NEWS RELEASE: Launch of FA/Football Foundation Local Football Facility Plan project “landmark for national grassroots game”


ISSUE DATE:  26 November 2020

Launch of FA/Football Foundation Local Football Facility Plan project “landmark for national grassroots game”
Two-year project delivers 300-plus reports identifying 5,000 community schemes


The Football Foundation announcement of its intent to start implementing the recommendations set out in its local football facility plans (LFFPs) which cover the whole of England represents a landmark for the  grassroots game, according to Knight, Kavanagh and Page (KKP), the consultancy practice that undertook the research and consultation, and wrote the plans upon which the project is based.

The announcement (made by the Football Foundation in association with the FA) on 19 November 2020 confirms their intent to react to and deliver the detailed programme of improvements to football facilities needed across every local authority area in England. The Football Foundation is now starting the task of working with local councils and other partners to put the proposals outlined in these plans into place.

David McHendry, KKP managing director, commented: “The announcement of the start of the implementation phase of the LFFP project represents the culmination of more than two years’ work by the team at KKP. Together the Football Foundation, the FA, the DCMS, the English Football League and the Premier League recognised the need for a concerted effort to improve grass pitches and increase the quantity and quality of artificial grass pitches and related facilities to sustain and develop football at community level. Commissioning KKP to prepare the report for each local authority area, delivering the extensive research, consultation, data collection and analysis required to underpin each report, was a reflection of the company’s expertise in this field and our experience producing playing pitch strategies. It was a major undertaking that KKP was pleased to be part of and we are delighted that implementation has begun.”

KKP delivered 318 local football facility plans, a process that involved contact with all the local authorities involved and more than 2,000 grassroots football clubs, along with a whole range of stakeholders and interested parties. More than 5,000 individual projects have been identified, including the improvement of grass pitches, installation of new football turf pitches, redeveloping club houses and building new small-sided football facilities.

Andrew Fawkes, KKP’s project manager for this assignment, commented: “KKP’s approach to preparing each plan was based on developing trusted relationships with the football partners, the crucial element of  club consultation, and the compilation of comprehensive reliable data. Assessing the outcome potential, quality and opportunity offered by each project was reliant on our consultants co-ordinating a wealth of site-specific knowledge. In addition numerous face-to-face and telephone interviews ensured the full engagement of all stakeholders, while KKP’s geographic information systems (GIS) team mapped demographic and participation data to underpin the process.”

Robert Sullivan, interim chief executive of the Football Foundation, commented: “After two years of hard work, every local authority has an agreed list of specific pitches and clubhouses to build or improve in their area. These local football facility plans are the road map to a transformation in how every player enjoys our national game. Our next challenge is to work together – as a team at the local and national level – to secure the necessary funding and deliver these projects.”

For further details and interviews please contact KKP via (0)161 764 7040 or email mail@kkp.co.uk

 Notes for editors

  • Further detail of KKP’s work on playing pitch strategies and in all aspects of the fields of sport, leisure and planning is available via the KKP website at www.kkp.co.uk
  • Full details of the Football Foundation’s Local Football Facility Plan project is available at the Football Foundation’s website: https://footballfoundation.org.uk/local-plans
  • The Sport England document Playing Pitch Strategy Guidance: An Approach to Developing and Delivering a Playing Pitch Strategy, which was written by KKP on behalf of Sport England, is available via the Sport England website at: www.sportengland.org/facilities-and-planning
  • KKP was founded in 1990 and is the longest-established sport and leisure consultancy currently operating in the UK.

The great indoors: taking the hassle out of community use of school facilities

There may be light at the end of Covid-10 crisis tunnel but sport and leisure may need to grasp the opportunity to adopt new approaches to perennial problems. Clare MacLeod, principal consultant at KKP, suggests that Badminton England’s facility strategy might be a step in the right direction


News of encouraging results in several of the coronavirus vaccine trials has re-ignited hope. With so much damage done to individuals, communities and businesses, could there be a chance to insert an LED bulb into the light at the end of the tunnel for the sport and leisure sector?

