Chairman Ben Westmancott hails Fisher's greatest victory

Tuesday 01st July 2014
FISHER chairman Ben Westmancott says he’s delighted after winning the club’s ten-year battle to return home to their roots.

The club’s plans to return back home to Rotherhithe were unanimously voted in favour in front of fifteen members of the planning committee at Southwark Council in Tooley Street.

A new 3G pitch will be re-laid at the St Paul’s Recreation Ground, which is around 110 meters away from the club’s former home, the Surrey Docks Stadium, on Salter Road in SE16.
Fisher Athletic’s former ground will be turned into 103 residential dwellings by property developers Fairview Homes, who will stump up half the funding for a Ryman Premier League standard ground for the club.

The total cost of the works to bring Fisher back home are estimated at £950,000 and Fairview will contribute £500,000.

This would cover the cost of the upgrade surfacing and parking, the new 3G pitch, fencing and lighting.

The club would submit a joint application with the council to the Football Foundation and Football Stadia Improvement fund for approximately £225,000 worth of funding.

It is envisaged that the remaining £225,000 would be match funded by the council through its funds.

The funding would secure the clubhouse, two metal spectator stands, each capable of accommodating up to 150 spectators and further spectator standing and PA system.

The council would retain ownership of the site and Fisher Football Club would have a concession agreement to use the site for its training and match activities The council would seek a partner operator to manage the facility.

The council owned site was previously managed by Bacons College for the delivery of curriculum activities and pay and play.  This arrangement ceased around eight years ago when the college obtained planning permission to upgrade the neighbouring Mellish Fields and the college now uses that site instead.

The St Paul’s site has not been managed since owing to a lack of funding and whilst it is understood to be used on an informal basis by people living in the area, it is incapable of supporting any formal use.

The capacity of the ground will be 1,950, which would meet the criteria to host Ryman Premier League football at the site.

Chair Councillor Nick Dolezal apologised for the delay of the start of the meeting, which got underway at 20:39.

The council confirmed that they received 12 objections to the plans, while 16 letters of support were received.

You could sense from the very beginning of the meeting that the council were in favour of going ahead with the plans.

Two local residents, however, voiced their concerns and were given three minutes to present their views to the council committee.  Those concerns included the height of fencing around the ground and noise pollution from the public address system and spectators.

One complainant said she was unhappy with the hours that the facility could be used, up to 22:30 if Fisher’s home midweek cup games went into extra-time or penalties, and that residents would suffer sleep deprivation due to the noise coming from the football ground.

She was also concerned with the height of the mesh fencing around the facility, but this can be amended.

Another added: “Noise pollution is an issue. 

“It’s an underused, run-down facility.  I was waiting at the bus stop and Docklands FC were training there tonight. Why not turn it into something people can use free of charge?

“Semi-pro footballers will kick footballs and smash windows in our block (of flats).”

Cllr Dolezal then offered Mr Westmancott his chance to voice his three-minute presentation, which convinced the council members to give the plans the green light.

The Fairview Homes rep, sitting next to the club’s chairman, insisted later: “We are open to take on board the view of local residents.”

Cllr Dolezal asked for a local resident who was in favour of the plans and one stepped up to say,”I am in support in renovating this dilapidated area.  It will improve the area.”

Councillor David Hubber, the Liberal Democrat Member for Surrey Docks Ward, added: “Very welcomed development, there are some concerns.  The site is somewhat run-down due to no finance.  It will be a great improvement.

“Some of the areas have been used for chemical experiencing (drug taking) by some locals.

“The proposals can only enhance the sports facilities that are needed in the area.

“It should be available for community use.  I hope hiring fees will be kept to a reasonable level and free for kids.

“I endorse the recommendation.”

At 21:16 came the result that everybody at the club was waiting for – Fisher Football Club secured their greatest ever victory – eight votes in favour, none against – to return home.

“It’s incredibly exciting news,” was Mr Westmancott’s reply following the meeting.

“When we moved out of the Surrey Docks Stadium (ten years ago), we had to start to groundshare with Dulwich Hamlet, there was always a promise that there will be a new football facility to come back to and that all disappeared in 2009 when the old club was wound up.

“But now we’ve managed to re-build the club and get support from the council to build a new community football facility back in our heartland.  The first team will be based there and also it will enable our youth teams and our community activities to happen, which is in line of the ethos and the values of the club.”

When asked how he was feeling before making his speech, the Fisher chairman replied: “It was very difficult to concentrate at work knowing that the planning committee meeting was in the evening but its relief that the meeting is now over and the planning committee have approved it.

“Eight people voting for it and zero people voting against, which was a wonderful result, 8-0!

