An asset of community value

30 April 2014The Memorial Stadium has been declared an Asset of Community Value (ACV) by Bristol City Council. ACV status means that if the Memorial Stadium comes up for sale, a group of residents, or a group of Bristol Rovers FC fans, or another group with a sympathetic plan, would have a brief opportunity to purchase the site, and to ensure that sport can carry on being played there.

The ACV application was submitted by The Bishopston Society, thanks to the Localism Act (2011) – see

Why The Bishopston Society believes that the Memorial Ground is an asset of community value

Research by the New Economics Foundation (Stephen Spratt) has shown just how important football clubs – and their stadiums – are to their local community.  The stadium itself is the place that holds the memories of the fans and the team, often over many years.  It becomes a home from home, a place which fosters and is integral to community cohesion, identity and confidence.  Eric Pickles who as former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government introduced the Localism Act, has expressed this sentiment well: “Football stadiums are not only the heart and soul of every team, they are rooted in and loved by the neighbourhoods that surround them.”  The Memorial Stadium is just such a stadium.  Preserving and enhancing such well-established community assets, helps to strengthen and sustain strong communities.

The Memorial Stadium (or Memorial Ground) has long been a very special local and city asset, inspiring the city’s youth to take up sport and to lead healthy lives for almost a century.  The Memorial Stadium is used by Bristol Rovers FC, one of Bristol’s two professional football clubs, and is a venue for League level football matches.  Spectator sport is part of the entertainment industry, and football fans further support the local economy, especially food and drink businesses.  Cherished sporting memories of the ‘Mem’ stadium are renewed every season, and woven into the social fabric of the city.

This site has been of value to and used by the community for at least 125 years.  In the nineteenth century the site was used as a public showground, as well as for sports and games.  The showground was named “Buffalo Bill’s Field”, after Colonel William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, whose Wild West Show had captured Bristol’s imagination when it was performed there in 1891.  Buffalo Bill’s Field continued to be a public showground, used for flying loop-the-loop air displays, various sports, etc., until the First World War.  During the war, the community benefitted from the allotments created on the land.

Buffalo Bill’s Field was donated for the purpose of creating a stadium for the Bristol Rugby Club, as a tribute to the 300 rugby players killed in the war, and for the expressed long term benefit of the Bristol community.

Immediately after the war, Bristolians had responded to an appeal to fund the construction works and to equip the sports ground, generously paying thousands of pounds for the city’s first substantial war memorial in the belief that “No better way could be found of paying a lasting tribute to the players who played the game right to the end.”

In the interwar years, the Memorial Ground was used for rugby, football, archery, running and athletics.  National and international matches have been held here.  The sports ground became famous and much loved, the home and soul of Bristol rugby.  Bristol Rugby Club shared the playing fields with the Combination Clubs and with schools clubs.  Other community events included popular carnivals, and childrens’ sport and games for the 1935 Silver Jubilee.

Rededicated after the Second World War, the war memorial sports ground continued to be of great value to the community, hosting events such as Bristol Constabulary inspections, the St Peter’s Hospice annual sponsored ‘Stadium Dash’, presentation evenings for local youth AFC football clubs and the rugby varsity between the city’s two universities.  An annual Armistice Day service is held here every November.  Since 1996, Bristol Rovers Football Club have also played at the ground.

This long history of local clubs playing spectator sport at The Mem has created a distinct local atmosphere to the area.  The roar of the stadium crowd can be heard across Horfield and Bishopston, as far as St Andrews Park and Lockleaze.  Elderly residents whose parents contributed to the fundraising effort have spoken of how they take comfort in this ‘sound of Horfield’.  Sports fans from all over the city visit the locality, many choosing to walk the length of Gloucester Road high street to enjoy the bars and eateries, to the commercial benefit of the community with its many independent shops and businesses.

The Memorial Stadium is the city’s largest – and arguably most effective – war memorial.  Whenever the ground is named and at matches every week, thousands partake in commemoration.  The brilliant idea of a living, dynamic war memorial, marrying sporting culture with remembrance, is not an obsolete one.  On the contrary, it has strong contemporary relevance, offering huge potential for its future development.  The inscription on the stadium’s listed gates bears witness to the Mem’s local historical importance and to the whole ground’s status as a memorial to the dead of both world wars.

