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I beg to move,
That this House
has considered sports facilities in coalfield areas.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. The purpose of the debate is to highlight the importance of properly funding and managing local sports facilities in former mining areas, and particularly to talk about the potential of miners’ welfares as a community hub and asset. It is great to see so many colleagues from all parts of the House present here.
Many community sports facilities in coalfield towns were built by British Coal and have since been handed over to the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation, a national charity supporting former miners and their families with help and advice on disability, ill health and financial hardship; the organisation has responsibility for miners’ welfares. There are about 250 recreational charities still operating as independent welfares and an additional 425 where a municipal authority acts as the trustee. In some communities, these facilities are the only remaining social and sporting amenities available for public use.
Some centres have adapted and evolved to meet the needs of their local communities; some trustees run very successful football clubs, while others run bowling greens and other facilities, for example. Unfortunately, many have not been successfully run and their buildings and sports grounds have been run down. I am concerned that those facilities are not receiving the investment required to maintain them to a decent standard.
There are several local clubs that I would like to mention, but I will stick to two key ones, although there are many others like them across Mansfield, north Nottinghamshire and the rest of the country, all linked to former collieries. The first is Welbeck Lions football club, in Meden Vale, which is located at the old miners’ welfare and provides sporting facilities to one of the most deprived communities in the region. It has eight junior and two adult teams, with a further three in development, and has been proactive in forming positive plans for future expansion. I have hosted a meeting for it with the Football Association and other supportive organisations.
The club and its volunteers provide an invaluable service to the local community. The club is keen to grow and expand, but improving its playing surfaces is a priority. It also needs floodlit pitches, which are required to allow the senior team to compete at a higher level and the under-19s to play in a midweek floodlit league. It has an array of further issues: the sports pavilion only has one toilet and cannot meet modern regulations, and security is a concern, with vandalism and pitches plagued by dog fouling. The young people who engage with the Welbeck Lions are often from deprived backgrounds. Statistics show that Meden Vale, where the club is based, is among the poorest communities in Nottinghamshire, and the positive impact that sports facilities have on the lives of local people should not be underestimated.
The second is Forest Town Arena, formerly the welfare and now home to AFC Mansfield. It is still a focal point for the community in Forest Town and a venue for all sorts of local events. There has been good management and investment, and the result is a nice facility; it shows what can be done, and what more could be done, with the right support and co-ordination. The community spirit that once held mining communities together is very much still there, whatever the Labour party’s political broadcasts might suggest. The organisations that kept people together have evolved and some have moved on, but in some areas the pubs and social clubs that used to be the centre of life have disappeared, and coalfield communities are left with often run-down community facilities and a lack of funding and support for sports provision.
A 2008 report by the Audit Commission stated that social regeneration had been the least successful component of regeneration in the coalfields. In 2010, the Department of Health commissioned a report that sought to look at health inequalities in coalfield communities, which raised concerns about whether the previous emphasis on economic regeneration came at the cost of health and social projects. The report stated that the health behaviours of men, women and children in those areas were often characterised by poor statistics around smoking, alcohol, poor diet and nutrition, coupled with inactivity. Unfortunately, it is increasingly clear that the facilities needed to support more exercise and activity are not up to scratch in many of those communities.
More recently, the benefits for mental health of participating in sport have been established. Studies have shown that sport can improve mood, decrease the chances of depression and anxiety and ensure a more balanced lifestyle. Again, we see higher levels of long-term mental health problems across the age range in coalfield communities compared with the rest of the country as a whole. Sports facilities are not just important for locally well established teams and aspiring world-class sportsmen; they offer a wide range of benefits, including improving the health of younger and older people and creating positive opportunities for socialising.
The new community focus criterion of Sport England could be hugely beneficial for areas such as Meden Vale, Warsop or Mansfield, if that sport could be focused on bringing welfares back to life as a community hub for health, sport, social activities and even the provision of services. In Warsop, where they have unfortunately recently lost a leisure centre, a community hub based around a welfare that could bring all those things back together would be life-changing for many people in the community. It is more cost-effective than an expensive new building and could be done in some of the areas of most need, where activities already take place.
