Places People Play


Jenny Fromer

May 11, crack of dawn, I was one of a small gathering of people at Regents Park to mark the launch of 'Protecting Playing Fields' a 'strand' of Sport England's Active Places' strategy. To state that with less jargon, Sport England have made a £10 million National Lottery investment into a fund to create, develop and improve playing fields - and May 11 was the metaphorical ribbon-cutting for this. As this was an official press event that Hugh Robertson, Minister for Sport, would be attending, Sport England contacted a number of friendly local sports to ask if we could entice some people out to be seen playing sport as the cameras and politicians passed by.

Thanks are due to Liam Carroll, our London RCCDO, for getting five hardy folks out to so that softball was featured in the mix. In the lead up I think Liam had about 20 people signed up through Facebook, but clearly the reality of turning up before 7am on a chilly Wednesday had a devastating effect. I do think a shout out is due to those that made it - Claudine Snape, Alex Lorincz, Anna Stover, Matt Waller and Dominic Smith - as well as to Liam, who had the group running around and seemingly really enjoying their early morning work out. Meanwhile those of us who were there specifically to mark the launch, huddled as close as we could to the impressive hot air balloon that seemed precariously tethered, in the hope that the open flame would give off some heat.

For me personally it was interesting to be back in Regents Park. I started playing softball there, 19 years ago, when my team was in the Advertising League. To this day there is enormous competition for playing space in Regents Park, and the complex spreadsheet that shows the breakdown across leagues is something of a work of art. People want to play there because it's central and therefore considered convenient. On trying to arrive there at 6.30 in the morning I was struck by how not convenient it is. Of the 5 possible tube stations that circle the park, none get you all that close to anywhere that softball is played. And once in the park there are few pitches that are not on a slope - and that's before you even taken into account the aptly named Primrose Hill. And as Regents Park is the designated sports park among the Royal Parks, the pitches suffer from hosting a raft of other sports, many of which are not 'small ball sports' leaving ruts and divots that ensure few true bounces. A week later, I found myself back in Regents Park 'guesting' in an Ad League game, and was therefore able to empirically witness the state of the pitches and the perennial issue of footballers in the outfield.

All that said, competition for space there will be even more fierce next year. While concerns that some Regents Park pitches may be taken out for Olympic events next summer have been allayed, it's clear that Hyde Park will be effected. The various leagues that operate out of Hyde Park despite not being able to formally book pitches, may be looking to temporarily relocate. The GLSML Development sessions that run at RP have been attracting up to 40 people each night, suggesting that it's all about location, location, location... And for years now LASL, the largest league in the UK has had to turn teams away because of available space. All of which has led us to consider whether we could get more use out of the space we have there. Could two games per night be run on each available pitch - at least in the height of summer?

And while I've been disparaging about the playing surface at Regents Park, the reality is that most grounds that we share with other sports suffer from many of the same issues. This weekend, BSUK ran the annual LSF First Ball at Old Deer Park, and it would be fair to say that most of our fields had a 'meadow-like' quality. All of which brings us back full circle to why we were keen to drag people out to show support for the 'Protecting Playing Fields' initiative...

tagged under: development, softball, team, london, regents park

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