“We must have a pavilion in keeping with a Club of our standing”
SHC member from 1888
“It’s been awfully hard work, but it’s been worth it”
John Willmott March, 1998
This week we complete our trip down pavilions past with a jaunt back to Snakes Lane to pavilions present and our current home perched in the leafy and bucolic environs of the Trent Park estate.
On 29th March in 1998 the new hockey centre opened with a touch of class that still nearly 25 years later offers some of the best facilities in the country.
There really is only person who can tell us the amazing story of how we came to call Trent Park home- and that is of course the inimitable John Willmott himself – who has written this piece especially for the newsletter!
OUR MOVE TO TRENT PARK – HOW?
I am writing this from memory rather than researching dates and exact facts as these are all written down in past brochures and newsletters….which we have safely stored in our club archives!
Having won three European Club Championships on the trot in the 70’s, we continued to be National Champions during the eighties and as artificial turf was starting to become popular in the UK, we were having to hire external artificial pitches.
As you will have read in recent weeks, our club hockey facilities have always needed to keep up with the times and as our forebears stated right at the very start “we must have facilities that a club of our standing merit”.
So, following our 7 Gold medals at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, our then President, Laurie Norman wrote a famous letter to all members headed “Whither Southgate Hockey Club?” In simple terms he concluded that because the Club could not have artificial turf at the Walker Ground, we had to find new premises.
This involved a massive search and the Major Project Steering Group was set up and it met regularly at our then President, Rowley Charlton’s house in Whetstone. This led to us being invited into a Joint Venture with Saracens RFC and Middlesex University to redevelop their old disused sports field, which is now our new home. Then the idea was to have a top-class Rugby pitch and a top class hockey pitch sandwiched between a pavilion where one could view both from the central bar area, all to be located within a new pavilion that, if it had been built, would have been between our two pitches.
With the benefit of hindsight, this worked to our advantage as Saracens realised that they needed something larger and pulled out, so we ended up continuing with Middlesex University on our own. After many, many meetings, they granted us a 125 year lease and gave us a £200,000 loan towards the development cost in exchange for free usage of the new pitch facilities during the week for their students – an ideal arrangement for us.
So, having identified the best site, we drew up the scheme you now see today. A clubhouse and two pitches for £1.4m gulp!! Where on earth would we find that sort of money? A massive fund-raising campaign got underway and in went another couple of grant aid applications and our then President Robert Watson (RIP) used his many contacts to assist us in achieving our target. The club was very fortunate that one of our Vice Presidents, Peter Straus (RIP) sponsored the costs in our early stages and the then recently created National Lottery had started funding sports schemes. They said that unless the scheme was reduced in cost to below £1m we had no chance. I said to their chap, how about £980,000 – he said done!! So, in went our bid and they granted us £626,000, a figure indelibly entrenched in my head.
Our design then unfolded!! Have you ever noticed the yellow line painted on to the wall above the back of our bar? There were two main design features – that the centre-line of the pavilion and both pitches should be one and the same and that is that yellow line !! The second was that the interior should be based on a Swiss chalet style? We agreed to get the building works tendered on a lump sum fixed-price basis and held a design competition.
The fundraising went much better than anticipated and we ended up back at the £1.4m, so we were able to vastly improve the scheme and back to what we had originally intended. Our pavilion even featured in a Sports Council document of “how to produce a well designed pavilion”!
So the facilities you see today are what we then wanted and what have survived pretty much as originally envisaged. The major difference being that following the sale of the University to Berkeley Homes, it means we now have a new Landlord! When I say “we” who do I mean? Basically, for a variety of reasons, our accountants advised us to set up a charity and my father Robin (RIP) using his personal experience, set up the (The Southgate Sports and Leisure Trust) that would own the long leasehold interest. It then lets the entire facility to a commercial operating company (now known as Southgate Hockey Centre Ltd) who hires out the facilities to whomsoever it wishes. Your hockey club is the main hirer and pays SHC Ltd for the privilege!
Once we had raised enough money it meant that we could install a top-of-the range water-based pitch which of course needs a water supply – mains water would be expensive. So, we installed our own borehole some 100m down and this with a tank and pumps are located behind our grass terrace!
One of our great benefactors, Warwick Hoyle RIP, was put in charge of the interior fit out and used his business contacts to acquire nearly new office style furniture and kitchen equipment from a building in Stevenage!! In addition, he hired a cartoonist to draw the cartoons that we still see in the clubhouse today.
The whole project was a massive collaborative effort by many dedicated club members spanning many years with many, many meetings with some very interesting discussions and we must all be grateful to them, many of whom are sadly no longer with us.
To see young boys and girls, our general club members and our seventy and eighty year olds running around with top-class facilities, makes the whole project a resounding success and long may it continue. As us old school guys disappear, please look after what has been created, nurture it, develop it and continue to enjoy our very own “ Nether Nether Land”!
John F Willmott Past President
Researching all this for the newsletter this week whilst John was busying writing the article above, I pulled out the 1998 souvenir brochure there is a page of thanks to the individuals who helped make this venture possible. What is amazing is the number of those names who remain active in the club today-a testament to the loyalty the club inspires in its members.
So when we get a chance to head back to the club and at some point soon and finally get a chance to raise a glass in the clubhouse- lets remember all those that helped make it happen and all the blood, sweat and tears that went into creating our own Swiss Chalet on the edge of Trent Park which we call home.