Historic Investment in Playing Fields

September 16, 2011

Share this story

One report to the Trust from the village of Hathersage in Northern Derbyshire states:

‘The playing field has become a village institution.  It is a source of satisfaction to the village people to know that at last …we are in possession of a field where people of all ages can go and enjoy themselves to the full.’

During the 1930s, with high levels of unemployment, several reports to the Trust spoke of how unemployed men were involved in the preparation of the ground and the laying out of the playing fields, and also benefited from using them.  A report from the Rhondda Valley says:

‘Thousands of unemployed men and boys have maintained not only their physical condition , but also their morale by regular participation in team games on the fields which have recently been provided in that area.’

The grants given to playing fields show clearly some features which were typical of the Trust’s approach, and which today would be described as ensuring the sustainability of its work. 

  1. The Trust wanted to make sure that the communities which benefited from its support made a positive contribution, and so no scheme was funded for more than one sixth of its cost.  The annual report of 1929 states that ‘even small villages have gratefully accepted sums as low as £20, and have very gallantly raised the rest by loans or by means of concerts, bazaars or other means of collection’.
  2. The Trust worked in partnership with the National Playing Fields Association, now Fields in Trust, http://fieldsintrust.org/  providing it with the support to allow it to set up local branches and actively promote and advise on the creation of playing fields.  In most cases, where a grant was made by the Trust, this was supplemented by a smaller grant from the NPFA.
  3. The Trust ensured that it only gave money to organisations which could be held to account for what they did with the money – either local authorities or recognised voluntary organisations whose trustees could give guarantees about finance.
  4. The scheme was time limited, and was wound up at the end of 1935.
  5. The only conditions attached to the grant by the Trust were that the land should be ‘permanently preserved’ and adequately maintained for recreation, for the benefit of the public.  In 1931 it was stated that the fields must provide for organised team games, in an apparent attempt to prevent the creation of golf courses or tennis courts!  

In 1964 in a review of the first fifty years of the Trust, William Robertson wrote:

‘In retrospect, the country may consider itself fortunate that thousands of acres of land were reserved in perpetuity for recreation at that time.  Even if land did not appear cheap to impecunious local authorities, in the light of what has happened since those days many communities, especially in industrial areas, made a good bargain’ 
(Welfare in Trust, p91)

There have been several cases over the last 30 years in which local authorities have approached the Trust about changing the use of land which was bought with the assistance of a grant from the Trust.  In one case, a playing field had been used as an airfield during World War II, was passed to the Ministry of Defence in 1952, and was then sold to Rolls Royce in 1993.  Following proposals for the development of the land in 1992, it was agreed that there was a restrictive covenant on the land and the playing fields must be preserved.  In another case in Stirling in 1989, the Trust refused to allow Stirling District Council to build a community hall on a piece of land which had been grant-aided by the Trust, as the agreement stated clearly that the land was to be held in perpetuity as a playing field for public recreation.

The Trust will be reviewing its work in this area later in 2011, and considering, along with Fields in Trust, whether it needs to do anything to preserve this part of its heritage.