The Covenant on the land, explicitly states that it should be used for sport or recreation, for the benefit of the community, in perpetuity.  It should be nurtured and protected, allowed to evolve and adapt to a changing world.  Sport in built up areas in England is special but declining, due to green spaces being sold off for housing.  A financially challenged football club must not be allowed to destroy the Memorial Ground, which should not suffer due to inappropriate decisions.  In the event that the custodians of the Memorial Ground no longer have a sporting use for it, consultation with the local and Bristol wide community should, as a first priority, explore other sporting and recreational uses.

The Memorial Ground is a world famous sport heritage asset, a gem in the heart of our community.  Its founders intended it to be a place for sport and recreation forever: a place of remembrance and an inspiration for future generations.  At this particular time, when we are all urged to play more sport to keep healthy, it is important to the community that at least part of this site is maintained for that purpose.  It has even been proposed that The Memorial Ground could become the national rugby war memorial, commemorating the sacrifice of all British rugby players, in all conflicts.  We want to make the Memorial Ground literally fit for purpose – and pass it on to future generations.


New direction


So, the house of cards collapses.  “Bristol Rovers’ hopes of moving to a new stadium were dashed as a high court judge ruled that Sainsbury’s were not duty bound to buy the Memorial Ground” (

The Memorial Ground is a special place. It was protected for decades by Bristol City Council and was included in the Local Plan L8 (now apparently superseded by DM5 – Protection of Community Facilities) as a “valuable asset” for being a sports ground. This policy was expressly developed “in recognition of the benefits – social, economic and environmental, of providing sporting areas to accommodate spectator sports within urban areas and thus easily accessible to large areas of the resident population”.  An exception to this policy was made under the condition that a new sports stadium would be created within the ‘locality’. (The Council then determined that the UWE stadium was sufficiently local).  The exception to L8 cannot be justified without this plan for a new ‘local’ stadium and so if the UWE stadium is not to proceed, policy L8 (or DM5) should now, once again, be protecting the Memorial Stadium.

TRASHorfield and I are not opposed to the building of a stadium at UWE; but we are opposed to the destruction of the Memorial Ground for the building of a supermarket.  A Sainsbury’s supermarket would cause traffic congestion, air pollution and noise pollution – and threaten the viability of local independent businesses.  With so much still uncertain about the site’s future, serious concerns remain about Bristol City Council’s permission for daily 19 hour heavy goods vehicle access to the site via residential roads.

Moreover and significantly, the Memorial Ground is a sport heritage site, laden with rugby and football memories – and nearly a hundred years old. It is a special and practical type of WW1 war memorial and should remain dedicated to sport and recreation, as was intended by its founders.  The “Mem” is not a brownfield site.  The Directors of Bristol Rovers have failed to grasp these simple facts – hence the strong objections to the prospect of a Sainsbury’s supermarket on the war memorial sport ground.

We would welcome a proper discussion about possible future uses of the site – a future which does not trample on local businesses, nor on the health of local people.  This famous sports ground could be modernised, in a fitting and proportional way, given its war memorial status and residential setting.

The Memorial Ground was built as a living tribute to three hundred rugby sportsmen soldiers who were killed in the First World War.  Whoever owns the site is the custodian of a heritage asset paid for by Bristolians and entrusted for sport or recreation forever.  It is Bristol’s largest, most poignant and most effective war memorial – it ensures frequent remembrance of the fallen sportsmen, by sport, played at a sports ground.

Sainsbury’s v Bristol Rovers

1946 map of the Memorial Ground and nearby housing

1946 map of the Memorial Ground and nearby housing

The recent case in the High Court before Mrs Justice Proudman – Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd v Bristol Rovers (1883) Ltd HC-2014-001796 – was an action brought by Sainsbury’s against Bristol Rovers, asking for a ruling on a contract between the two companies. Sainsbury’s are seeking a judgement confirming that they do not have to proceed with their contract with Bristol Rovers (1883) Ltd.