Not wishing to get carried away, the answer might be a cautious ‘maybe’, perhaps even a hesitant ‘yes’, but lessons have to be learned and opportunities grasped if we are to emerge from 2020 with a functioning sector able to survive and build upon the lessons learnt through multiple lockdowns.

One issue we face at present is the trauma of facility-based sports. Badminton, gymnastics, netball and basketball, to name perhaps the most visible, are struggling to find much to celebrate at the moment. Clubs are seeing income from memberships drop, the relevant national governing bodies (NGB) are taking a hit on affiliation fees and, perhaps potentially most damaging, players are being forced to find different things to do with their leisure time. It doesn’t take long for people’s lifestyles and habits to change; many clubs are concerned that, after prolonged lay-offs from their sport, people will have embarked on alternative activities. While facility-based sports ponder the huge opportunity costs of lost play, promotion and development activity, large chunks of the rest of the sport and leisure sector are heavily at risk from the impact of lockdown on physical activity of all kinds.

One of the earliest and most obvious lockdown problems for sports that hire rather than own facilities was access to indoor space. This has been exacerbated by a very high proportion of public leisure centre sports halls being given over (in part or in full) to other activities, predominantly those related to health and fitness, which ‘pays the bills’ in so many facilities.

Badminton has been working on this issue of access to courts (of the right quality and at the right times) for years but the NGB’s current facility strategy, drawn up just prior to the Covid crisis, sees access to school facilities as a potential solution. Community use of school facilities is far from new as a concept but in a post-lockdown environment it looks like an even better option for sustainable access to court space.

However, this requires a new approach if it is going to solve the problem – or part of it at least – in any effective way. The model currently being explored by Badminton England is for the NGB to support local clubs, leagues and/or coaches to gear up and function as operators of the community use of school facilities. This means them taking on the management function for out-of-hours letting to guarantee court access for badminton players, offer additional space to other users and provide a financial return to schools with minimal school staff involvement in the administration process.

As Nick Rimmer, head of development at Badminton England, explained, such an approach offers a real opportunity to make community-use facilities genuinely accessible.

“We don’t have many badminton-specific facilities and our clubs do not normally own their own venues” Nick said. “There are a few exceptions, probably 20 at most across the country, but we tend to find that better development and progression comes from these clubs. As an NGB, we recognise that having that control over facility access and, vitally, programming leads to better development work, from engagement to performance.

“Even before Covid we were seeing sports hall closures and those that were open becoming smaller in terms of court space and more expensive as the demand for other activities grows. It creates a real challenge for clubs that wish to grow and develop.”

Seeking to turn this around, Badminton England started looking at what it could do help clubs and coaches to run their own facilities. Schools are the obvious starting point for this. Research recently published by the Sport and Recreation Alliance shows that 45% of all sports facilities in England are located on ‘education sites’ yet 46% of these were not available to the community for use pre-Covid-19. This means that almost one quarter of all sports hall space is inaccessible to the public.

But how to make it work better than it has in the past so as to create a practical and sustainable route to facilities for badminton?

“It’s been done on a small scale before,” Nick said, “but we’re generally at the whim of sports hall operators. The challenge is to be a little more imaginative in our thinking and look at whether it can be done on a larger scale. Could a club take over a sports hall for several nights per week and build a programme of community use? It’s something we’re exploring while looking to work with these same clubs to put them on a firmer footing.”

The numbers suggest it is an option with huge potential. There are around 4,000 secondary schools in the country and most have a three- or four-court sports hall. That is all most clubs need if they can obtain the requisite programme time. Badminton England’s figures illustrate that around 500,000 people play the sport every two weeks, 50,000 of whom are NGB members. This suggests considerable demand for facility operators (in this case clubs on behalf of schools) to tap into. With so much play being recreational rather than club-based and so many players struggling to find court time, there would seem to be an opportunity for clubs to offer self-managed pay-and-play options within their allocated court time if the booking and management aspect of the letting process can be made to work for all parties. Badminton England is looking to develop core models that are straightforward and replicable for clubs and schools across the country.

