Tag Archives: north east wales

Community Development and local football – thoughts inspired by watching gap Connah’s Quay

Back in November 2012 I attended a football match between gap Connah’s Quay (known as The Nomads) and Airbus UK Broughton FC. It was my first visit to the Deeside Stadium and though the fixture was relatively low-key, being as it was a midweek League Cup fixture, it was an enjoyable game, that offered good value for money (especially as it went into extra time) and benefited from a good atmosphere.

An exchange at half time with a fan running a modest merchandise stall (I bought a pin badge incidentally) has led me since to reflect on the role of community development in local football.

The friend with whom I attended the match mentioned that I was visiting from south Wales…

Nomads fan: You should come and watch us at Port Talbot next week.

My friend: Are you going?

Nomads fan: Oh yes.

Friend: Do you have much of an away following?

Nomads fan: We don’t have much of a home following!

Connah’s Quay’s average home attendance this season is 486. It is the sixth highest average in the twelve team league, and is 27% higher than the league’s average of 382 (source: Welsh Premier League website). All in all it is not the worst attendance in the often-maligned league so perhaps the fan’s self-deprecation is unjustified. But the exchange has got me thinking about the role of Community Development in the development of small football club.

Community Development is founded on, among others, a principle of self-determination and this is at the root of many of the supporter-led ‘takeovers’ of clubs in recent years such as Wrexham and Portsmouth, or the establishment of new clubs in response to the perceived mismanagement, exploitation or betrayal of values of ‘traditional’ clubs e.g., Chester FC, FC United of Manchester (FCUM) and AFC Wimbledon. In each of the above cases supporters have collectivised across a broad demographic and challenged the incumbent ownership in terms of personnel, business model and power balance.

Community Development can be at its most urgent when/where oppression is manifest. In the case of Wrexham a succession of owners looked to profiteer at the club’s expense by asset-stripping it of its core infrastructure (ground and training ground in particular). The club was constructively forced into administration in a bid to expedite the fire sale. FCUM was set up following a succession of decisions made by the family that owns the club to take it into private ownership, leverage enormous debt against the club and the increase in season ticket prices.

Such overtly pernicious influences do not appear to be present at The Nomads. Perhaps there is a view that the fan base is so small that to collectivise would not leverage much additional influence or bargaining power. However Community Development maintains that collectivising allows not only for the sharing of values but skills, knowledge, experience and networks. Even a modestly-sized collective can bring about considerable change, for the sum is often greater than its parts. Oppression in this instance is an inadvisable word to use but the ambivalence that local people may have towards the club might be the motivating force behind taking action. The neo-consumerist, ‘build it and they will come’ model that has inculcated itself in professional football is arrogant in its expectation that people will by some invisible hand be enticed to consume what it has to offer. Supporters are viewed increasingly as solely consumers of a brand, whether it is at the turnstile, in the club shop or of a myriad of other products, including credit and loans. Conceiving supporters in such a reductionist way, and by prohibiting them from having any say in the running of a club, sees clubs place no value on local people who do not attend football matches but nonetheless recognise and value the role a club plays in shaping identity, cementing social cohesion and fostering civic pride. Since they do not go to matches and clubs cannot ‘monetise’ their values they are of no relevance.

So one initial objective for a club like Nomads could be to reach out to parts of the Deeside community that it currently does not reach. The recent popularity of the share issue of Oviedo in Spain is a case in point (and the Wrexham experience is also illustrative here). People with no affinity with the club, indeed resident outside Spain, have bought into the club because they had an affinity with the values of the campaign to save and revive the club. Many fans are increasingly aware that their own club might one day need to call on the support of traditional ‘non-affiliates’ in order to rescue it. What is this if not a form of collectivism? So Nomads must expand beyond the confines of its fanbase and work with people who may not be interested in football but recognise that the club contributes to other aspects of local community life: providing opportunities for young people; the commercial benefits of the town’s profile being raised; infrastructure that could be used in health and exercise intiatives; local facilities; local supply chains; opportunities for volunteering, work experience and job-ready schemes. Such ‘reaching out’ could take the form of a share issue. Should it do so Wrexham FC’s current experience is surely a local, north east Wales example to follow.

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City regions are nothing new…

City regions have dominated regional planning and policy discussion in south Wales recently.

For instance, given Cardiff/Caerdydd‘s lack of available housing land it will be increasingly reliant on being able to rapidly and efficiently transport workers from its hinterland via a light rail system.

