Concern over future of community sport

East London and West Essex Guardian Series: Members of the Ongar Social and Sports Club are concerned over the future of affordable community sport Members of the Ongar Social and Sports Club are concerned over the future of affordable community sport

There are fears over the future of affordable sport after a community club was told it must leave its home of five decades.

Ongar Social and Sports Club has offered low-cost facilities from its Love lane base since the 1960s, but the town council has said it does not intend to extend its lease beyond February 2015.

Membership rates for the club are notoriously low in comparison to other similar clubs in Essex and it also operates a hardship scheme for those on low-incomes.

The club relies heavily on members of the community who dedicate their time and money to keep it running.

The town council says it has health and safety concerns despite investing £32,000 on improvements at the site, which includes squash and tennis courts, football and rugby pitches, and a bar.

The rent was raised from £2,000 a year to £17,000 earlier this year and the club believes it is being driven out to make way for a profit-driven enterprise and has criticised the council’s handling of the situation.

Membership secretary Dave Poulter, 66, said: “They came in like Big Brother, really threatening.”

“We could have brought it up to standard ourselves, but they threatened to throw us out if we did any work at all.”

The council has pledged to make further enhancements at the site at minimal cost to taxpayers, but club members fear costs will soar.

Chairman Mark Suker, 54, said: “We feel that they will turn it into a business - you can’t pay, you can’t play.”

Club member and Treasurer of Junior football at OSSC, Gary Holland, 40, also fears many people in need of physical activity will be priced out.

He said: “I’m worried that when costs go up, it will thrust some parents out.”

“It won’t have that community feel. It will be commercial premises. It’s our club. We love it dearly, but as of February 2015, it won’t be our club.”

Ongar Town Council chairwoman, Diana Roberts, insisted the facility will remain for the benefit of the community.

She said: “They have done a good job, up until a few years ago.

“It needs a lot more work than they are able to give it. We want to enhance it on behalf of the community itself.”

“We intend to run this as a community-led facility. Not a business.”

The club has vowed to raise its concerns with the council in an attempt to make sure facilities remain available to all.

Ongar Town Council is currently consulting the public on the future of the facilities.

Comments can be emailed to consultation@ongartowncouncil.gov.uk or mailed to the Town Clerk at Ongar Town Council, Bansons, Bansons Way, Ongar, CM5 9AS.

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