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Hard work pays off as Frenford Youth Club opens new football stadium in Ilford

PUBLISHED: 15:00 18 August 2020

The opening of the new stadium at the Frenford Youth Club by Graham Sandy of the Frenford Youth Club and Trudy Kilcullen from the Jack Petchey Foundation. Picture: Ken Mears

The opening of the new stadium at the Frenford Youth Club by Graham Sandy of the Frenford Youth Club and Trudy Kilcullen from the Jack Petchey Foundation. Picture: Ken Mears

Ken Mears Photography

Frenford Youth Club opened its new football stadium in Ilford this week, with local figures out in force to celebrate the big day.

Young footballers celebrate the opening of the Jack Petchey stand at the Frenford Youth Club's new stadium. Picture: Ken MearsYoung footballers celebrate the opening of the Jack Petchey stand at the Frenford Youth Club's new stadium. Picture: Ken Mears

There were some days when club operations manager Irfan Shah didn’t know if this day would ever come; but after years of delays and stoppages, the new stadium is finally here.

The new multi-purpose pitch is suitable for all size football matches, as well as the club’s other activities.

At its heart, Irfan says the stadium is a community asset: “We are trying to team up with the youth engagement team within the police, with the hope of directly engaging with Redbridge’s young community.”

Speaking at the opening, foundation CEO Trudy Kilcullen said: “The foundation is proud to have supported Frenford Club since 2007 and the timing of this opening couldn’t be any better for young people to get back to playing sport for their mental health, fitness and motivation.”

Young footballers trying out the new 3G pitch at the new stadium. Picture: Ken MearsYoung footballers trying out the new 3G pitch at the new stadium. Picture: Ken Mears

Feeling reflective after the opening — also attended by Ilford South MP Sam Tarry and representatives from the Essex County FA — Irfan said: “It has been tough, but even in the hardest moments I could see a bright future with so many opportunities for our young people, which will bring the community together.”

He also wished to express his gratitude for every person and organisation that made this possible, inviting them all to come try out the new facilities.

Ahead of Monday’s opening, the Recorder caught up with Irfan to speak about the project.

It all began around four years ago when he sat down with the club’s part-time fundraiser Neal Akhtar to work out how they could get the project off the ground.

Young footballers training in new stadium at the Frenford Youth Club. Picture: Ken MearsYoung footballers training in new stadium at the Frenford Youth Club. Picture: Ken Mears

It was immediately clear that it would take a village.

The London Marathon Trust was the first to commit, pledging £150,000 in October 2016.

Next up was Garfield Weston and Burnard Sunley, who donated £25,000 each in March and June 2017 respectively.

With £200,000 secured, Irfan and Neal reached out to the Football Foundation.

One of the stands at Frenford Youth Club's new stadium is named after Sir Jack Petchey. Picture: Ken MearsOne of the stands at Frenford Youth Club's new stadium is named after Sir Jack Petchey. Picture: Ken Mears

The pair’s vision piqued the foundation’s interest, and it set them up with an independent consultant to help them write an official bid.

By September 2018, the foundation agreed to commit £695,214 worth of funding, subject to the youth club raising its own £100,000 contribution.

This effort consumed much of 2018, with the club eventually pledging money from its own reserves to do this.

As with most projects of this size, further problems followed. The projected costs rose to just under £1million, creating another funding shortfall.

Frenford Youth Club manager Irfan Shah, pictured second from right talking to Ilford South MP Sam Tarry on a tour of the new stadium. Also pictured are Trudy Kilcullen and Jane Evans from the Jack Petchey Foundation, alongside Craig Low from the Frenford Foundation. Picture: Ken MearsFrenford Youth Club manager Irfan Shah, pictured second from right talking to Ilford South MP Sam Tarry on a tour of the new stadium. Also pictured are Trudy Kilcullen and Jane Evans from the Jack Petchey Foundation, alongside Craig Low from the Frenford Foundation. Picture: Ken Mears

However, this would have to be resolved later because a very different — but equally important — problem had emerged.

The new stadium required a rotation of the football pitch that was already there. To do this, Irfan had to approach the nearby Cranbrook Primary School to ask for a section of its land in exchange for free access to the pitch.

Much to his relief, the school agreed. But before he could truly relax, Irfan was informed that this had to be ratified by the secretary of state (as the state owned the land).

This was at the end of 2018, with the ratification process taking until January 2020 to go through. Several hold-ups left Irfan feeling “really concerned” for the stadium’s future, particularly with funding time limits in place.

Frenford Youth Club Manager Irfan Shah speaking at the opening of the new stadium. Picture: Ken MearsFrenford Youth Club Manager Irfan Shah speaking at the opening of the new stadium. Picture: Ken Mears

That concern quickly turned to relief when the application was swiftly ratified once submitted in late 2019.

This came just after the club had secured the remaining funding needed.

Irfan said: “Until December 2019, we still needed to raise the difference between the £900,000 and the new cost of the project.”

Step forward the Jack Petchey Foundation, whose £70,000 pledge — added to the £10,000 already given in 2018 — made up the difference and allowed the project to be completed.

One of the stadium’s new stands has been named after Sir Jack to honour this contribution, alongside his many others.

The club solved the final land-related problem by acquiring a lease from Redbridge Council in May 2020.

Construction began on May 25, finishing in time for the opening.

Irfan laughs as he reflects upon the actual construction proving to be the quickest part of the entire project.

August has rolled around quickly.


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