A good start to discussing the stadium’s future

_MG_5865b

The entrance gates to the Mem, showing some of the Scots pines.

A recent frank and promising meeting of Bristol Rovers FC directors with a group of local residents, bodes well for further dialogue between the club and its neighbours. The meeting was arranged by Friends of the Memorial Ground (FOMG), to discuss the intention of Dwane Sports Ltd, who are the owners of Bristol Rovers, to rebuild the Memorial Stadium.

The two key ‘take-aways’ were that:

  • Dwane Sports are considering building a new stadium with a capacity of about 17,000 to 20,000 (which is 5,000-8,000 more than the current capacity)
  • the new stadium would be self-funded.

We discussed revenue stream ideas to complement the football-related business, such as a gym, a school, a medical centre, conference/wedding reception rooms, etc – facilities available to all and not only on match days. FOMG would support a community stadium, which is really beneficial to the neighbourhood, and is fitting, given the war memorial status of the sport ground and its residential setting. Rovers are seeking further suggestions from the community and fans, such as IT/office hubs, a micro-brewery/bakery, etc.

In a spirit of co-operation and a shared interest in a sustainable/successful future for the stadium, FOMG emphasised that a wide range of creative solutions to match day traffic and parking would be necessary. The club recognises that research into fans’ travel patterns was needed. Rovers are putting up bicycle stands. We discussed other options, including providing incentives to fans to cycle or walk to matches, shuttle buses to Kingswood, Easton, Temple Meads, etc, a deal with local bus companies, pooling resources and solutions with the Bristol County Ground (Gloucestershire County Cricket Club), park & ride, park & stride, car sharing, and the setting up of a match-day-only residents parking zone.

The Memorial Ground is to be rededicated to commemorate Bristol rugby players killed in wars since 1945. Bristol Rugby Former Players are applying for funding to professionally restore the listed entrance gates. FOMG and Rovers are to explore the possibility of re-planting the Scots pines around the ground’s perimeter, where these are now missing.

We understand that the football club is keen to make more of its unique sporting heritage, and its historical ground, which will celebrate its centenary in four years time. As the stadium redevelopment plans evolve, further dialogue between the club and local residents – and a thorough community consultation – are envisaged. The Bishopston Society has kindly offered to facilitate this.

Advertisements

The Mem saved for sport?

IMG_1166blog

Friends of the Memorial Ground (FOMG) broadly welcome the recent proposal to rebuild Bristol’s famous sports ground. The stated aim is to improve facilities for players and fans, ‘creating a stadium that’s very cosy, where fans can create a good atmosphere’.  It is heartening that a revitalisation of this very special war memorial sports ground will herald its centenary in 2021, granting a new lease of sporting life for the coming decades.

The Memorial Stadium is embedded in the local community: around it are people’s homes and gardens; nearby pubs, cafes and food outlets sustain visiting football fans. The sports ground gives character and historical significance to the residential area. Dwane Sports Limited now have the opportunity to enhance the site’s huge potential, and its Bristol Rugby heritage, and make it Rovers’ own – for football.

Previous redevelopment proposals have foundered for not respecting the war memorial status of the site and ignoring the valid concerns of local people. Avoiding these mistakes is possible through genuine consultation with neighbours and nearby residents, as well as with Rovers fans, community groups (including The Bishopston Society), local councillors, and the council. What a “fitting and proportionate” redevelopment would be, is a moot point. How far is the site suitable for a large capacity stadium along with non-sport income generating businesses? Also on the agenda: consideration of creative solutions to match day transport and parking issues. Constructive dialogue will help bring about a successful planning application.

Bristol Rugby Former Players and FOMG would support landscaping improvements around the listed entrance gates and their professional restoration. Dwane Sports Limited, being the owners of the gates, could apply for a grant for this work (http://www.warmemorials.org/grants/). The revamped sport ground could once again proudly be Bristol’s great war memorial, actively honouring the war dead through sport, as intended by its founders.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/40926747

Founders’ farsightedness

Remembrance Day Service in the Centre, Bristol, before the Centaph was built, 1920s.

