It’s a goal! Stadia as hubs for regeneration and social inclusion

Bury, a market town on the edge of Greater Manchester. Famous for its black puddings, a former Prime Minister and an Oscar-winning filmmaker, on the face of it, should have a lot to shout about.

Yet the mood is bleak. Its football club, Bury FC has died aged 135. The demise of the ‘Shakers’ as they were known has left the whole town shaken. Expelled from the English Football League due to a tsunami of financial calamities, this is not just the story of the loss of a team. When a football club dies, a part of a town dies with it.

The immediate effects were the loss of 135 jobs; nearby pubs struggling to make ends meet; the supply chain that didn’t get paid; not to mention the loss of an important part of Bury’s cultural identity.

It’s a lost opportunity too. Malcolm McClean and Andrew (now Lord) Mawson were commissioned by the Football Association as far back as 2003 to look at how clubs could become more sustainable by being about more than just football. The toolkit they produced, Sweating the Asset set out an ambitious agenda for clubs to open up their stadia so that they could be used 365 days a year, rather than once a fortnight.

‘It remains a really good idea’ say’s McClean ‘And is perhaps even more relevant now. What has happened since Sweating the Asset is that an enlightened few have really seen the possibilities for stadia to become hubs for sport; culture; health; education; enterprise and community. Others have taken on the label of “community” in a transactional way to sell more stuff; whilst some use it purely as a PR stunt.’

He added: ‘We have to see stadia as engines for regeneration and social inclusion by being more imaginative about what can happen there. So often, everybody waits for the clubs to do something, but we need local authorities, entrepreneurs, health professionals and communities to be more proactive if we are to avoid more situations like Bury.’

Ironically McClean developed the blueprint for this idea with a design for a multi-use hub at Macclesfield Town which had the backing of the Government Office for the North West. He say’s ‘I still have the plans and the drawings for a scheme that could have made the club more sustainable and built a fantastic community asset, yet today the club is on the brink of extinction.’

With Bolton Wanderers narrowly avoiding the same fate as Bury and rumours circulating about the perilous position of other clubs, there is an urgent need for a multi-disciplinary approach to using stadia in a way that adds social and economic value to towns and cities 365 days a year.

McClean is the originator of the It’s A Goal! Conference which aims to provide ideas, inspiration and to be the catalyst for more creative approaches to the use of stadia. He says: ‘The first time I held this event, Brentford FC met with architects AFL and that was the genesis of the new Brentford Stadium due to open next season. I want more of these connections to happen and for partners to become ever more creative.’

Lord Andrew Mawson will be the keynote speaker at the event. As well as being one of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs and an expert on how to build thriving entrepreneurial communities, he was a member of the Olympic Stadium Legacy Board.

The conference It’s a Goal! How to unlock the potential of stadia for regeneration and social inclusion by creating hubs for culture; sport; enterprise; education and community is at the Hotel Football, Old Trafford, Manchester on the 21st April 2020.

Thomas Barrett
Senior journalist - NewStart Follow him on Twitter


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