'Clear up your mess' - Youth football club's plea to dog walkers

Dereham town councillors with Dereham Saints FC volunteers

Members of Dereham Town Council went down to Toftwood Recreation Ground on Thursday evening to meet with the volunteers who run Dereham Saints Youth FC. - Credit: Noah Vickers

A Norfolk youth football club has pleaded for support from the local council and community as it hunts for more space and battles an ongoing problem with dog fouling.

Based at Toftwood Recreation Ground, Dereham Saints Youth FC has rapidly grown, but is struggling with a lack of space and poor facilities.

At a Tuesday meeting of Dereham Town Council (DTC)’s recreation committee, coach Daryl Spencer said: “We’ve now lost four of our teams to other clubs, because we just don’t have the facilities where we currently are.

“We currently have 150 kids on our books - it was 227 before we lost those four teams,” he added, explaining that the club would need to double its pitch size to keep the members it has. 

On the issue of dog-fouling, Mr Spencer said: “We’re constantly finding dog mess all over the pitches. Before our game on Sunday, we actually cleared two full bags of dog mess, just off one pitch.”

Despite several signs asking dog-walkers to pick up after their pets, the problem continues. 

“We’ve even given out poo bags, which [town clerk] Tony [Needham] kindly gave us last year, to dog-walkers,” said Mr Spencer.

Daryl Spencer

Coach Daryl Spencer explained that the club had so far lost four teams to other clubs due to a lack of space at Toftwood. - Credit: Noah Vickers

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“There’s times where we’re setting up matches, and we’ve caught them letting their dogs mess on the pitch, and they’re just walking away. 

“We’re having to stop what we’re doing with the kids to go over to the dog-walkers and say ‘Excuse me, do you mind clearing up your mess? Here’s a poo bag if you haven’t got one.’”

At the same time, the lack of lighting at the recreation ground means games are limited in the darker months of the year.

“We bought floodlights a couple of years ago to the tune of just under £8,000,” said Mr Spencer.

“Within a month, three quarters of them had stopped working. We got in contact, but that company had gone bust.

“We then had correspondence with another company who had taken over from them. We sent our busted ones back and they were supposed to send us brand new ones, but instead they sent us refurbished ones which wouldn’t hold their charge, and funnily enough, in six weeks that company wasn’t existing anymore either. 

“So we currently have £8,000-worth of useless floodlights just sitting in our hut,” he said. 

On Thursday, several town councillors went to visit Toftwood Rec on Thursday to see the club’s difficulties for themselves. 

Wayne Smith in the Dereham Saints clubhouse

Volunteer Wayne Smith has spent three days replacing and reinsulating parts of the clubhouse wall and floor. - Credit: Noah Vickers

Self-employed heating engineer Wayne Smith explained that the Saints’ clubhouse - a large shed on the recreation ground’s edge - is slowly falling apart. 

Mr Smith, who volunteers at the club, gave up three days of work this week replacing and re-insulating a rotting section of the clubhouse wall and floor.

Mr Smith is fighting an uphill battle however, as the back of the building is pulling away from the rest of the shed, creating a gap in the building’s corner.

Dereham Saints clubhouse

The Dereham Saints clubhouse is slowly falling apart, with a gap now visible where the shed's extension juts out from the main part of the building. - Credit: Noah Vickers

“If we had a brick building, we could generate more money - there are all sorts of things we could do for Toftwood,” said coach Mark Hinde.

Mr Hinde emphasised that the club takes on any child, regardless of ability. 

“It doesn’t matter how good you are, or how bad you are,” he said.

“We’re not in it to win trophies, because none of our teams have won a trophy in four years - we’re in it to give kids football.”

Mark Hinde

Coach Mark Hinde said the club could host functions and events in Toftwood if it had a brick building, providing a new source of revenue. - Credit: Noah Vickers

Kendra Cogman, deputy chair of DTC’s recreation committee, said: “It was fantastic to see how much the children were enjoying their football sessions.

“The club is so important for the community - children of all ages and abilities get to meet and work together. Being active is not just good for them physically but also mentally."

She added: “The volunteers are amazing and so dedicated to doing the best for the children. I am pleased the town council will be exploring all possible options as to how best to support the club and we look forward to doing all we can.”

If you can offer support of any kind to the club, you can contact them at derehamsaints@outlook.com