Remembrance Day Service in the Centre, Bristol, before the Centaph was built, 1920s.

At this time of year, we remember those who lost their lives in war. Over three hundred Bristol rugby players who died in both world wars are honoured every time sport is played at the Memorial Stadium.

What makes the Mem exceptional is the founders’ farsightedness in creating a legacy with lasting benefit to the community. Bristolians paid for a facility to develop young sporting talent.

The Lord Mayor of Bristol, G.B. Britton, spoke of this notion at the opening ceremony in 1921: “the desire to make this a memorial ground, and in no narrow sense. The noble record of our city in the late war has not been commemorated in any more fitting way every school boy, every young fellow in our midst, may justly look forward to representing his school, club, combination, town or county in the representative games it is hoped to be play here as the years go by.” (1)

When Bristol Rovers FC move to their new stadium and the Memorial Stadium is sold, we could lose a dynamic sporting form of remembrance. If spectator team sport at the Mem has to go, we should seize the opportunity to renew or reinvent the way ‘remembering’ is played out through sport at the ground.

The Covenant on the land stipulates that it is for sport or recreation, forever, as a memorial to the fallen rugby players. Thinking big – could the Memorial Ground become the national rugby war memorial? Thinking local – could it also be a sport and recreation green space for land-starved local schools and the community?

The Memorial Ground has been a vital part of the local and national sport scene for nearly a hundred years. The whole site is a war memorial and its entrance gates are listed by Historic England. The Mem is also on the Local List and is an Asset of Community Value. Whoever “owns” the Memorial Ground is the custodian of Bristol’s largest war memorial, a heritage asset and a famous sport venue. In the future, the war memorial sports ground must continue to actively respect and honour the war dead – and continue to be a space where sport and recreation are enjoyed by the living.

(1) Opening of the Bristol Rugby Memorial Ground, 24th September 1921 booklet (BRO ref: 41582/IM/PM/4/1) – see full text in the IMAGES section.

Memorial Stadium now on the Local List

Hanging a wreath on the gates of the Memorial Ground, Armistice Day, 1930s.

Hanging a wreath on the gates of the Memorial Ground, Armistice Day, 1930s.

Update and summary of current status

How does local listing protect the Memorial Ground?

The Local List “provides the opportunity to identify those features of the local scene that are particularly valued by communities as distinctive elements of the local historic environment.” (Bristol City Council).

“Locally listed buildings do not enjoy the levels of statutory protection afforded to nationally-listed buildings. However, local listing means that the interest of the building will be at least considered during the planning process. The effect of an application on a non-designated heritage asset is a material consideration when deciding planning applications, and local listing strengthens the case for retention of a historic building” (Chris Costelloe, Director of Victorian Society).

Hoping for a fitting future for the Memorial Ground

Thousands of local football fans, rugby fans, and other Bristolians, respect the war dead and would not dream of destroying a war memorial. But the custodian owners of the Memorial Stadium, apparently and as far as we know, still have plans to destroy it.

An unsuitable plan for the Mem would be a serious blunder because of the strength of local feeling about respecting the war dead, and about preserving their memorial for the benefit of today’s and future generations. Also, because the famous sports ground is a war memorial; because Historic England have designated the gates; because Bristol City Council have listed the Memorial Stadium as an Asset of Community Value and because the council do recognise its heritage value, and have added this war memorial sports ground to its Local List.

What does all this amount to?

Given the circumstances in which this famous sports ground was founded as a war memorial and the council’s decision to hold the centenary commemoration of the Battle of the Somme Remembrance Sunday event at the Memorial Ground, it remains to be seen if the ground’s owners will appreciate its true value, a value which reaches far beyond the simple price of land. Will they respect the Mem’s heritage and community value to Bristol, will they indeed respect the war dead – or not? Local listing etc recognises this.