It is understood the judgement is be announced in the next few weeks, maybe before the end of June.

Whatever the outcome of the court case, any proposed redevelopment of this site must neither ignore its War Memorial status, nor ride roughshod over the wishes of the local population. The local council’s recent consultative Involvement in planning applications and the Local Plan – Statement of Community Involvement may bode well for future planning. The Memorial Ground is a sport heritage asset. It should remain a place for sport or recreation, as intended by its founders: a place of remembrance and an inspiration for future generations.

Involvement in planning applications and the Local Plan – Statement of Community Involvement

Source of map: Bristol City Council – Know Your Place

Bristol Rovers v Sainsbury’s

MG gates with wreaths - Nov 2012

Bristol Rovers v Sainsbury’s litigation is due to be heard at the Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London, starting on Thursday 14th May.

Brief details of claim

  • The Defendant has acted in breach of its contract with the Claimant of 28 March 2011.
  • It has unreasonably refused to appeal against the refusal of its application pursuant to section 73 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, in spite of the Claimant’s offer to fully fund the appeal and the Claimant’s procurement of a Noise Impact Assessment and an Opinion from leading counsel that an appeal would enjoy good prospects of success.
  • The Defendant has unreasonably refused to grant the Claimant consent to submit a fresh section 73 application, supported by the Noise Impact Assessment it has procured, in spite of the Claimant’s offer to fully fund such an application.
  • The Defendant has failed i) to use all reasonable endeavours to procure the grant of an Acceptable Store Planning Permission as soon as reasonably practicable, in breach of clause 2.8 of Schedule 1 to the contract, and ii) to act in good faith in relation to its obligations under the contract and to assist the Claimant in achieving an Acceptable Planning Permission, in breach of clause 31.1 of the contract.
  • As a result of the Defendant’s breach of contract, the Claimant has suffered and continues to suffer financial loss.

Some Rovers fans have speculated that a possible outcome of the hearing, might be that Rovers are awarded damages.  Indeed, a good result for the Memorial Ground would be sufficient compensation to pay off the club’s debts and for Rovers to invest in updating this famous war memorial sports ground.

However, due to multiple uncertainties (including Rovers’ fragile financial position), the Memorial Ground may still be threatened with redevelopment that would both stop sport and rob citizens of an exceptional war memorial.

Whoever owns the site is the custodian of a heritage asset paid for by Bristolians and entrusted for sport or recreation forever.  It is Bristol’s most poignant and effective war memorial – the fallen sportsmen are honoured every time sport is played there.

While the nation marks the centenary of the First World War, will the directors of Bristol Rovers, the mayor, city council, and others, take action to save this memorial site – or let it be destroyed?

Follow The Memorial Ground on twitter: @LWF1914

Kindest remembrances

BRO 41582/IM/HM/3The enigmatic messages on this 1933 Christmas card* from Bristol rugby stalwart Walter Pearce, include this: “A game, like a country, belongs to those who stand by its laws and what they really mean.”

Sadly, there is no law against desecrating Bristol’s most moving war memorial, but then who would have thought that such a law would be necessary?

  • The spirit of the law might be considered?
  • Dying for your country might be respected?
  • The notion of the military covenant might apply?
  • Do BRC and BRFC fan’s memories of a very special sporting venue count for nothing?
  • Is the heritage significance of a 93-year-old sports ground also of no interest?
  • Why are the wishes of locals ignored?
  • Anyway, isn’t a war memorial a war memorial – and not an unused brown field site?

Sainsbury’s claims it has values. Their values are not evident in their hypocritical plans to destroy a famous sports ground. Values and long-term financial success go hand in hand. Whither Sainsbury’s?

The Directors of Bristol Rovers possess a war memorial. They have responsibilities as the custodians of a heritage asset. When will they be responsible and respectful?

UWE are party to a blunder. Are they as guilty as their partners, of trampling on the memory of the fallen sportsmen soldiers (killed in war, often at about the same age as UWE students)?

Why did Bristol City Council – and others who should know better – not stop this nonsense? Destroying a war memorial is wrong. Simple really.

“You don’t know what you’ve got

Till it’s gone

They paved paradise

And put up a parking lot.”

