Venue Hunt Update – Netham Park Pavilion & Pitches

We are currently collaborating with Bristol Pakistanis Cricket Club (BPCC) and the Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls Sports and Social Club (ECCSSC, or the Cowfolk) to put in an Expression of Interest for the Netham Park Pavilion and pitches that Bristol City Council have included in their Sports Facility Transfer programme. This could be a great opportunity to build a community focused sports facility and we wanted to share how this came about and where we’re up to in this process.

As some of you may remember, last year we kicked off the hunt for a home venue for Bristol Co-operative Gym. After months of preparation, including a successful bid to join Power To Change’s Bright Ideas programme, we put the word out to look for new premises. That was at the start of March 2020, so of course within days of that post being published our focus had to change quite significantly.

The venue hunt was put on a back burner and we moved our classes online, which turned out to be a timely move as all gyms were instructed to close just a week or two after that. We introduced a low-cost membership option to give access to all our classes from home, keeping the previous memberships available as a “pay what you feel” option for those who felt they could afford to subsidise the lower cost membership. Then, like most people across the country and the globe, we hunkered down to weather out the lockdowns.

Throughout the year we had discussions about the postponed venue hunt, and what that may mean now that we’ve all had some enforced reflection time. We all felt fairly nervous about the idea of taking on a venue of our own in these uncertain times but we were encouraged by the way our little co-operative community of gym members stuck with us throughout. Since the inception of Bristol Co-operative Gym, we’ve attempted to model our organisation around the people who are within it and our base aims and objectives, not on traditional “fitness industry” ways of doing things. Now more than ever we can see there’s a need to create spaces where we can build an entirely different community-based gym environment. Where anyone can come to have fun, learn healthy habits and be part of a supportive community of like-minded people.

With all this in mind, at the end of 2020 we decided to tentatively have a look for a venue again, and so we reached out to various local organisations to see if they knew anywhere that might fit our needs, and started rooting through estate agents listings too.

In early February 2021 we were told about Bristol City Council’s Sports Facility Transfer, which covers a range of pitches and facilities across Bristol. One of these includes a building that we think may be suitable for Bristol Co-operative Gym to manage – Netham Park Pitches & Pavilion.

A site plan detailing the areas within Netham Park that are part of the Sports Facility Transfer. Highlighted areas are 4 football pitches of differing sizes, a cricket pitch with an overlapping football pitch and the pavillion building in the centre of the park. Outside of the highlighted areas are large areas of open grass, the bowling green, the wildlife areas, an area with walkways and a play area for children.

Netham Park Pavilion Facilities & sports pitches planSource: Bristol City Council Sports Facilities Transfer

Note: only the highlighted areas are affected

One detail we immediately saw was that this package would include management and maintenance of the cricket and football pitches, something that we didn’t have direct experience of running or using! We heard that Bristol Pakistanis Cricket Club (BPCC) and Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls Sports and Social Club (ECCSSC, or the Cowfolk) had also been thinking about putting in Expressions of Interest. We reached out to them to see how far along they were in their bids, what they were thinking of doing (we didn’t want to tread on any toes by rushing in) and whether they might be up for collaborating in a joint bid. With an original deadline a matter of weeks away (the original deadline was Feb 24th, though luckily this was extended to March 31st), we started talking to anyone and everyone who would listen to us to see what they thought of our ideas.

By mid-February, Bristol Co-operative Gym, Bristol Pakistanis Cricket Club and the Cowfolk had decided to team up, with the support of Eastside Community Trust (ECT), to get an “Expression of Interest” together to submit to the Council. Various other organisations were happy to support the idea as the collaboration community model, along with our plans of use of the Pavilion and management of the overall pitches and facilities, sounded worth supporting. Currently this list includes Friends of Netham Park, Wellspring Settlement, JumpStart CIC, Access Sport, Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership Trust, and Off the Record.

We decided to set up a public meeting to inform as many people as possible before the looming deadline, and so published an article in Up Our Street to get the word out. That public meeting took place via Zoom on Tuesday 16th March 2021. One representative from each main partner in the collaboration spoke to introduce their organisation and give an overview of our Expression of Interest, and then the panel answered questions and concerns from the attendees. You can read the minutes and round up of that meeting here.

One of the biggest concerns raised at the public meeting was the fear that this process would cut off access to a valuable green space in Netham. The park (as a whole) is not what the council is looking to transfer – just the pitches and responsibility for their maintenance, and the maintenance and management of the pavilion building. The Netham Park Site Information Pack published here goes into much more detail about what is and isn’t expected of any successful bid, including the fact that the pitches are part of the shared-use aspect of the wider Netham Park grounds (that is, that the public have access when sports are not being played on the pitches), and that the successful bid must focus on the continued provision for sport on the site.

We, like others in the local area, were dismayed to hear that the council can’t continue to subsidise the costs of maintaining all the sports facilities at Netham Park, leaving a situation where either the hire costs have to be substantially increased to cover the council’s shortfall, or facilities being left boarded up and unused and the future of the site uncertain. We lend our support to all those who call for an open and community led discussion of the future of the sports facilities at Netham Park, and we hope that we can all find a way to work together.

At this stage in the process, an Expression of Interest is just that – an application to the council about the way we (BCG, BPCC, ECCSSC and ECT) think that we could possibly manage this if the council is unable to. It’s not binding in any way at this time.

If our Expression of Interest is accepted, we will move to the next stage of the process – developing our business case. In order to do this, we will need much more information from the Council about accurate running costs, current leases and agreements they already have in place, and any works necessary to make the Pavilion usable again. Due to the lockdown, we’ve not been allowed to do any site visits, and so no surveys have been done yet. Like us, BPCC and the Cowfolk are not-for-profit and member-led (one of the reasons why we’re a good fit for each other) and all of us will be putting the information we find out to our full memberships before moving forward.

We’ll keep you updated on any progress!