“I’m absolutely delighted with the result this evening.

“It means a lot of hard work now has to happen to make it happen.  This is just the planning application approved. We now need to make sure that we make sure we secure the additional funding required to actually build the thing to meet the Ryman (League) standards and we need to make sure that we continue to work with Fairview New Homes and the other stakeholders so that what we do build is in-keeping to what everyone wants, which is a community football facility back in our heartland of Rotherhithe and Bermondsey.”

Mr Westmancott listened to the couple of local residents who voiced their concerns about the club returning home and could sense that the council was very supportive to the plans.

“I certainly got that impression as well,” he said.

“This is a re-development opportunity. There’s a derelict site on the old football ground. Some out buildings have gone to rack and ruin and an astroturf pitch that is being used, as one of the local residents absolutely quite rightly pointed out, is getting worse and in a state of disrepair.

“It’s not being invested in and at some point it’s going to stop being used so what this opportunity does it redevelops three different aspects of the local area and it’s really quite difficult to make a big objection to redevelopment and re-generation.”

The club now start working on raising the necessary funds to ensure they can come home.

“The whole scheme costs about a million pounds to deliver,” said Mr Westmancott.

“Half of that is being put up by Southwark Council so Fairview New Homes is part of the redevelopment.

“Parkview New Homes are putting up half a million pounds to Southwark Council to help fund the development of the football facility so that means we need to find the remainder, which we are hoping to do through grant applications. We’ve spoken to the Football Foundation and The FA and various other bodies, Sport England.

“We’re working very closely with Supporters Direct who have been really helpful and supportive throughout this process so far and will continue to support us so we are working with putting in applications to secure the remainder of the funding.

“We will need to do some funding of our own and if you look at our website we’ve got a crowd funding scheme to generate £3,000 in three months, which is the initial one so hopefully we’ll meet that quite quickly.

“We’ve also got other fundraising schemes, which we’ve launched at our AGM on Sunday.

“The majority of the money will be through grant funding. We do need people to get behind the club and put their hand in their pocket to help us fund the kitting out of the new facility and we also need people to help give their time as well to keep things going to keep the club running.

“The work doesn’t stop here. If anything it gets even more intense to get this thing actually delivered.”

The club held its Annual General Meeting last Sunday and they recorded losses of £8.88.

Club members delved into their pockets to ensure that the Southern Counties East Football League outfit broke even last season.

The club is owned and run by the Fisher Supporters’ Trust. A Supporter’s Trust is a democratic, not-for-profit organisation of supporters that provides a set of rules by which the club must be run. 

These rules ensure that full members of the Trust have a direct say in who makes up the board of the club, and that the club is democratically run for the good of the community.

Fisher Football Club are an Industrial and Provident Society (IPS) registered with the Financial Services Authority as Fisher FC Society Ltd.  

Mr Westmancott said: “We only keep it all going through the hard work and the dedication of the volunteers to help keep the club running and that’s just not volunteers on the board and who turn up on match days.

“The management and the coaching staff and many of the players who are there, ultimately people are there because they love Fisher Football Club and they want to see it grow and develop and come back to where it was back in Rotherhithe and Bermondsey and hopefully playing football in a higher level than the Southern Counties East League.

“As I said at the planning committee meeting one of our watch words, one of our values is sustainability.

“We will never go beyond our means. We don’t have a huge wealthy benefactor to throw money at the club and we will only spend what we generate in income.

“Football encourages risk taking. It encourages clubs to over stretch themselves, so you can borrow money to get promoted and if you get promoted maybe you get more money through sponsorship and gate receipts but eventually the club will fold and time and time again you see clubs that overstretch themselves and can’t keep up with their expenditure and they collapse.  They even collapse completely as in when Fisher Athletic did or have to cut back their spending and they drop down through the leagues.

“We want to grow organically. We’ve always said we will only grow as big as the local community wants us to be and we will always live within our means.”

The club hope attendances will increase to around the 250 mark and like other clubs like Dartford and Maidstone United fans will return to support their home town clubs once they return from exile.

“You do hear a lot of people say ‘when’s Fisher coming home? How can my kids turn up and play for the club?’

“Tonight we’re now able to answer those questions with a bit more certainty than we were previously.”

When asked the date of the club’s first game back at Salter Road, the Fisher chairman replied: “Again, that all links back into the funding applications are all signed off and approved.

“We’re working with Fairview New Homes to work out what is the actual timetable for when the first spade hits the ground.

“We were hoping that’s going to happen in 2015 when that will start but let’s work through the details of the plans first before we build up high hopes when the first game’s going to be.”

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