North Walsham Town FC saved from relegation - by Big Society fund and other grants

A leading north Norfolk football club has been saved from forced relegation after becoming one of the first big winners from a new fund designed to boost community groups.

North Walsham Town FC has been handed �7,525 from North Norfolk District Council's Big Society Fund, to help it pay for a near-�21,000 changing room upgrade.

Alongside a �13,140 grant from the Football Foundation, plus �1,000 from Interconnector at Bacton and �350 from North Walsham Town Council, it will enable the club to meet a June 25 deadline to improve its facilities.

As reported last month, the Angels made an 11th-hour plea for funds after being given until June 25 to pay for and build an extension to its away dressing rooms at Greens Road, after failing to meet a previous deadline set by league officials.

Failure would have meant instant demotion to division one of the Anglian Combination - a few weeks after the team's premier division position was safeguarded with one match to go.

But the appeal in the News was followed by an influx of money to help the club reach its target of �20,490. And the work has already begun, with the club confident of completing the upgrade before June 25.

Club secretary Neil Coop said club members had 'rallied round' to make it possible for the work to be completed in time for the Anglian Combination deadline.

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He added: 'We did have a big hole, and it was always going to be tight, but you can imagine the change in people's mood now. People around the club are very positive.

'At one stage, we were beginning to believe that we wouldn't make it.'

Trevor Ivory, NNDC cabinet member for the Big Society, said: 'When we first set up the Big Society Fund we were keen to make sure that we were getting money straight to the front line projects.

'This is a great example of a project that will benefit the community. The football club offers benefits to lots of people from all walks of life in North Walsham and the surrounding area.'

The Big Society Fund grant was among handouts totalling �81,776 that were agreed by the fund's board earlier this month. The other recipients have not yet been revealed.

The fund was created earlier this year, when the ruling Conservatives decided to end grants to community partnerships in the district's towns.

Instead, they said they wanted money to go 'direct to the front line', and in this financial year, �450,000 is available to groups across the district.

The crisis for North Walsham Town came about because the Football Association has rules about facilities at different levels of the football pyramid.

A year ago, Anglian Combination premier division clubs were given 12 months to comply with the rules for 'step seven' of the pyramid - the level at which the league operates. They include minimum sizes and standards for showers, toilets and dressing rooms.

At an Anglian Combination extraordinary general meeting on April 30, it was reported that every club except North Walsham Town had complied by the initial deadline of March 31.

The situation meant the Angels faced immediate relegation to division one. But, after an 11th-hour plea by club officials, representatives from the other clubs agreed to give the Angels until June 25.