Saffron Walden Town Football Club reveals ambitious vision to redevelop Catons Lane home


SWTFC - Credit: Archant

Saffron Walden Town Football Club has revealed an ambitious vision to redevelop its Catons Lane home and turn it into a thriving hub for the whole community.

Board members have drawn up a blueprint containing a raft of changes that, if successful, will top £1 million. It includes installing a state-of-the-art 3G pitch, developing a new car park and entrance, building new changing rooms and opening up a coaching area. The improvements would be used to encourage schools, clubs and other organisations to use the club’s facilities.

Last week the club appointed an architect – Cambridge-based KWA – and charged the firm with drawing up a master-plan.

Vice-chairman Martin Johnson, who presented the plans to Saffron Walden Town Council’s Recreation & Playing Fields committee on Monday, said: “Some months ago we took advice from a senior FA officer on how to move forward in terms of improving the facilities and gaining funding. The number one message was to get a master-plan in place.

“We have now defined a blueprint document of what we think we need and appointed an architect to realise that.”

He added: “These are ambitious plans which we think will galvanise members and supporters, and create a real sense of excitement – they are something we feel we can deliver for the benefit of the whole community.”

The current board took over the running of the club two-and-a-half years following a season of turmoil in which the senior team was pulled out of the league.

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Mr Johnson said they had made huge strides since, including improvements of the ground and, significantly, registering the club as Community Benefit Society, meaning it is operated as a social enterprise and regulated.

He said the club was also thriving on the pitch, with 300 footballers across 10 teams currently on its books and as many as 60 volunteer coaches.

“The idea was to stabilise the club first and give it a future. We think we have done that. Now we’re looking to take it on,” he said.

“As a community organisation the club can offer so much more than just footfall – a whole range of other activities are held at the clubhouse such as Bingo, darts, weddings, parties, quiz nights, live music. The majority of our footfall comes from these things, although, from a football perspective, we’re proud to have the fourth highest average attendance at Step 6 in the country.”

Speaking about the cost of the project, Mr Johnson said surface and lighting works to the car park will cost £150,000, while the transformation to the entrance – which includes new turnstiles and buildings – may cost in the region of £500-£750,000.

An artificial 3G pitch, which can be used seven days a week throughout the year and would be opened up to schools and other clubs, would cost up to £500,000.

“When you put that all together it sounds like an awful lot of money, but funding pots are available for these types of projects,” explained Mr Johnson, who added that the club also harbours a longer term ambition to renovate the clubhouse and main stand in a second phase of the project. “We are confident that we can begin to put a package together to deliver this.”

The town council, which owns the site, has given its backing to the scheme.

Cllr Keith Eden said: “It is terrific and the club has done a great job to get to where it is.

“I also think it is within the town’s ability to produce this – we’re talking about spending similar sums on the town hall – so it is feasible for people to understand these types of figures.

“We ought to consider our role as facilitators in whatever way we can, and provide help wherever we can. That won’t be much financially but there are parts we can play in assisting with applications and presenting our endorsement.” n In addition to the presentation on Monday, it was announced that Saffron Walden Town FC has taken a 40-year lease of the Catons Lane ground from the town council. It is understood to be the longest lease in the club’s history, and chairman Melyvn Seymour said agreeing the new lease is a very significant step for the club and another important milestone in securing the club’s long-term future.