A new playing surface at a sports pitch in Fitzrovia will revitalise the public open space says a youth charity but opponents say that football is being favoured over other sports and local children’s playtime at the ground is being cut.

Astro Turf pitch.
The games court at The Warren public open space now has an artificial grass playing surface. Pictured in the background is the affordable housing at Suffolk House run by Origin Housing.

Fitzrovia Youth in Action (FYA) has taken over the management of The Warren sports pitch under a license from Camden Council and has installed a state-of-the-art playing surface which will be officially opened on Tuesday 26 January.

Artificial grass has replaced tarmac at Whitfield Place and will allow an improved game on a professional pitch which for most of the time will be hired out to corporate users to generate an income for the youth charity.

“This flood-lit pitch offers users a high quality, newest generation Astroturf playing surface which is FIFA approved and ideal for playing 5-a-side football,” says FYA who organise youth activities throughout Camden.

But the move has been criticised by the Friends of Fitzrovia Parks, a group set up by Camden Council to liaise with residents over the use and improvement of open spaces in the neighbourhood.

The Friends group say that the new surface will exclude games such as basketball and netball and they criticise Camden for signing an agreement which reduces the amount of time reserved for local children to use the pitch. The Warren is one of only three public open spaces in Fitzrovia and the only multi-use games area (known as a MUGA).

Previously the pitch was reserved for use by local children from 4pm to 7pm Mondays to Thursdays and from 4pm to 9pm on Fridays. Only local children were permitted to play on weekends and during school holidays. However this was rarely strictly enforced.

Now FYA will reserve the pitch for only two hours a day from Monday to Friday and only Saturday and Sunday afternoons and evenings for local children. More hours will be set aside during school holidays but the rest of the time the pitch will be hired out for between £45 and £85 per hour.

The Friends group also say the astro turf will encourage a more intensive use of the pitch and a noisier game as players will now be able to do sliding tackles and dive for the ball. They say that Camden’s officers had agreed that a new playing surface would be installed but not astro turf.

However the Friends group say they were later presented with a fait accompli late last year when Camden announced that artificial grass would be laid.

The perimeter of the pitch is less than six metres away from newly built affordable housing at Suffolk House run by Origin Housing. Last year Camden Council put up notices asking users of the pitch to limit noise levels during the mornings and evenings after complaints about noise.

A formal complaint has been made against Camden about the way it has handled the decision to agree to the management proposals put forward by FYA.

Wesley Skow who made the complaint says the council has taken a multi-use games area and turned it into a football-only facility where local children have less right to play. He says the Council has taken the decision without following proper process and without public consultation.

Skow says that the council has effectively privatised part of the public open space by signing such a generous management agreement with the youth charity.

“The FYA proposals shift the balance away from a shared recreational space toward a higher energy youth orientated sports club focussed on corporate (albeit charitable) aspirations of FYA rather than local community needs,” said Skow.

A Camden officer replied to Skow saying that young people could go elsewhere and use facilities at the Regent’s Park Estate and Kings Cross.

“There are MUGAs suitable for basketball at St James Gardens, Munster Square and Cumberland Market (walking distance), as well as a court in Argyle Square,” said Gabi Howard, Parks Services Manager.

Camden Council has so far dismissed the complaint and has declined to comment to Fitzrovia News.

Funding for the astro turf was provided by the property developer Derwent London who also own the freehold of the neighbouring affordable housing at Suffolk House. The housing was built after Derwent converted commercial buildings into social-rented and shared ownership housing in agreement with Camden Council as part of a controversial planning permission for redeveloping the Saatchi block in Charlotte Street.

John Davies of Derwent London said “We are delighted that Fitzrovia Youth in Action’s inspired plan to refurbish The Warren has come to fruition. We are pleased to have been able to support the project as part of our community funding initiative.”

Goalkeeper's hands and football.
The new artificial grass will be the “highest possible standard of playing surface” says FYA. Image: fya.org.uk

Andre Schott, director of Fitzrovia Youth in Action told Fitzrovia News:

“We are very excited to offer the community a top quality playing facility and a locally based management system which will benefit both young people and residents living around the pitch. The artificial grass will provide a more welcoming environment for people of all ages, both male and female. It will allow for any type of physical activity that can be played on natural grass, not only football but also sports such as hockey, badminton, volleyball and rugby training.

“For those wanting to play basketball, they can still practice shooting hoops and there are three other basketball courts available within walking distance from the Warren,” he said, referring to facilities at Regent’s Park and Kings Cross.

“Over the years, we have witnessed many injuries and only recently one of our members suffered a dislocated knee after falling onto the tarmac pitch. We are now very fortunate to offer users the highest possible standard of playing surface which we are confident will result in many more young people using the facility compared to before. They will do so in a safer and more supervised environment and thanks to income generated through pitch hire, they will do so for free, at dedicated times every day of the week,” he said.

Schott says the residents living next to The Warren are in favour and support FYA’s redevelopment of the ground.

“Through the new arrangements, FYA will be able to offer a much higher level of supervision than the Council can provide. We have increased our staffing rotas to ensure employees are on hand to deal with issues whenever the pitch is open and will employ dedicated staff to engage with young people in the Warren. Fitzrovia is an area with a chronic lack of green space and we have found that residents living around the Warren have warmly welcomed the visual enhancement of the artificial grass as well as the improvements our new management arrangements will be providing them,” he said.

The new playing surface will be opened by the Mayor of Camden at 5.45pm on Tuesday 26 January. There will then be a BBQ and a football tournament — a friendly match between Fitzrovia Youth in Action and their corporate partners Derwent London.

The Warren sports pitch is reserved for the exclusive use by local children and young people up to the age of 18 during the following times: weekdays from 4pm to 6pm (2pm to 6pm during school holidays) and weekends from 2pm to 9pm. The pitch is available for hire: weekdays from 9am to 4pm (9am to 2pm in school holidays) and from 6pm to 9pm; and weekends from 10am to 2pm. See fya.org.uk/warrenpitch.

Fitzrovia, London, UK