Put bluntly: a war memorial is a war memorial.  The custodian owners need to show that they appreciate the ‘true’ value of the Memorial Ground.

It cannot be said enough: Bristol’s Memorial Ground happens to be one of the most poignant and effective war memorials in the country.

Friends of the Memorial Ground

Western Daily Press, 11 March 1920

Western Daily Press, 11 March 1920

A new community group has been set up to ensure a fitting future for the Memorial Ground (Memorial Stadium). At the Friends of the Memorial Ground (FOMG) meeting on 18th July, the group’s Constitution was approved, officers were elected, and we discussed future activities.

The aims of Friends of the Memorial Ground (FOMG) are:

  • To inform the wider public about the founding purpose of the Memorial Ground as a place of remembrance for the more than three hundred Bristol rugby players killed in the 1914-1918 war.
  • To ensure a future for the Mem in keeping with the founding intentions: i.e. that the land be “used for football or other athletic sport or recreation.”
  • To work with other local, and national, organisations to preserve and develop the Memorial Ground as a place for remembrance, and as a place for sport and recreation.
  • To promote the value which the Memorial Ground holds for the Bristol community, its culture, heritage, economy, and well-being.

FOMG would like to liaise with the owners of the Memorial Ground, with a view to securing a future for the sports ground which respects what it is: Bristol’s largest – most significant and most effective – war memorial. Sadly it seems that the implications of the sentence above are yet again being overlooked by its owners; and the site is talked about in terms of real estate, as a brown field development site. The famous war memorial sports ground is run down and its community worth, history, significance and status misunderstood, and even ignored.

This year Bristol’s high profile Remembrance Sunday civic event will be held at the Memorial Ground on 13th November.  This event is in addition to the Bristol Rugby Club and Bristol Rovers Football Club remembrance ceremony held every year on Armistice Day (11th November) at the entrance gates. FOMG plan to have some sort of display about the Memorial Ground’s history nearby, if this can be allowed.

In 2017, Bristol will be the UK’s European City of Sport and the city’s foremost war memorial sports ground is likely to play an active part in this.

FOMG support the plan to build a new stadium for BRFC at UWE.

FOMG have been informed that a recent application to nominate the whole 3.3 hectare site to the Local List has been successful, and we are awaiting formal confirmation of this. This is encouraging news from Bristol City Council, who have already declared the sports stadium an Asset of Community Value.

Membership of FOMG costs £5 a year. For enquiries, or to obtain a membership application form, please email FriendsoftheMemorialGround@gmail.com.

The Memorial Ground Survey

In early May, the Chairman of Bristol Rovers FC said about the Memorial Ground: “We have a team of specialist property people working on behalf of the club. What happens to it (the Memorial Stadium) is part of the bigger picture… Let’s wait and see”

(Source: Bristol Rovers finally pull plug on Sainsbury’s legal battle which cost club £1.5 million Bristol Post, 5 May 2016)

Well it’s now 6th July and the wait continues, with not much to see.

Meanwhile, The Bishopston Society has produced an online survey, asking how the community (and Bristol) might benefit from the Memorial Ground, which has been listed by Bristol City Council as an ‘Asset of Community Value’.  Please do contribute your ideas. The land was donated to trustees of the Bristol Rugby Club by a local benefactor – and Bristolians paid for the construction works. The Memorial Ground was (and could continue to be) the pride of Bristol.

The Jordanian banking family who now own Bristol Rovers FC and the Memorial Ground, are rightly determined to build a new stadium for the club at UWE. The owners are fabulously wealthy, so the justification for an enabling scheme (selling the Memorial Ground to pay for the new stadium) to help out the previously “cash-strapped” football club, no longer applies. This enabling scheme had been persuasively advanced by Steve Comer, a declared Bristol Rovers shareholder and councillor sitting in the 2013 planning committee. This compromised committee was influenced to give permission for the supermarket redevelopment – a bad idea now well understood to have been a big mistake.

