COMMUNITY SPORT: THE new synthetic pitch at the Cumberland Arena in Crewe is already creating fresh opportunities for youngsters after being officially opened less than a fortnight ago.
The £400,000 development which campaigners fought so hard and long to get is paying dividends immediately. Schools and local children have already played their first games on the state-of-the-art surface.
Special free periods at premium hours have been set aside for youngsters who live in disadvantaged areas of the town and would otherwise be unable to afford to play.
The delighted kids whooped and cheered as they ran on the pitch for the first time.
For children from the Cheshire Academy of Integrated Sports and Arts in particular, it has opened up a whole new world. While the organisation, based at Macon Way, has become nationally renowned for the way it provides opportunities in sports for individuals with physical, sensory and learning disabilities since 1993, it has been impossible to teach some sports with a lack of facilities.
Now the academy has launched several new clubs thanks to the new artificial pitch. Academy director Iain Chalmers explained: 'This pitch makes so many more options available to us.
'We have already started coaching new sports, including athletics, tag-rugby, rounders and hockey, in the short time it has been open.
'The old surface was terrible, if you fell over you would cut yourself. But the kids love it here, and we can't get them off it even when it is pouring down with rain.'
Neil Phillips, coach of the academy's Blue Blazers disability football team, revealed that a girls team is being set up to play on the new facility.
He added: `The new pitches at the Cumberland will allow our players to training longer and harder in a much safer and comfortable environment.
'Girls football is exploding in popularity and there should be no reason girls with disabilities should not have the same disabilities.'
The new pitch is part of a long-running campaign to bring modern sporting facilities to the town, launched by the Chronicle in 2000 and taken on by a band of campaigners.
The nearby running track has already been redeveloped and a first-class grass pitch will be ready
next year. The complex is run by Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council, and largely funded by the Football Foundation and WREN.
The Cheshire Academy, which was instrumental in winning funding for the project, is offering free coaching sessions for the first six weeks for any child joining up to take part with a new club.
Football and athletics sessions are on Saturdays (11am-1pm), girls football is every Wednesday (6-7.30pm), hockey, tag rugby and rounders take place on Thursdays (5.30-7pm). For more information phone 01270 255355.