West Ham plans for grassroots site in doubt after council revoke decision.

Bealonians FC Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

London, 23rd January 2024 – London Borough of Redbridge have informed Bealonians FC, the boroughs largest and oldest grassroots club, that they have revoked their decision to grant the lease for Oakfields playing site to West Ham United following the need to “seek legal advice.”

Bealonians FC has been in Redbridge since it was established in 1936. Oakfields Playing Site and Jack Carter pavilion has been the club’s home since 2002 and in April 2020, the council requested Bealonians FC become caretakers of the site after Frenford Clubs surrendered their lease. Shortly after, Bealonians FC entered into lease negotiations with the council, but these were abruptly brought to a halt without official explanation. It was rumoured that the London Borough of Redbridge were favouring and wanted to give the lease to West Ham United, prior to conducting an official application process.

On 19th October 2023, Redbridge Council confirmed at a hearing that they intended to enter into lease negotiations with West Ham United, a decision that would leave Bealonians FC and it’s 600 members, plus five cricket clubs and the Hainault & Chigwell Muslim Association without a home. The decision would likely see the privatisation of one of the best kept grounds for grassroots sport.

Following a determined PR campaign which saw over 11,000 Change.org petition signatures, coverage on BBC London News, a large protest outside Redbridge Town Hall and numerous letters of objection, the council have informed Bealonians FC that they have revoked their decision and intend to recommence the lease application process after it has received detailed specialist legal advice.

A freedom of information request submitted by local resident and Bealonians member Jenny Whiteford whose home backs on to the playing field was denied by the London Borough of Redbridge stating “releasing the information could harm the Council’s economic interests and undermine future relationships with inquirers that wish to invest in Redbridge. Therefore this information is withheld under EIR Regulation 12(5)(e), confidentiality of commercial or industrial information”.

The request sought to reveal if the council were in conversations with West Ham United at the time they halted lease negotiations with Bealonians FC and whether those conversations revealed a preference to lease the site to West Ham over current residents Bealonians FC. 

Terry Barlow, Chairman of Bealonians FC, comments, “Whilst it’s good news that our club still has the opportunity to remain at Oakfield, I’d urge West Ham United to reconsider their need for the site and recognise the disruption and uncertainty they are causing to one of the largest grassroots clubs in the East London and Essex area. The premier league club are aware it’ll be virtually impossible for our club to find a site large enough with appropriate facilities in the Hainault/Barkingside vicinity. As one of the richest clubs in world football West Ham should be meeting their requirements by investing in, and bringing back to life, one of the many dormant sports grounds. Instead, they are choosing to make one of the largest ‘not for profit’ grassroots football clubs homeless, not to mention the hundreds more made up of five cricket clubs, the muslim prayer group and local residents who all use this important public recreation site.”

Since the decision was made on 19th October, Bealonians FC have had to put their plans to expand female football and start disability football sessions on hold. This has meant losing out on tens of thousands of pounds in potential grants that would be invested back into volunteers, the pavilion and playing fields for the benefit of the whole community.

Research by The Sport and Recreational Alliance estimated the economic and social value Bealonians FC has on the community is £808,496 per year through an increase in wellbeing, mental health and reduction in NHS costs.

About Bealonians FC

Bealonians FC was founded in Redbridge in 1936. It has a two-star England Football Accreditation and their responsibility under the Football Leadership Diversity Code underscores their commitment to creating an inclusive environment that nurtures players, coaches and volunteers, and tackles inequality, leading to greater diversity in the sport. Such accreditation requires adherence to criteria set by the FA, including background checks for coaches, first-aid training and a minimum FA Level 1 coaching badge.

Oakfield has been the club’s home since 2002, which has enabled it to prosper with over 600 members across 29 youth teams (including two girls’ teams) and ten adult men’s teams, plus FA licences for Wildcats and Squad Girls’ sessions every week. The club runs free of charge community football sessions, a kit swap programme and subsidised membership fees for those in need. 

Bealonians FC’s dedication to youth development has already yielded success stories, with a number of players progressing to professional football clubs like West Ham, Spurs and Hull City, while other children have gone on to play at Arsenal alongside Cruz Beckham.

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