Nick acknowledges that this is a big commitment for a club but the badminton-specific centres operating at the moment demonstrate what an impact dedicated facilities can have.

“We’re not looking to take over the world,” Nick said, “but if we can get a few examples working well we can then look to see what will work. We’re looking at a variety of models for badminton but there is no reason why netball and others could not replicate that model with a little help and support.”

The prospect of an NGB being closely involved with facility management also offers an opportunity for the use of schemes such as Clubmark to shape development and behaviours. Offering priority to clubs and leagues that can demonstrate that they are inclusive and safe, with all the positive habits that Clubmark encourages, would be a step in the right direction. A sport with clubs able to demonstrate that that they can deliver the ‘full circle’ of safe, high-quality sporting experiences has a head start in developing the sport and generating membership revenue.

From an education perspective, sports like badminton and netball have a relatively low physical impact on facilities, and the involvement of the NGB providing oversight and quality assurance in the letting process should ensure that schools get a good (and secure) financial return. They can, thus, be confident that clubs managing and using their facilities are appropriately affiliated and that their sports spaces are making a real contribution to the development of sporting opportunity for their students and the local community.

Such a vision undoubtedly involves a level of sophistication beyond that demonstrated to date in respect of community access to schools but that does not mean it could not happen now. Schools have appropriate facilities, court-based sports can bring a long-term, consistent and continuous demand for space, and the impact of the Covid crisis on leisure centre facilities means that operator access to school sites makes more sense than ever.

My own suggestion would be for a sports county governing body, or even perhaps an innovative active partnership, to establish a relationship with two or three schools, becoming the operator for its sports halls and providing coaching and financial benefit to the school (or academy network) in return for access.

At the moment it looks as if the damage done to the sport and leisure sector by the Covid crisis will be with us for a very long time but Badminton England is at least attempting to grasp the opportunity presented by the need for a new approach to existing problems. Let’s see if it can make it work.

Clare MacLeod is a Director and Principal Consultant at KKP

Contact Clare on clare.macleod@kkp.co.uk 


November 2020

Year Zero: what future for sport?

John Eady of KKP considers some options that might be considered based upon the calendar of challenges that 2020 has brought. With professional sport in crisis, what does the future hold for grass roots sport and is it time to look again at the role of community clubs?


Sporting headlines tend towards the cataclysmic at the best of times but recently the usual references to crisis, chaos and disaster have been less easy to dismiss. Many clubs, leagues and entire sports are staring over the financial precipice and facing unprecedented circumstances.

There is no doubting the scale of the challenge. The English Football League (EFL) is talking about further losses of £200m without a return of supporters through the gates. Premiership Rugby and rugby’s second tier, the RFU Championship, are questioning whether they can survive much longer in their current form. Hopes for a support package for sport from the DCMS seem to be edging further into the long grass the lengthier discussions become.

But most of the ‘sport in crisis’ headlines, and a proportion of the pleas for central government support, are about the plight of professional sport. For all the economic impact assessments of the professional sports sector, it is hard to justify government bail-outs for leagues that have rewarded themselves handsomely for their multi-billion-pound broadcasting contracts or clubs that commit to spend 120% of their turnover on player wages. In the context of large-scale support for professional sport, we are surely obliged to ask what we are actually getting for our money. If the professional leagues collapsed, we might wonder, what difference would it make to the grassroots?

There are no easy answers. A great many professional clubs do have strong bonds with their communities. The loss of long-established clubs such as Bury FC and Macclesfield Town has had an impact, not least on local supply chains and retailers. KKP’s work on the EFL’s report Measuring the Impact of EFL Clubs in the Community, published in January 2020, demonstrated the scale of these connections, particularly through their club community organisations (CCO); 41 million person-hours of participation in sport and physical activity is not to be dismissed lightly. But CCOs are, technically at least, independent. Could they continue without the support of and relationship with the clubs they work with so closely? It would seem unlikely.

