Former rugby star Jason Leonard endorses plans for community hub at Prenton Rugby Club


Proposals to use funds from the sale of a disused sports field to support a ‘unique’ community hub in Prenton have been welcomed by former World Cup-winning England rugby union player Jason Leonard and the chief executive of the Rugby Football Union, Bill Sweeney.

The plans would see investment in new pitches with quality drainage, floodlights and other infrastructure at Prenton Rugby Club, supporting its unique community outreach programme.

Mums, toddlers, young people, and pensioners all benefit from the club’s support.  Leonard, who now supports community rugby initiatives nationwide, says the new funds would secure the club’s future and allow it to ‘massively increase’ its work with local people. 

Sport classes, health and wellbeing advice and social space for the elderly and vulnerable are all provided at the Prenton Dell Road site. 

Gemma Rigby with children at a sports and fitness session

The club has also recently invested in new nature trails used by local schools and has built an allotment with beehives.  A local mum, Gemma Rigby, also hosts regular children’s sports and fitness sessions at the club.

“There’s nothing like this in the north west rugby and I heartily endorse the club’s proposals. It’s exciting to see Prenton’s vision – placing a rugby club at the heart of their community, and the energy and planning they have put into making it a reality,” said Jason Leonard.

The Prenton Dell Road site

Backing Mr Leonard’s comments, Bill Sweeney, chief executive of the RFU, said, “I come from Birkenhead and can appreciate the impact this investment would have.  It’s a fine example of the role a sports club can play at a neighbourhood level and builds on the outstanding community garden they have already delivered.”

The funds hinge on a forthcoming planning hearing, where an appeal is seeking approval for the development of a disused playing field on Noctorum Lane for housing.  Money from the value of that development would also be used to support increased availability of sports at Old Parkonians Rugby Club on Holm Lane in Oxton.

If successful, the clubs say, it will enable them to provide thousands of additional person-hours of sports and outreach activities, annually.  But, says Brian Elkerton of Prenton RUFC, this may be the last chance to secure such an investment.

“We believe the project’s value lies in the impact of so many more local people benefitting from the improvements in both clubs’ infrastructure,” he said.

“The existing redundant field is private land that is not used by the community.  There’ll be no cost to the council and the proposals follow Sport England’s strategies for sports development in communities and we are grateful for their support to date.  A positive decision will help build on the momentum we’ve already created, although I fear this is our last chance to secure such funding.

“Our proposals mirror the council’s published strategy,” adds Brian Elkerton.  “We see this as a model for how the council can deliver real community gains from their own disused sports fields.” 

In a previous planning appeal related to the site, Wirral Council said that, in principle, the Noctorum Lane site was acceptable for a proposal for residential use in a predominantly residential area. Outline plans show a sympathetic scheme which will deliver a net gain in biodiversity and maintain the existing tree cover on a popular avenue alongside Wirral Golf Club.  The site is owned by Birkenhead School, who also intend to build a further sports hall which will at least double community use of their indoor sports facilities.

Calculations to be submitted to the hearing on 12 March will show a significant uplift in community participation across a range of activities, including:

  • 80 additional women’s rugby sessions per annum
  • Scope for hundreds of additional local school children to participate in rugby and football training each year, with more than 600 additional sessions per annum
  • More than doubling the capacity of community use of the new sports hall at Birkenhead School
  • More than 150 additional junior rugby and junior football matches hosted on the pitches each year
  • Investment in improved pitch drainage at Old Parkonians would allow the club to increase capacity three-fold, sustaining the club’s men’s senior rugby, junior rugby, women’s touch rugby, as well as its walking rugby group

Lead image: The disused playing field on Noctorum Lane

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