Charity aims for sporting success with new stadium plans

Guy Learmonth and John Bell
Guy Learmonth and John Bell

A recently formed charity has announced its aim of providing excellent facilities for football and athletics in the Berwick and Borders area.

The Berwick Stadium Trust has identified land near East Ord on which it seeks to build new pitches, both grass and artificial, a running track, and gymnastics centre.

One of the key components of the development is a 4000-capacity football stadium, with Berwick Rangers as a potential long-term tenant. Other elements would be an adjacent indoor arena and a full-size artificial pitch, to be used as a ‘home’ pitch by other local teams and as a midweek training facility.

The idea has been welcomed by Guy Learmonth, a prominent local athlete and 800m runner for Great Britain and Scotland.

“I’ve travelled thousands of miles to train all over Scotland and the north of England – I’d always hoped that Berwick would have its own track one day, and I’m sure it would be well supported from both sides of the Border,” said Guy.

His coach, Henry Grey, has become a Trustee of the Charity and offers a wealth of experience from a career working in the sport and leisure industry.

Chairman of the Stadium Trust, John Bell, who is also vice-chairman at Berwick Rangers and manager of Berwick Youth Project, described how the process began a long time ago.

He explained: “I’ve worked away for years trying to find a way forward in addressing the declining state of Shielfield Park, but the issue of the club being a PLC, combined with the fact we’re a Scottish League team playing in England, has thrown up lots of barriers.

“For me, the only way to progress this is for the club to play within a broader community facility with the club contributing towards its operation but benefitting from vastly improved facilities for players, fans, and hospitality.

“It also throws up real possibilities for a true football partnership offering all levels of participation from toddler sessions to semi-professional football.”

Recent announcements from Northumberland County Council regarding a new sports centre in the town have left Bell a little bewildered, and he added: “I had a very positive discussion with Active Northumberland and the County Council in September 2016 and thought there was potential for a collaborative approach to providing some great facilities.

“Since then, there’s been no communication at all, so I can only assume they’re planning a different course of action. The Stadium Trust is currently exploring all possible avenues of funding, with an immediate need for a thorough feasibility plan and costing exercise. We can’t just assume that everyone will want to get on board with this, it’s up to us to provide people with accurate information and a properly thought-out plan.”