The inspirational work of Chesterfield Football Club Community Trust
- Credit: Tina Jenner
The Hub is a £1.6 million facility providing a range of sporting, educational and community-based activities
Every football club in this land will tell you they are there for their fans and reaching out to the community. It’s a blindingly obvious statement, yet how many clubs have the firm evidence to prove it? In this respect, Chesterfield Football Club is not just a glowing example but a bright beacon, notably since celebrating its first season in 2011 in a brand new stadium as League Two Champions.
Although relegated back to League Two the following season, the Spireites are now back in League One with their eyes more firmly fixed on promotion to the Championship. Although the Premier League remains a distant dream, a recent development at the club is one that many Premiership clubs would envy. It’s the Chesterfield FC Community Trust, providing a wide, impressive range of sporting, educational and community-based activities with the avowed aim of ‘improving the quality of life and outlook for individuals, groups and neighbourhoods’ not only in Chesterfield but also across North East Derbyshire, Bolsover and parts of the Derbyshire Dales.
Furthermore, the Trust operates from the club’s Proact Stadium, utilising a part of the East Stand that would otherwise have remained a shell. Called The Hub, this pioneering £1.6 million facility – the only one of its kind in the Football League – includes a play centre, sports hall, gym, hydrotherapy pool, café, classrooms and offices. It’s a pronounced success, and a heartwarming acknowledgment that the club is all about its supporters.
Indeed, Chesterfield FC might not have been in existence today were it not for the resilience and passion of its followers. At the turn of the millennium, the club faced financial ruin, but the valiant efforts of a fans’ collective – the Chesterfield Football Supporters Society – brought the club back from the brink.
As Head of the Trust John Croot points out: ‘We have always been a traditional football club – we’re the fourth oldest in the League – and the community here is the very fabric of this club. So when we decided to move from our old ground Saltergate, we promised North Derbyshire a community stadium, not just a football stadium.’
The club was also adamant that the Trust would not just focus on football coaching, so when the Trust was formed soon after the stadium’s completion, it set about delivering its four core aims: Health, Education, Sports Participation and Social Inclusion. Research by the Trust also indicated the need for a facility that could use football and the brand of Chesterfield FC to engage with everyone from infants to senior citizens.
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The younger element is richly catered for through Chester’s Den. Branded on the popular club mascot Chester the Field Mouse, this is a fully fitted out play centre for children aged up to 12. It has become increasingly popular for birthday parties and helps fund The Hub but, as Chief Operating Officer Kay Adkins points out, ‘It’s also a good pathway to a healthy lifestyle, leading to other projects such as children’s sports activities as well as other activities within The Hub.’
Many of those other activities can be found in the multi-purpose sports hall and gym as well as in other venues beyond The Hub. Virtually everyone in the social spectrum is catered for, from Mini-Spireites – introducing toddlers to sport and football – through to Senior Spireites, encouraging people aged 55 and over to stay active, both physically and socially. In between, there are sports activities for people with a disability or those experiencing a mental health problem, exercise classes aimed at female footballers, fitness sessions for mothers plus running, cycling and walking groups.
There are also various classrooms available for hire – local groups such as Chesterfield Bridge Club are there every Tuesday and Friday evening. The Hub also houses businesses who are either charities or ‘community focused’. These include: Leonard Cheshire Disability; McIntyre, a charity which works with people with learning difficulties; Club Taxis, who provide vehicles adapted for disabled people; Elite Health Chiropractic, Refresh Laser Clinics; and Mind, Body & Spirit Martial Arts Academy, teaching traditional Ju-Jitsu & Kobudo to children and adults.
A key aspect of The Hub is the hydrotherapy pool which is unique to the Football League. Although Manchester United, Chelsea and the England team training ground at St George’s Park have this facility – which includes an underwater treadmill and swim propulsion unit – Chesterfield’s is thought to be the only one of its type open to public bookings.
As well as Chesterfield FC’s own players using the pool for recovery sessions and rehabilitation following injury, competitive swimmers and triathletes can hire it to have their swim strokes analysed. It has even wider uses, as Kay Adkins points out: ‘The pool’s propulsion unit means you can walk, run or swim on the spot. Because of this, it’s called “An Endless Pool.” It provides all the benefits of regular swimming pools in a fraction of the space. It’s like having your own private swimming pool on your doorstep, one that can be used year-round for lap swimming, aqua aerobics and therapy. Also, our treadmill is fantastic for people recovering from knee, hip, ankle or back operations because they can start exercise programmes before they could if their weight was not supported. It’s also great for people with a severe physical disability as it helps them increase their movement, and we have also had people who have had chemotherapy using the pool as a way to gently start regaining their strength after difficult treatment. Several users of the pool have told us that it’s changed their life.’
The Trust has also become the guardian of the club’s rich heritage. As John Croot explains: ‘The history of Chesterfield FC is part of the history of Chesterfield and its area over the last 150 years, so we’ve made heritage projects an integral part of the Trust’s work. Whether it’s academic research, fans’ shirts, photo or programme collections, or just supporters’ reminiscences, we believe that heritage matters can increase community values and raise social inclusion.’
There is yet one further aspect of the Trust to satisfy Chesterfield FC’s most devoted fans: they can now request their ashes to be strewn on the club’s recently created Memorial Garden. It’s a free service, too, although families are encouraged to buy a plaque to remember their loved ones or to make a donation to help with the upkeep of the Garden and the work of the Trust.
As a proud John Croot reveals, all this innovation and enterprise has attracted great interest: ‘As our mix of facilities is unique, several league clubs have visited us to see how they can learn from the facilities that we’ve developed. A number of them are planning to move stadiums and are looking for ways that they can engage with their communities. What that tells us is that we have become a blueprint for community engagement in the football world. Eighteen months on, Chesterfield FC is even more on the map and The Hub has indeed become a hub for a large section of our community.’