By kind permission of the club, our friends at Along Come Norwich and Stewart Lewis of MFW spoke to club director Tom Smith at the former Anglian Windows Sports & Social Club, now acquired by the Community Sports Foundation. Today’s piece focuses on CSF and that project; a further article will cover Stewart’s conversation with Tom on other City matters.
As you do on a Friday afternoon, I’m standing with Tom Smith in grass and weeds up to our knees.
It’s the same as far as we can see in front of us. Behind us is a long-abandoned and overgrown clubhouse. It’s all neglected, disused and derelict.
But not for long.
With a fair wind, by next summer the wasteland stretching out in front of us will be nine football pitches, giving kids an otherwise impossible chance to play, be coached, develop their skills, grow as people, and have fun.
The whole site, opposite Norwich Airport, has been acquired by the Community Sports Foundation. Funding is in place for Phase 1 – the pitches, staff and renovation of the clubhouse. Phase 2 – the building of a top-grade sports facility – will need much more planning and fund-raising, but it’s part of the vision.
If you spend time around Carrow Road it’s hard not to be aware of CSF, but until recently I had little idea of what it already does, let alone its future plans.
Here’s the thing. We like to think of ourselves and our club as the best in the nation. In most respects that’s hard to quantify, and sometimes we know in our hearts that we’re good but probably not the best. In the case of the Community Sports Foundation, though, we’re demonstrably one of the top dogs – and about to get even better.
CSF already reaches and works with 38,000 people a year – boys and girls, able-bodied and disabled, talented and just keen, from every background. It helps develop them as players, people and citizens. In this regard we’re ahead of Man United, and almost every other club in the country.
The new development – appropriately called The Nest – will add another 10,000 to the total.
How does this relate to the football club? Tom Smith, Trustee of CSF as well as a Board Director of Norwich City, is clear:
“The Foundation is an independent charity. It takes no money out of Norwich City, but it’s part-and-parcel of the broader football club – the two can’t exist without each other. The football club inspires people; it generates identity, a sense of belonging, passion. With the Foundation we take that passion and unlock it, use it to try and make people’s lives better by inspiring them to be more active, take part in sports, get involved in the physical and mental health programmes we run.”
CSF currently employs 80 staff, with more to be added as the new site comes into operation. As with many charities, the energy of the staff is an inspiration in itself. Having also met Jackie Thornton, the Foundation’s Head of Development, it’s hard to disagree with Tom’s view:
“Anyone who connects with CSF feels that passion in the people here. I’m completely enthused by the work they do. If other people saw it, they’d see what being a community club means to us, and understand how good we are at it.”
Remarkably, helping 38,000 people a year doesn’t meet the potential demand for the Foundation’s services – hence the importance of The Nest. It will enable CSF to upgrade and expand its programmes. Tom Smith explains:
“With our sports programmes we have to hire a lot of facilities all around the county. We’re hiring all the facilities that exist around Norfolk. We need somewhere to expand, to reach more people – and in particular to reach people in this part of Norfolk where that provision is urgently required.
“What we hope this will be is a landmark charity sports facility – one that’s operated by the Foundation, owned by the Foundation and is self-sustaining.
“It will allow us to reach more people, to keep growing. Fundamentally, we just want to help more people.”
This is all very well, I ask, but can it be an irrelevance to – or worse, a distraction from – the success on the field that most City fans crave above all? Tom is emphatic:
“It’s the opposite – the football side and the Foundation are completely reliant on each other. The football side has to focus on winning games. We want to be the most successful footballing side we can be; we absolutely have to try and reach the pinnacle of our sport if we can. But we also want the club to be more than just that. We generate all this energy and passion – you’d be mad not to use that, if you can, to do good things in your community.
“It works the other way as well. If people feel the club is investing – and invested – in its community, they’re more likely to come and invest in the football club too.”
Confession time: this article is not quite what I originally envisaged. I spoke to Tom about a number of other Norwich City topics as well, expecting that the Community Sports Foundation might not be enough for a whole article. But learning more about its work, seeing the new project and hearing Tom’s passion for it won me over; it persuaded me to hold other things over to another day and devote today’s column to CSF.
Hope I’ve managed to convey why.