The Launch of the Playing Fields Network – A New Era for Community Sport

It’s an exciting time for England’s County Playing Fields Associations (CPFA), which are currently preparing for the next stage of their journey.

Among the oldest public sports bodies in the UK, the history of the CPFAs dates back to the efforts to restore and safeguard sports facilities in communities following the two World Wars. The first individual CPFAs were set up in the 1920s to protect people’s right to access local outdoor community sport and recreation facilities.

Since the very beginning, a National Committee has supported the work of the CPFAs, acting as a membership network for the individual associations. The committee’s activities have ranged from lobbying government and influencing policy to funding facility projects and promoting best practice.

In recent years, however, the national committee – and the CPFAs themselves – have faced many challenges. Government cuts in recreation budgets, combined with the changing priorities in sport, have led to the weakening, or even demise, of many of the local county associations.

At the latest annual meeting of the committee, in June 2017, there were less than 20 delegates representing local CPFAs. Contrast that with the peak years, when there was a playing field association operating in almost every large English county.

It became clear to the committee that something needed to be done to reverse the decline.

We believe that there is still a place for CPFAs in the UK’s sporting landscape – and that the associations are as relevant as they were when they were first launched.

The context of our work, however, is changing, with the emphasis veering toward ‘activity’ rather than sport in general. We must adapt to be ready to meet these new circumstances, or we will slowly decline further and eventually disappear as a meaningful organisation

What we have come up with is a plan for re-invention. It will include a new name and a new status for the network.

As part of a new three-year strategy, a Playing Fields Network (PFN) will be established and the new body will be set up as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO).

To be launched in January 2018, the PFN will continue as the network for the CPFAs, but is also looking to widen its membership.

We are pushing to involve stakeholders from the wider sports and physical activity sector, and have already secured the support of the Sports and Play Construction Association (SAPCA). We’re looking forward to collaborating with SAPCA on this next stage of our journey, and working together on developing advice and guidance on the development and maintenance of sports and play facilities.

The aim is clear – to provide help and support to those who look after and manage private and publicly owned playing fields.

We must raise our profile and make sure the PFN becomes a source of help and advice to local and national organisations on all issues affecting the provision of outdoor sports and recreation facilities.

Gerry Ceasar sadly passed away on 25 February 2018.

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