Fight to save ‘cherished’ Solihull sports and social club from bulldozer
The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) this month met the close-knit group which is battling hard to save a site which has been at the heart of a Solihull housing estate for many decades. David Irwin reports:
It’s a sunny Monday evening in early August and the playing fields are being set out for the fitness class which will be starting in an hour or two.
But the serene surroundings of Land Rover Sports and Social Club are now at the centre of a struggle between the car giant, which owns the land, and the raft of teams, leagues, clubs and associations which have made it their home.
Back in May there was an outcry when it emerged that Jaguar Land Rover wanted to reclaim the site, ahead of proposals to create car parking facilities to serve the neighbouring Lode Lane plant.
In the months since, the club has been marshalling support, with more than 2,600 people signing a petition to save the venue and ward councillors protesting about the threat to the valuable wedge of green space, off Rowood Drive.
Jo Paling, the club’s secretary, explains that the community hub had been built up over 40 years and while there was a lot of local affection, she admitted many people “didn’t see half of what goes on”.
“I would hate to see them put a multi-storey car park on it,” she says. “You can’t replace something like this.”
Posters in the clubhouse promote an upcoming Rod Stewart tribute night, while the King – or at least one of Elvis’s imitators – will be in the building a few weeks later.
Also jostling for wall space are old photos of the Birmingham Civil Service Rugby Club – a team with a history stretching back 90 years, the last ten of which have been here in Elmdon.
Brian Cole, president of the long-established club, is one of several residents who’ve agreed to meet with us to discuss the importance of the site.
He admits that it is very hard for sports sides to find good facilities locally.
“The difficulty would be finding a club and ground together, that’s what we’d want because that’s what rugby is about. It’s a very social activity.
“Finding somewhere with good facilities is very, very difficult. It might seem easy, but you’ve got two teams … there’s the issue of changing facilities and then somewhere where everyone can have a drink.”
Closure would also pose a major headache for Olton Ravens FC, which now has more than 150 people involved – the highest number since starting up more than 40 years ago.
As their name would suggest, they too relocated from another part of Solihull, allowing them to expand. But now they fear that they wouldn’t be able to find another ground large enough and would have to split up if they left.
Club secretary Richard Woodall says it’s frustrating that there is a dearth of places to play just as grassroots sport has been given a welcome shot in the arm thanks, ironically enough, to the rise of sites such a Facebook.
“It feels like the legs have been kicked from under us and [we worry] we would have to break it all up and start again.”
While many local residents will have seen the flurry of activity on match days, they might be less familiar with the wide range of groups which use the clubhouse beside the field: dancers, boxers, park volunteers and devotees of George Formby’s favourite instrument – the ukulele.
Some come for their annual events while others, including the aforementioned Ukulele Strummers Solihull, are regular visitors.
Steve Wells, one of the group’s 56 members, says the facilities, where the players meets once a fortnight, are “fantastic”.
“We have a couple of girls who go to school at Lode Heath … through to our oldest player, who is 87. It’s such a big range of people.”
He says that question marks about the future of the site had caused a lot of concern among the members.
“They love it here… At the moment I’m used to people saying ‘what am I going to do, this is my only night out a week’.”
Just as many sports clubs struggle to find a suitable place to play, a dwindling number of indoor venues also poses problems for community groups like the Strummers.
Church halls and similar buildings have been gradually disappearing and Ms Paling said that many don’t feel comfortable meeting at a pub.
“They come here because it’s a safe environment, they know they’re not going to get any agro.”
Tina Silver chairs the ladies darts league which uses the club and also became a member of the committee through the desire “to give a little back”.
“It would be such a shame if we had to find a new home and we don’t want to,” she says.
Following the announcement earlier this year, letters have been batted back and forth between solicitors and the club has appealed for help from its members to build a “fighting fund”.
The committee is also pressing both #SolihullCouncil and #SportsEngland for support, but Ms Paling admits the “clock is ticking.”
Amid the growing uncertainty, Elmdon ward councillor Peter Davies (Lib Dem) had raised the issue at Full Council last month. He said the plans threatened a “cherished” open space.
Cllr Andy Mackiewicz, the cabinet member for climate change, planning and housing, told the meeting it would be inappropriate for him to comment on any future “change of use” application, which would be decided by planning committee.
Although he added that the council’s policy was for alternative space to be provided in the event that an existing sports facility was lost.
In a statement, Jaguar Land Rover has said its plans are part of “a critical investment” in the company’s Solihull operation, which would secure jobs and support the local economy.
A spokesman said: “Having explored all other options, Jaguar Land Rover has served notice to the Land Rover Sports and Social Club (LRSSC) of their intention to end the licence of a part of the Land Rover Sports and Social Club sports field in 12 months to enable this plant development.
“Jaguar Land Rover additionally owns the remaining land that is currently leased to the Land Rover Sports and Social Club.
“Jaguar Land Rover has advised the management of the Land Rover Sports and Social Club that it is unlikely that the current lease will be renewed when it expires in 2022.
“Jaguar Land Rover is working closely with the Land Rover Sports and Social Club, Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council and relevant parties to ensure a smooth transition and where possible, identify alternative provision for the teams that use the facility.
“More information will be available towards the end of August.”
Read more: https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/fight-save-cherished-solihull-sports-16755127