Representing the pinnacle of grassroots sports, Common Edge Community Sports Village – which was handed over by Conlon Construction to Blackpool Council this summer – promises to transform what it means to play sports in the iconic seaside town.
As World Cup fever swept the nation, Common Edge Community Sports Village was opened by Manchester United star Jess Simpson, and launched with a showcase for girls’ football. 80 girls from eight local schools competed on the new 3G pitch, to huge local fanfare, setting the tone for a new era of sport in the north-west town.
Blackpool Council is leading the charge in grassroots sports, working to ensure more than 90% of primary schools in Blackpool offer equal access to regular football outside of lessons, and at least three quarters of local schools make girls’ football available in PE lessons. This is just one of several measures aimed at widening participation in sport in Blackpool – but what does it take to build inspiring and life-changing sports facilities that will serve a town for generations to come?
Common Edge Community Sports Village boasts 14 new grass football pitches, a full-sized 3G football pitch, a sports pavilion with changing rooms and community space, plus a grass rugby pitch and training area. The new pavilion also comprises six changing rooms, two officials’ rooms, two kitchens, a large community room, a 194-space car park and a new access road.
For Conlon Construction, the scale and location of the development presented the biggest challenges. Darren Lee, Commercial Director at Conlon Construction, says: “We spent a total of nine months completing groundworks, preparing the site, establishing drainage, laying the foundations and constructing the state-of-the-art sports pavilion.
“Common Edge sits around a mile and a half from the coast, meaning the water table is particularly high and making quality drainage essential. Water from most of the site is slowly channelled to existing field drains to minimise any flood risk, whilst the car park is formed of soakaway crates – plastic crates filled with coarse stone that allow surface water to percolate gently through to soil and drainage systems below, and on to local land drains slowly.”
While drainage was a key consideration on site, care has also been taken to minimise the visual impact of the development. The site sits adjacent to South Shore Cricket Club and Blackpool Airport; and the overall impression of the surrounding landscape is green, meaning plans were carefully developed to maintain and enhance that visual aesthetic.
“The pavilion is timber clad,” explains Darren, “which softens its impact on the environment and is far more sympathetic to the surrounding fields.”
In line with net-zero targets, the pavilion also benefits from air-source heat pumps, underfloor heating and glass solar shading – measures that will ensure the building is energy efficient and temperate year round.
Throughout the development, existing facilities remained operational, with pitches and changing rooms in regular use, whilst the neighbouring cricket club continued to run at full capacity.
Darren said: “This project is all about improving access and the experience of sports in the town, so it was essential that we didn’t damage the status quo in the build phase. It was challenging – we had just one access route and the site is expansive – but we are experienced enough to know that co-ordination and communication is key. We built strong relationships with stakeholders, considered their needs and integrated these into the heart of our plans.”
Those neighbours will soon multiply as exciting change sits on Blackpool’s horizon. The opening of Common Edge Community Sports Village marks the completion of the first phase of development at Blackpool Airport Enterprise Zone, a scheme that is hoped will, ultimately, create 3000 new, quality jobs for local people and spark £300m of private sector investment in the town. It all points to an area on the economic progression – with investment focused on physical and mental health and wellbeing and community sport as well as business.
Cllr Mark Smith, Cabinet Member for Levelling Up (Place) at Blackpool Council, said: “This is the first completed phase of our investment into the Blackpool Airport Enterprise Zone by providing a high-quality community facility that people of all ages will enjoy for years to come.
“Equally, it allows us to move forward with our plans to attract new businesses onto the Enterprise Zone, and, in turn, create hundreds more quality jobs that local people can benefit from as we work to make Blackpool better.”
Cllr Jo Farrell, Cabinet Member for Levelling Up (People) at Blackpool Council, said: “Opening one of the first new sports developments in Blackpool for many years shows our commitment to making Blackpool better and creating more opportunities for the local community to play sport and stay active.
“The grass football pitches have already been used for competitions like the Blackpool Cup and received outstanding reviews for the quality of the facilities and playing surface. The FIFA-approved 3G pitch also means an all-weather option for local football teams of all ages, as well as being available to hire by individuals.
“The new sports pavilion is a significant upgrade on the previous Common Edge facilities and offers a quality experience for anybody playing or watching.”
Support to build a new access road to the sports village, as well as the new access road to Amy Johnson Way, was provided through a £7.5m grant from HM Government Town Fund, while £250,000 of funding for the construction of the sports pavilion was granted by Football Foundation.
For Conlon Construction, already well acquainted with long-term client Blackpool Council, its partnership focuses on building a better Blackpool, ensuring the iconic town is a highly-attractive place to live, with a thriving economy and an abundance of quality jobs for local people. Its Blackpool roster comprises the £13m Showtown Museum, a £1.6m respite centre for young adults with complex needs, Armfield Academy – a brand-new, 1300-place school for children aged two to 16, and the restoration of the Grade II*-Listed Spanish Hall housed within the Winter Gardens Blackpool, to name but a few.
Darren concludes: “This marks the beginning of an exciting era of sport in Blackpool. The facilities at Common Edge are exceptional and set the tone for a new generation of fitness-focused youngsters.
“We’re committed to delivering projects that leave a lasting legacy beyond just bricks and mortar and Common Edge Community Sports Village represents precisely that. Community facilities, such as this, act as a springboard for better physical and mental outcomes, whilst boosting participation in local grassroots sports.
“Blackpool is a regeneration hotspot, and it’s a pleasure to witness this build igniting sporting inspiration within the local community. We may have just constructed the very crucible where future World Cup legends are forged.”