While football gets the lion’s share of attention and investment, professional rugby has been building a comparable financial model. For all its successes, professional rugby has been on the cusp of a financial crisis for as long as it has existed. Being brutally honest, I can’t get too exercised about the Championship losing its RFU funding. Taking rugby’s second tier out of the (RFU underpinned) professional player-based equation and allocating the funds released to other areas of the game was being considered when I first evaluated the financial implications of Rugby’s World Class Programme two decades ago.

At community level, rugby union’s club-focused structure has been one of the game’s strengths for generations but the willingness to accept the trickle-down of professionalism has put it under strain. The Covid-19 crisis may have at least one beneficial effect in that it may compel all clubs below the Premiership to address the fundamental issue of how and where money is spent. Over the last 15 years KKP has worked with dozens of rugby clubs that have invested heavily to recruit and pay players that can move them up a couple of divisions. The notion of putting the existence of your club at risk in order to secure its place at a slightly higher level of recreational rugby has always seemed to be a pointless exercise, now more than ever.

This has evolved to a degree where player recruitment has, for many clubs, become more important than player development. It has led to the ‘products’ of their own investment of time, effort and other resources in mini and junior structures hitting a first XV glass ceiling whereby the opportunity afforded to home-grown players is limited. It has also, in many clubs, shifted the focus of their executive committees and key volunteers onto an annual drive to raise funds which are simply channelled into the pockets of nomadic players who will, for an extra £10 per game, be playing elsewhere the following season. A number of clubs have invested in paying players at levels that have led to them incurring significant debt, to the point where selling off parts of their grounds for housing and other development has been the only way to stave off terminal financial crises.

We may find that the Covid crisis goes some way to clarifying or redefining the relationship between the professional elite and the grassroots of sport. For all the excellent work of EFL club community organisations, the world of professional football is ruthlessly competitive. Rugby’s steps along that road have already prompted some to wonder whether the loss of the connection between a club and cohorts of local players coming from juniors through to the first team is a price worth paying.

With financial challenges arriving with ever greater frequency, we may start to place a higher value on the role of the community-focused club, the kind of set-up that runs dozens of teams, from minis and juniors aged six or less to under-19s, women’s teams, and three or four men’s teams, all with coaches, assistants and helpers. Clubs with their own facilities, a strong and broad membership base, and deep roots in their locality have a much better chance of surviving current (and future) challenges, whatever their sport might be. In such circumstances, which level of league each of your (many) teams is playing in and whether your first team is one league above or two below your local rivals may not prove to be quite as important. With a bit of luck it will revert to being a matter for discussion in the bar and of local bragging rights rather than a huge commitment of club finances.

Just as empty stadia are requiring the elite end of the sporting spectrum to reassess its relationship with its paying spectators, the prospect of even less money (and, in the case of rugby and many other sports, less NGB staff-led professional support) finding its way from the elite to the grass roots may prompt re-evaluation of all the relationships in the game. Professional sport set up to maximise the commercial returns for owners, administrators and players is fine, but that is business based on sport. Government initiatives, NGB energies and available financial support should be primarily focused on clubs that are set up to enrich their communities rather than remote investors.

There are, as always, no easy answers and the question of what sport is for will prompt a different response from everyone asked. However, the reaction to the question of what kind of sport we should be actively seeking to encourage may prove to be clearer.


John Eady is chief executive of KKP.


Measuring the Impact of EFL Clubs in the Community

KKP produced the report Measuring the Impact of EFL Clubs in the Community on behalf of the EFL. The report, published in January 2020, demonstrated the scale of the connections between professional clubs and their local communities, particularly through the work their club community organisations.

Download the full report via the EFL website via the link above [pdf].


 November 2020