Wael Al Qadi has a duty as the custodian of a war memorial and a sport heritage site. It is hoped that he has a sense of pride in the place and that he will manage it sympathetically. The war memorial is not brown field development land. The new owners need to ‘get’ this.

The following facts should be bourn in mind by the custodians of the war memorial sports ground:

  • The purpose and function of the land is as a place of remembrance for Bristol rugby players killed in both world wars, including three hundred in the First World War.
  • The sportsmen are remembered through sport.
  • The sports ground war memorial was intended to inspire Bristolians for ever.
  • The Covenant on the land, restricts its use to sport or recreation.

Bristol Rovers team and manager are to be congratulated on a tremendous season, winning promotion to League One in a thrilling way, in the last minutes of the last game. Wael Al Qadi has revitalised the club and saved it from bankruptcy.   We hope that he and Rovers can now work with the local community for the benefit of Rovers and of Bristol.

The Bishopston Society online survey is at:

http://www.bishopstonsociety.org.uk/news/other-news/833-memorial-ground-survey

 

 

Welcome Wael

Welcome Wael

May I express a warm welcome to Wael Al-Qadi. His acquisition of Bristol Rovers FC promises an exciting era for the revitalised club. There is a great buzz of optimism and hope among Gasheads – and also among those who care for the Memorial Ground. I hope that a new stadium can be built for Rovers. However, I would like to know if the creation of a new stadium is dependent on destroying the Memorial Ground, as previously planned? Does the new owner intend to preserve the Mem as a war memorial sports ground?

It is encouraging that the Rovers’ President has said many sensible things since the takeover. “I want this club to be part of the community, to serve the community. I want fans to be proud of their club” (BBC interview, 19 February 2016). These wise words bode well for future relations with the club’s near neighbours and with the wider Bristol community.

Wael Al-Qadi is now the custodian of a famous sporting heritage asset. The Memorial Ground is the city’s largest war memorial – and, in many ways, most effective and poignant. The brilliant idea of a dynamic war memorial, marrying sporting culture with remembrance, is relevant to this day and offers huge potential for its future development. Many people in the local community are as proud and protective/supportive of this special place, as Gasheads are for their club. Plans are in place for Bristol’s 2016 Remembrance Day Ceremony to be held at the ground, in the year of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, during which so many soldier sportsmen were killed.

A large number of sport fans and Bristolians hope that the Memorial Ground will carry on being a major team sport venue for Bristol, as intended by its founders almost a hundred years ago. In November, Bristol City Council listed the ground as an ‘Asset of Community Value’ in recognition of its “current use as a local sporting, cultural and recreational interest community stadium”. The application was submitted by The Bishopston Society. The entrance gates to this memorial ground are grade II listed. The principal reasons for the Historic England designation were… “Historical: as a poignant reminder of the tragic impact of world events upon this small community. Context: the gate piers are intact and retain their context as the entranceway to the Memorial Stadium”.

I should emphasise that any proposed re-development of the site should:
1) respect the war memorial status of the site
2) be appropriate to its residential setting and
3) conform to the Restrictive Covenant on the land which states that it must be used for sport or recreation, in perpetuity.

This war memorial sports field has inspired thousands of people during the past century. In the event that a new stadium for Bristol Rovers is built on the city’s outskirts, might not the Memorial Ground be used as a training ground? Or, in the spirit of its founders, developed for participatory sport to bring on new talent and help underpin the health and well-being of the city’s population? I sincerely hope that this inspirational and very special sports ground has a sporting future.

 

Bristol Rovers’ Arab spring (Bristol 24/7, 19 February 2016)

http://www.bristol247.com/channel/sport/football/bristol-rovers/bristol-rovers-arab-spring