EDINBURGH sports clubs yesterday took the wraps off an innovative new community hub which could provide inspiration for struggling sports across the country.
The Inch Park Community Sports Club (IPCSC) project has been in the planning for 15 years, but by next summer the campaign to create new sports facilities in Edinburgh's south side will become a reality as teams of all ages take to new pitches and a multi-sport clubhouse. The Inch Park, beside Cameron Toll, will by then feature two new full-size grass rugby pitches for Lismore RFC, a full-size football pitch for Edinburgh South FC and smaller training pitch, as well as a synthetic cricket wicket.
The fields are intended to be extensively used by the south-east Edinburgh community, as will the jewel in the crown – a new 1.5million sports clubhouse featuring six changing rooms below a first-floor community hub. It will make a radical difference to the poor facility that has endured flooding and fire problems in recent years.
The new model is the kind of development common across Europe, but which politicians in Scotland at both local and central level have either neglected or found impossible to fund. The ISCPC has not had an easy time of uncovering the cash to make it work, highlighted by organisers' delight yesterday at finally dotting all the i's and crossing the t's to achieve the feat.
The project has been championed by Lismore Rugby Club and past president Malcolm Gillies, who has chaired the development. He said: "Lismore have played at Inch Park for over 50 years and had our clubrooms in The Pleasance, two miles away. We have at last achieved our long-awaited goal of creating a fantastic new clubhouse not just for rugby, but as a multi-sport centre with social facilities for the whole Inch Park community, which will enable us as a club to grow and expand along with our community sporting partners.
"The three clubs all work with the local primary and secondary schools to provide curricular and extra-curricular activities, enabling this facility to become a thriving youth development base for football, cricket and rugby."
The Lismore club has steered the sports clubs through a self-build approach with funding help secured from sportscotland, the City of Edinburgh Council, Robertson Trust, WREN and Viridor Credits. The bulk, 450,000, came from sportscotland, with the council funding 160,000 towards the clubhouse.
Sportscotland's chief executive Stewart Harris was at yesterday's official launch of the building phase. He said: "Our involvement in assisting the Inch Park Community Sports Club create this new community based club is central to our objective of creating stronger sports clubs and community sports hubs."
An indication of the difficulty sports clubs and bodies face is provided by the many partners involved in this project. Few sports organisations, never mind single clubs, can afford to build new facilities in the modern age, despite the fact those in Scottish sport are generally years behind those of many other similar-sized countries.
To develop Inch Park, the ISCPC had to take on an 80-year lease from the council, which owns it, and agree to take over management of it from the trust, Edinburgh Leisure. However, IPCSC's commitment is clear in the agreement to build regular improvements to the pitch surfaces into its long-term plan.
Councillor Deidre Brock, Culture and Sport Convenor for the City of Edinburgh Council, is aware of the wider benefits beyond three sports clubs that this new facility could have.
She said: "The club should become a real social focus for the community and will no doubt inspire people of all ages to try different sports, make new friends and keep active."
The project will take nine months to build with an entry date now expected in the summer of 2010 and while all clubs have bought into the ISCPC multi-sport model, which now boasts nearly 600 members, they will all retain their own identities under the ISCPC umbrella.
Gillies, a former chairman of the Scottish Rugby Council at Murrayfield, added: "You can't achieve something like this as a club on your own and make it sustainable. You have to see it as a social enterprise and balance the books, using it all the year round, and that's why sports working together creates this potential."
CLUBS BY THE INCH
LISMORE RFC (Founded 1901)
HAVE played in Inch Park since 1953, although in the last two years this has not been possible due to flood prevention works plus the changing rooms burning down.
The club run up to three men's teams, one women's team and employ a full-time development officer dedicated to recruiting and retaining rugby players, coaches, referees and volunteers, and coaching youngsters in and around south-east Edinburgh – an area covering 100,000 people.
EDINBURGH SOUTH CRICKET CLUB
HAS 78 members and has played at the Inch for many years. They are committed to expanding on two existing league teams and a social 3rd XI, and developing a strong youth section within the new facility.
The cricket club run a primary cricket programme in the summer term in the local primary schools.
EDINBURGH SOUTH FOOTBALL CLUB
ARE also based at the Inch and work with nearly 300 youngsters and coaches in 16 teams, with both boys and girls enjoying youth football.
Appropriate changing and club facilities are crucial to their development and the club hopes to increase enjoyment levels and the numbers of young players involved in the sport through their new home for on and off-field activity.