A recent inspection of the New Croft in Haverhill has resulted in it receiving a rating rivalled by literally just a handful of other such community facilities in England.
Since it opened in August 2010 thanks to funding from the Football Foundation, Football Stadia Improvement Fund and St Edmundsbury Council, the New Croft has grown to become a vibrant community hub with far more going on than just football related activities.
To assess how things are going at the Chalkstone Way amenity - which is overseen by the Haverhill Community Sports Association (HSCA) - the Football Foundation (FF) and Suffolk FA carried out a project audit and their findings make impressive reading.
When assessed, each site is given a total sustainability score of between 8 and 32 and the New Croft got a score of 30.
Each facility also receives a final score ranging from 0, which indicates it is ‘failing’ and requires ‘immediate attention’, to five, which is an ‘excellent example of best practice.’
The New Croft was given a rating of five and received particular praise for the growth of participation on site, the management of the site, the independent chairman (of the HCSA board) and for its very good condition.
The significance of the high rating was put into context by Nathan French, the Suffolk FA County Development Manager.
He said: “There’s not many sites in the country that boast the sort of facilities you have in Haverhill so you are very fortunate to have them.
“It’s a high mark. They don’t just dish them out to anyone.
“I’ve not got any experience of anyone getting top marks so it’s a credit to everyone for the great work that everyone puts in.
“It’s a real community hub. Whenever I’m down there it’s a real hive of activity. It’s not just football going on down there though and it’s a credit to all the other people, all the volunteers involved that are driving all the development forward.”
The FF and Suffolk FA’s monitoring report has come as a great source of satisfaction to Peter Betts, the New Croft’s facility manager and football development officer.
He said: “We’ve been told (by the FF) we are in a very small handful from across the country to get a five.”
It is also worth bearing in mind that the inspection was completed before the New Croft’s new floodlit 3G stadium was opened in early September - a facility that now attracts between 900 to 1,100 users every week.
“We’ve been driven to be successful. We’ve done things very quietly here and we have not been shouting about it,” added Mr Betts.
“Myself and other staff have been across the country looking at other facilities, looking at totally different facilities and looking at what works for them and looking to see what we can improve.”
Football is an integral part of the New Croft’s activities, but so much more goes on there, as Mr Betts emphasised.
“Last Sunday I was here at 6am getting the bar area ready for a training event because Stephenson’s Bus Company had their work training day from 7am to 4pm and they are the sort of things that are going on that people are not aware of.”
The building’s committee room is hired out regularly by various organisations, Jo Jingles, a children’s music, song and movement group, uses the function room every Monday.
Slimming World holds meetings at the New Croft all day on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and on Thursday mornings, Creation Station hires a separate room once a week in blocks of a month, there is a Mini Movers class each Friday morning, Zumba every Thursday evening, a dance class on Saturday mornings and loads of various private functions, such as wedding receptions, christening parties and wakes, are held at weekends at the New Croft.
There are 42 Haverhill Rovers teams and three Haverhill Borough teams currently using the New Croft (both the turf and 3G pitches), Thurlow, Kedington and West Wratting FC first teams train on the 3G, while the 3G is hired on Wednesday evenings by Soccer Sixes, on Monday evenings by Champion Soccer and other nights by social and work groups.
Player development centres are run at the site for boys and girls aged five to 11 on Thursday and Friday evenings and over the last Christmas period 400 children attended football festivals there.
On February 3, walking football will be launched, meaning footballers aged from three to 75 will be catered for at the New Croft.
Numerous FA coaching courses are held on site, including safeguarding children and health & safety, not to mention refereeing courses.
On March 12 the New Croft will host 18 Suffolk FA youth competition cup semi-finals in one day - a first such arrangement for both the county FA and the facility - heralding a new era for The New Croft.
The significance of this landmark occasion was outlined by Mr French, who said: “Haverhill is not a central point for the county but because the facilities are so good, you want players playing at the best facilities possible and at Haverhill they have that.”