Football club left without changing rooms for three years - Marvin Rees offers explanation

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‘The club desperately needs better facilities’

A football club in south Bristol has been left without proper changing rooms for three years due to delays at Bristol City Council. Park Knowle Football Club “desperately needs” better facilities in Redcatch Park but the council has so far stalled on carrying out essential maintenance work.

Park Knowle FC is coached by Mike Alden, who on December 21 won the Unsung Hero Award at the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year. The disabled football coach was diagnosed with brittle bone disease aged four, and has broken nearly every bone in his body.

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Bristol mayor Marvin Rees congratulated Mr Alden on winning the award, but was also urged to apologise to him and the club for “the mess” the council has left them in. The community applied to the council to carry out the work themselves, but then the application “hit a wall”.

During a Bristol City Council meeting on December 13, Sian Ellis-Thomas, chair of Friends of Redcatch Park, said: “The club desperately needs better facilities in Redcatch Park to accommodate the disability and girls teams. A community asset transfer has been requested for the pavilion so this can be updated, but this application has hit a wall.

“Bristol is about to be put on the national map because of Mike’s achievements. It would seem appropriate to reward his efforts by expediting the community asset transfer so we can continue to do this amazing work for our community.”

Park Knowle FC has many teams, five of which are for football players with disabilities. The pavilion in Redcatch Park is “basically a large wooden shed”, according to Knowle Councillor Gary Hopkins and the current changing rooms are sub-standard. The football club and Redcatch Community Garden jointly applied for a community asset transfer for the pavilion.

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According to the mayor, the reason the asset transfer has taken so long is because other groups have also applied for a community asset transfer. However, this was disputed by Cllr Hopkins who said the park departments told the community they were the only ones who had applied. Cllr Hopkins added it was “not in good faith to invent somebody new”.

Mr Rees said: “We’re always up for a conversation, but because as I understand it there’s more than one group potentially interested. We need a process and people need to work with the process so that everything is fair and above board, and people aren’t disadvantaged or led down a route that leads them to use their own resource and ultimately not get a return on their use of their resource. So that’s why we want to really stick to the process.”

Cllr Hopkins replied: “Firstly, they were the only applicants, and were told so by parks management. They were the only people who put interest in, in a partnership between them and the community garden. So to invent somebody new coming along now three years down the line is not very good faith.

“No doubt you will want to join us in congratulating [the coach] for what he’s achieved so far, but will you also apologise for this mess that’s left them without changing rooms for three years?”

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Community asset transfers are when the care for buildings like the Redcatch Park pavilion are transferred from councils, who no longer have money or staff to look after them properly, to local volunteers. The mayor did not deny he had “invented” another group applying for the community asset transfer, and then said the delays were due to short-staffing in the council.

Mr Rees said: “We have had a capacity issue in the team. We have recruited to that team now but we do have to work with the reality that the backroom capacity of the council has been challenged. Recently we put a recruitment freeze on as well because of the need to meet the financial envelope that we’re in, and that may have impacted. But the capacity is there now so hopefully people will get the communications that they were looking for.”

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