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‘7-a-side pitch limits our use of this park’

Campaigners: A shame to lose last free full-sized pitch

05 May, 2017 — By Jane Clinton

Artist’s impression of the revamped Barnard Park

COUNCILLORS are expected to approve controversial changes to Barnard Park following a long-running battle with campaigners who say the loss of Islington’s only free 11-a-side football pitch will be a huge blow.

The plans will see the old pitch replaced by a 3G 7-a-side pitch which would offer a combination of paid-for, bookable slots, free slots and coaching sessions.

Campaigners argue that the changes do not take into account “the needs of a mixed community”. They want the old, neglected pitch refurbished, insisting that it could become a focal point for the community.

Stephen Griffith, director and senior youth worker at Copenhagen Youth Project, said: “If the pitch was brought up to standard it could become a hub for positive action in the community.

“Use of the pitch fell away as it wasn’t maintained and the floodlights failed. It is such a shame as this is the only free 11-a-side pitch in Islington left.”

Mr Griffith said that when the pitch was in a better condition it was “bustling with activity”.

“It could be that again,” he said. “Many estates in the area already have 7-a-side pitches so what is the point of reproducing what we have already got?

Stephen Griffith

“Even when the pitch was not being used for 11-a-side you could have more than one match going on. Now there will only be a 7-a-side so play will be limited.”

Another area to be fenced off in the park with a sports grade surface could be used for “informal sport”, it has been suggested.

It would also offer free and some paid-for bookable slots, but Mr Griffith argued that this is paying “lip service” to creating a sports area.

“When obesity is being discussed all the time, limiting the amount of space for sport just does not make sense,” he said.

He argued that the current plan was trying to limit football in the park and that the tone of debate was very much a case of “tennis versus football”.

“It does feel like there is an effort to limit some groups’ use of the park, but we live in a very mixed community and the facilities should reflect that.”

Mr Griffith and campaigners against the proposals hope to screen a film about the fate of the football pitch made by Ahmed Faid, 22, who works at Copenhagen Youth Project.

There will be screenings in community centres as Mr Griffith believes many residents did not have adequate “access” to the park consultation.

Dianne Browning, chair of the Friends of Barnard Park, is backing the 7-a-side pitch.

“Not every group is going to be happy but it is a very good compromise,” she said. “It will create a welcoming park for all users.”

The final decision on the park will be made by Islington’s planning committee on Tuesday.

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