Let’s celebrate and renew a great Bristol sports ground. And pass it on.

Cheers then, and Merry Christmas. Resolution for 2015: shop local, shop happy!


*Bristol Record Office reference: BRO 41582/IM/HM/3.

Memories of the Mem

Harris - BristolThe home and soul of Bristol Rugby is discussed by Mike Rafter, former Bristol Rugby player and captain, and England International, in a moving BBC recording (6 November 2014), entitled “Bristol Rovers FC, Bristol: Immortalising History.”

The World War One At Home piece includes Bristol Rugby Club fans saying: “A ground for the fans … a homely ground … with the crowd on the edge of the pitch … makes you feel part of everything … the most welcoming ground, the best atmosphere … everything that rugby should be … it’s a ground not a stadium.”

If you liked the above recording, you may like this short video: Ninety-Three Years At The Mem (6 June 2014). The strength of feeling for the war memorial sport ground can also be gauged by these Bristol Rugby fans’ memories.

See also In memory of sporting heroes lost (Bristol Post, 15 April 2014).

The Memorial Ground also features in Rovers fans’ memories, in this entertaining blog thread from the Bristol Rovers Independent Fans’ Forum: The Museum of Gas.

“To look backward for a while is to refresh the eye, to restore it, and to render it the more fit for its prime function of looking forward.” (Margaret Fairless Barber).

Why should some people, who should know better, get away with trampling on these memories?

The BBC pose this key question: if a supermarket, some houses and a memorial garden replace the famous sports ground, will the original reason for the Memorial Ground being built be lost?

Let’s support Mike Rafter: Let’s save, renovate and celebrate Bristol’s great sporting, heritage and community asset – and pass it on.

Sainsbury’s hypocrisy – a gold-mining disaster

Sainsbury’s lack of taste

Sainsbury’s saccharine Christmas truce advert is indeed a moving and cynical channelling of emotion and remembrance, towards buying groceries from a particular supermarket. It is slick, manipulative, artful film making – and also a tawdry, tasteless and inappropriate use of the sacrifices and memories of the First World War. It is commerce going where it oughtn’t – it is war profiteering, which touches a nerve, then as now. Do Sainsbury’s feel they can get away with it, because their partnership with The Royal British Legion makes them “bullet-proof to criticism”? (1) Using war and suffering in this way degrades society, as discussed on The Moral Maze (2). This much is subjective talk and opinion about part of Sainsbury’s Christmas sales campaign.

Sainsbury’s staggering hypocrisy

Meanwhile, the company have spent thousands of pounds and long planned to bulldoze Bristol’s war memorial sports ground. So Sainsbury’s is rightly accused of double standards, of duplicity, of ‘blatant’ hypocrisy. (3) Their advert about the Christmas truce football game helps to sell their groceries; while the memorial to Bristol’s rugby footballers is be destroyed by them. Every time the advert is shown we will remember how Sainsbury’s REALLY respect the fallen. If Sainsbury’s and their partners Bristol Rovers FC and UWE were to persist with their disrespectful demolition plans, further reputational damage is likely, every time the words Sainsbury’s or Bristol Rovers or UWE are mentioned.

Sainsbury’s sop – a “public square”

The article by Nicholas Hellen (4), published in The Sunday Times on 16 November, includes this: “Sainsbury’s said: ‘We absolutely refute we are operating double standards. We recognise that the site has historical importance, which is why our plans preserve the memorial stone and create a public square dedicated to the memory of former Bristol rugby players.’” (my italics).

This “public square” would be about 14 metres by 14 metres, less than the size of a tennis court!

Sainsbury’s architects’ plans call this public square a “plaza” or a Memorial Garden. The plaza would be a paved area around the metal gates (bearing the words BRISTOL RUGBY MEMORIAL GROUND along the top) and the inscribed gate pier (which Sainsbury’s call the ‘memorial stone’). The remaining approximately 3.3 hectares would be cleared of sports facilities, so that they can build their superstore on the site.


