Junior football is at a crisis point due to a shortage of usable facilities for much of the year. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Darwen, where demand outstrips supply, leaving hundreds of kids unable to play competitive football regularly.
This crisis has not occurred suddenly. As far back as 2002 Blackburn with Darwen council cited poor playing surfaces and un-met demand for playing fields which was still apparent in the councils playing pitch strategy published in 2014 and viewable here.
This document says;
'The greatest pressures currently occur on junior pitches – caused by both high demand and quality issues limiting pitch capacity. There is no spare capacity overall (overplay is greater than unused capacity)'
This, 12 years after the 2002 assessment which identified the excess demand and committed to 'endeavour to provide funds to ensure high quality public facilities'. Clearly, financial constraints in local government have made this provision very difficult.
In Lower Darwen there is a field that has historically been used for amateur and junior football - Branch Road. If you have played for Darwen Rangers, Darwen United, Lower Chapel Olympic, Oggy Hotspurs, Belgrave Mills or any one of a host of other local clubs, you may well have played on the Branch Road pitch.
The Branch Road pitch is part of Lower Darwen Recreation Area which is owned and administered by Trinity United Reformed Church for the benefit of the local community. The recreation ground has been used for organised sport since 1876, when Tennis and Bowls were started - followed quickly by football and cricket.
The area is also very popular with dog walkers and there are parts of the ground that are undeveloped woodland used for children's outdoor activities, guided walks, toasting marshmallows.
Around 30% of the Recreation Area is currently unused due to the poor drainage of the pitch. The immediate surrounds of this unused area are deteriorating and the former changing room building has been a focus of antisocial behaviour for some time --- all due to the lack of regular use of the pitch.
Time for Action
It's time to act as a community.
We are going to regenerate the pitch and surrounding areas for the benefit of the youth of Darwen, young footballers throughout East Lancashire and the community of Lower Darwen. We are going to need lots of help as the site it currently in a bad state and needs some serious attention.
The ideal outcome is that we raise enough funds to renew the surface by removing the top 6 inches and reseeding. We also need to install some drainage and prepare part of the ground for a pavilion.
The field will allow us to mark out 3 new junior football pitches, providing capacity for 6 new under 12 teams to play and train.