Nestled into the fields at Allen Mill, just on the boundary with Catton, the Sports Ground looks as if it’s always been there, but in fact it’s only a little ways off its fifteenth birthday.
I remember some of the early trials and tribulations of Allendale Sports Club, related to me with deep and impassioned conviction by Stan Jackson, who fought the corner of the football club for many years, until the Cricket Club established its own pre-eminence and pavilion on the Show Ground. Finding a home for the footy thereafter was a great challenge, but with eventual grace from Allendale Estates, the fields at Allen Mill were secured on long-term lease and the football finally had a home of its own.
Indeed, it was then that the Football Association funded the construction of the Sports Club Pavilion, built some dozen years ago, and the levelling and drainage of the playing fields, helping to create the circumstances under which at least four sports groups now cooperate in a bespoke setting.
I’ve spent a very enjoyable part of the morning chatting with Valeria Dunn, the current chair of the Sports Club, the umbrella organisation that keeps the Football Club, the Tennis Club, the Netball Club and the Allen Valley Striders, under its wing. The tennis and netball enthusiasts share the hard-standing surface of the tennis court area, for which Valeria was deeply involved in securing funding, along with the rest of the committee, while the Football Club takes care of no less than six smaller groupings, including: the Under 7s; the Under 8s; the Under 9s; the Under 10s; the Under 11s; the Under 15s. Although a senior team has not been fielded for a couple of years, the other groups are involved in match and league play, and have done very well. But then, the lovely and conveniently accessed setting must have something to do with the appreciation and participation of the club members.
Each of the four sustaining clubs has its own organisational structure, and also sends representatives to the Sports Club committee, so that the whole project is shared among the formal participants, as it were. Everyone in the whole community, though, is very welcome to attend the Annual General Meeting, which is usually advertised for October time.
Valeria tells me that in addition to membership fees, the Sports Club must garner some £2-3000 annually just to sustain the premises, and so fund-raising events (like last month’s Race Night at the King’s Head, or the earlier Quiz Evening held by the Netball Club) all play their part throughout the year. Joanne Clarke runs a volunteer café from the club house every match day, providing great hospitality to visiting teams, covers the costs of referees and any profits go towards an end of season treat for the kids. And the Sports Club always provide refreshments during the annual Lions Charity Auction at Allendale Village Hall, bringing more revenue in on the back of some hard work in the kitchen. Sponsorship could also be strengthened, but as Valeria says, with so many different calls on possible sponsors, by the delightful diversity of clubs and organisations in these valleys, it’s hard to ask for more. The major expense facing the Sports Club is the electricity bill.
The forward-thinking architects of the Pavilion, of course, had the good sense to install ground-source heating (laid out under the top football pitch), but that still requires electric pumps to operate. Passive skylights illuminate the showers and toilets, but the hot water boiler takes money too. Indeed, if it weren’t for volunteer effort, as in most premises throughout these valleys, the project could not sustain. So the Pavilion is in the process of interior re-decoration, over this fortnight, which will bring the facility back into good order once again. When love motivates a project, questions of sustainability take a back seat, really.
And it’s the same way for the grounds maintenance: Stewart Docchar and Ian Dunn take turns on mowing duties, and Stewart organises the line marking with fellow volunteers John Martin and Dan Clarke.
When professional maintenance is required (as, for example, the renovation of the tennis court surface, which is a five-yearly job), then special grant funding and charitable support must be secured, but fortunately this funding is in hand for the current iteration. Mostly, to be honest, the Sports Club does depend on volunteers to keep things humming along.
Folks often wonder how the Tennis Club and Courts are accessed. Valeria tells me that the club is private, with annual members fees of £60 for adults, £30 for juniors, but that there are often Open Days during the summer for casual participants to enjoy pay-for-play sessions. As a private club, the job of monitoring against vandalism, of course, is that much easier. The large and comprehensive website of the Allendale Sports Club is a great window to participation in any of the activities offered by the sustaining member clubs. You might think, perhaps, that activities like the Netball Club would have to cease during the harsher winter months, but not a bit of it — the community-run Sports Hall on the Primary School premises hosts the Club during these inclement times, so that exercise can truly be a year-long pursuit.
Indeed, the cooperation between many of the sports facilities in the area could be a diary entry all on its own, mirroring the shared enthusiasm we can see reflected in the Sports Pavilion maintenance.
And then there’s the private hire sessions which bring in much-needed revenue as well. The weekly yoga enjoys the tranquility of the setting, for example, while the isolated country-side feel of the grounds mean that the premises are ideal for children’s parties. Valeria tells me that the Derwentside Cycling Club hold a yearly rally for their members centred around the Pavilion, which is an important cash resource for the Sports Club.
Much as most long-term groups or organisations housed in physical premises would agree, as they reflect on their own sustainability, the Sports Club would not, could not sustain itself without the indefatigable perseverance and goodwill offered by its many volunteers. I asked Valeria why she thought folks should want to contribute this sort of selfless effort, because at every point in an organisation, it takes time and hard slog, patience and work. She laughed, and ventured that this sort of goodness is what keeps the whole place going — “It’s what people do, what makes us what we are — you know this very well Larry!” I had to chuckle, understanding, but it was a question I do like to ask in my little chats. And I might add, reflectively, that it’s also what moves the place forward for the next generation, as well.