The tiny proposed Memorial Garden would be a pathetic token remnant, a sop – and a travesty. Building a shop on a war memorial is simply wrong. Sainsbury’s, and others, have also misunderstood the genius of the place. The essence and effectiveness of the war memorial sports ground is that it is a living sports ground. If this is how Sainsbury’s ‘recognise that the site has historical importance’, how I wonder would not recognising it look like?

Orange Wednesday

The Christmas truce advert can be regarded as a damage exacerbation exercise – and as much a blunder as the ongoing disrespectful plan by Sainsbury’s, Rovers and UWE to desecrate Bristol’s famous war memorial sports ground. The ad was first shown in the evening of Wednesday 12 November. Coincidentally, the same Wednesday as Sainsbury’s announced their Strategic Review – and the same Wednesday a planning application to extend delivery hours at the proposed store came to be decided upon by a Bristol City Council planning committee.

At this committee meeting, an outrage was perpetrated on the people of Bristol: Sainsbury’s were given permission to drive 44 ton delivery juggernauts down residential streets for 19 hours a day, every day. How did this nonsense happen? This tragicomical committee meeting, seemingly modelled on the court case in Alice in Wonderland, was grossly flawed. (See note 5) Nevertheless, the boards of Rovers and Sainsbury’s got what they wanted from a hapless council, which may now face various legal challenges. Oh, and a dire precedent was set for very long, sleep disturbing, supermarket delivery hours elsewhere in the city and country. Bravo Bristol.

Gold-mining disaster

The controversy has led to Sainsbury’s confirming their intention to build Sainsbury’s Horfield, which would be a gold-mine for them. Meanwhile, the company is apparently in a legal dispute with their partner Bristol Rovers FC over possible compensation should they fail to complete their contract with them. The restrictive covenant on the land has yet to be tested; in any case it may well reduce the value of land that can be used only for sport or recreation. Forget housing too – ‘housing’ has already had its slice of the asset, in the form of Trubshaw Close – nodded through on the understanding that this would save the remainder of the sports ground war memorial.

Goodnight Irene?

Many in Bristol now dream of a better future for the site than a bogus Memorial Supermarket or other unsuitable use – which would benefit property speculators on the board of Rovers FC, and their shareholders (6). A contrite Sainsbury’s might contribute substantially to the rebuilding of the Memorial Stadium. Government money is available for war memorial restoration. A public appeal could raise funds for a revamped stadium, echoing how the facilities were paid for back in the 1920s. The Memorial Ground could be used by Bristol Rovers FC – and/or as a community sport or recreation ground. Joined up thinking by the Mayor, during the obesity crisis, could promote an existing place of exercise and sport in a densely populated residential area. Local residents could be involved in a discussion, rather than being imposed upon, their concerns either ignored or dismissed as nimbyisms. Could we all not come up with something fitting and sporting and respectful for the Memorial Ground, for the playable city, for the European Green Capital 2015, and for the centenary years of the Great War?

For now, please sign the petition NO SAINSBURY’S ON BRISTOL WAR MEMORIAL

Notes and links

First note

Supermarket Christmas campaigns: This means war!


Second note

Sainsbury’s Christmas ad is a dangerous and disrespectful masterpiece


The Moral Limits of Advertising. Moral Maze, BBC Radio 4, 19 November 2014.


Sainsbury’s Christmas advert recreates first world war truce


How Sainsbury’s Ruined Christmas


Third note

Sainsbury’s branded ‘hypocritical’ over plans to demolish war memorial to build superstore while using WWI football truce story for Christmas advert


‘Hypocritical’ Sainsbury’s TV ad accused of exploiting emotions of WWI while supermarket plans to bulldoze war memorial in Bristol


People Are Mad At “Hypocritical” Sainsbury’s For Planning To Demolish A WWI Memorial Site


Fourth note

‘Hypocritical’ Sainsbury’s in plan to bulldoze war memorial stadium

Nicholas Hellen in The Sunday Times, 16 November 2014, page 4.


Fifth note

For more on the egregious failings of the Bristol City Council, please see the report at: Traders and Residents Against Sainsbury’s Horfield (TRASHorfield)


Sixth note

BRISTOL ROVERS BLOG: Frankie Prince’s Bovver Boots – The Great Conspiracy