month bidding process, while planning applications have already been approved for hubs in Liverpool and west London.
A second Parklife hub has opened in Thorncliffe in north Sheffield - Graves is in the south - whilst a third hub is planned for Westfield in the south east of the city, with Sheffield City Council making a significant financial contribution to the construction of three sites.
The project will see a nationwide investment in facilities of £200m, with the FA supported by the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), the Premier League and local partners for each hub.
Glenn said: "The FA is committed to football for all - through significant investment in pitches, facilities and participation programmes. The Parklife Football Hubs Programme exemplifies this.
"We have a marvellous facility here - and it is the start of something very special. As Parklife expands nationally, it will mark the end of a story all-too-familiar to the grassroots footballer of poor pitches, woefully inadequate changing facilities and a battle against the elements to get fixtures completed each winter."
The first two Sheffield hubs will host league matches for up to five resident clubs, played on state-of-the-art 3G artificial pitches, which will help combat the inevitable disruption caused by frozen and waterlogged surfaces during the harsh winter months.
Typically, a well-maintained natural turf pitch can offer 6-8 playing hours of football a week, whilst a modern 3G pitch can accommodate double that volume every day, thus hugely increasing playing opportunities and allowing hubs to offer football at flexible times to suit a wider range of players.
The new centres, which are fully accessible, will accommodate flexible forms of the game and are available for use by other sports, will be run day-to-day by leisure operator Pulse, who won the contract through competitive tender from the newly formed Sheffield Football Trust, created to oversee a self-sustaining business model for the facilities.
The Parklife model supports the FA’s priority of giving every child that wants to play football access to a qualified coach and supports the recruitment and development of referees and volunteers to ensure a high quality playing experience.
Sports minister Tracey Crouch said: "Better football facilities are crucial to help strengthen the sport at the grassroots and that is exactly why the government is backing this project with funding.
"This state-of-the-art facility will be a big boost to community football in Sheffield, with the all-weather pitches perfect for year-round use as well as for developing talent and coaching young people in the city. I want to get more people involved in sport for the positive impact it has on people's lives and partnerships such as this one, bringing together the FA, local authority and government, can help achieve that."
Image courtesy of TheFA.com