The Welsh Government, too, is in on the act. It recently asked a Task and Finish Group on city regions to determine:

“whether a city region approach appeared likely to deliver more jobs and greater prosperity in and for Wales than current approaches to economic development”

It concluded that Cardiff/Caerdydd and Swansea Bay/Bae Abertawe city regions would improve the contribution to the Welsh economy from these cities that presently is inferior to that of other UK cities.

The current Welsh city region zeitgeist has captured the imagination of those in the north as well with a cross-border city region encompassing north east Wales recently being floated.

There is, however, reticence of a city region that ends up being all about the city and less about the region. In respect of the NE Wales idea there are those that see it as culturally regressive, irrespective of the economic benefits, that could result in the ‘Chesterfication’ of NE Wales.

For all its current prominence the concept really is nothing new. Indeed, in Cardiff itself academics like Phillip Cooke and Kevin Morgan have long been advocating city regions. The concept appears to get a new lease of life every ten to twelve years, before slumbering back into quiescence.

But next time you hear about a Cardiff/Caerdydd (or anywhere else in Wales) city region and snake oil sellers advocating it as a 21st Century answer for regional economic tupor consider that the book below was first published in 1947….

image

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The impact of manufacturing closures on WIMD and Communities First

Last year I blogged in a work capacity on the publication of the 2011 Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation (available here or yma).

My main thesis was that areas in Wales appearing at the top, i.e., most deprived, end of the new Index do so because of the credit crunch and resultant recession and the way that it impacted on manufacturing, in particular, in 2008, the first half of  which was when the underlying data comprising the Employment and Income indices were collated (though other years’ data comprises other indices, these are weighted less). In essence the WIMD was a snapshot of an aberrational year, though no doubt the effects of the recession linger on and will continue to do so.

Lots of ‘new’ areas appeared at the top of WIMD, but they overwhelmingly concentrate in the two manufacturing heartlands of Wales: north east Wales and the M4 corridor.

M4 corridor:

Pyle/Pil, Blackwood/Coed-Duon, Church Village, Treorchy/Treorci, Llandaff North/Ystum Taf, Cadoxton/Tregatwg, Shaftesbury (in Newport/Casnewydd)

NE Wales:

Connah’s Quay/Cei Connah, Sealand/Gwlad y Mor, Denbigh/Dinbych, Oakenholt, Gwersyllt and Penycae (both in Wrexham/Wrecsam), Prestatyn, Cefn Mawr, Ruabon/Rhiwabon

Consider that there is already significant deprivation in NE Wales, i.e., areas in the Communities First programme (e.g., Flint Castle/Castell Y Fflint, Holywell/Treffynnon, Shotton and parts of Wrexham/Wrecsam and its surrounding villages) and along the M4 corridor in the principal cities and north into the valleys, then the direct impact of manufacturing closures and their indirect impact (ancillary services, supply chains, reduced neighbourhood spend etc.) appears to have been particularly pernicious.

Even a cursory online search of manufacturing closures from 2008 cites examples such as Fenmarc, Kimball, Flexsys, Paramount Foods, Bosch, Burberry and AB Electronics.

Ever since Communities First status was awarded automatically to the 100 most deprived electoral divisions identified in the original 2000 publication, there has been a close association between the programme and WIMD. This has not changed. Many of these new LSOAs will be eligible for Communities First status from April 2013, if not before. However it will be interesting to see whether the next WIMD data sees these areas fall back down to a more ‘real’ rank in the WIMD as the impact of job loss programmes such as ReAct, the benefits system, enterprise zones and support from employers themselves ameliorates the effect of these job losses. They certainly ought to have an impact by helping to cushion the blow of redundancy and help them into other employment (though whether this offers work of equal or worse pay and conditions is another question). So that these areas need help is without question, but is it the sort of help that an anti-poverty programme like Communities First offers, inclined as it is towards areas with deeply-rooted, multi-generational poverty rather than areas experiencing a relatively ephemeral shock?

This is not to downplay the impact of these manufacturing closures. Indeed, one might argue that an inability to recover from such employment shocks with replacement industries and/or employers helps poverty take root. It was interesting to recently read about the proposed joint work between a pair of new Communities First clusters in a borough and an Enterprise Zone which is largely coterminous with one of them.

The next WIMD will make interesting reading, and we are already approaching the half way point in the usual cycle of publication of a new index.

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