The Coalfields Regeneration Trust has supported projects in coalfield areas and helped to respond to the threat of closure of outdoor sports facilities such as pitches, playing fields and pavilions. The trust has invested millions of pounds in sports facilities in England such as multi-use games areas and 3G or AstroTurf facilities. One of the trust’s current priorities is health and wellbeing, and I am pleased that sport features heavily in its work. In 2006, it undertook a comprehensive review of sport and recreational facilities across coalfields, which provided details of facilities that were available to coalfield communities prior to the financial crash.
It would be helpful if the Government supported the trust to update that database and review which facilities remain and which are no longer available. For those facilities that are no longer in use, I would be particularly keen to learn how they were disposed of and what reinvestment was made in the communities when those facilities were lost. If land was sold, where did the money go?
As well as the grants that Sport England provides, dozens of national governing bodies award funding packages, as do local authorities, but trustees of coalfield facilities often do not have the experience to apply for those grants. It is also the case that many applications have conditions covering things such as minimum participation, which can be difficult. Once established, helping to bring different teams, clubs and other community organisations together under one roof in a welfare-based community hub could help to facilitate bidding for and winning investment to make the centres self-sustaining in future.
As I mentioned at the beginning, coalfield communities are often in a slightly unusual position in that many of their community centres and local sports facilities have a background in the coal industry rather than being built and maintained by local authorities. Since the transfer of miners’ welfare clubs and community facilities to CISWO, facilities such as football pitches and bowling greens have often not been looked after effectively. In my former role as a district councillor I was involved, along with my hon. Friend Mark Spencer, in a campaign on Bestwood Miners’ Welfare, which has been affected by ongoing issues surrounding its management and the maintenance of its facilities. I am keen that the Government look at how local authorities and sporting bodies can be encouraged to work with CISWO on local sports and health and wellbeing priorities in order to support such communities.
In my experience, CISWO is not always the best at facilitating effective management of the facilities and ensuring that they are looked after. It works hard to support former miners and their families and provides important assistance to those individuals, but I am concerned that, in prioritising the individuals rather than the long-term community legacy, it is allowing facilities to become run down and in some cases turning a blind eye to poor management, which is detrimental to communities.
Money raised from community buildings seems often to be invested in other priorities of the organisation and not put back into the community it came from. While that money might be spent nationally on campaigns, or on information and support for individual miners, it is being drained out of local facilities and leaving coalfield communities worse off. I am concerned that CISWO might not be providing suitable support for the trustees of these facilities and I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to investigate how the process could be improved to support the facilities more effectively.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood has previously raised concerns in the local press about CISWO taking money out of Nottinghamshire with little investment in return. He has rightly criticised it for profiting from the sale of land but not reinvesting the money back in local facilities. That is not happening only in Nottinghamshire; I know that in Yorkshire there have been similar problems. The Yorkshire Post ran an interesting story about recreation grounds in mining communities last year. I fear that CISWO’s strategic decision to focus on former miners as individuals rather than on communities, while perhaps understandable at one time, is now increasingly to the detriment of those communities.
The good news is that in Mansfield and Warsop, and across many other mining towns, there are facilities that still exist and space available for sports amenities. I am not asking the Government to commit to funding a series of brand-new facilities. It is often cheaper to refurbish and improve current facilities, with some help. I am convinced that some money already exists within a number of external organisations that could be utilised in this way.
I am keen to highlight that improving sports provision in coalfield communities will not take huge resources. I want Ministers to consider a small injection of funding to support coalfield areas in improving sports provision, which will improve health and wellbeing and rebuild social cohesion. However, it is just as important to get the political will behind improving facilities, and the Government should look at ways to encourage CISWO, local authorities and sporting bodies to work together to improve sports grounds. For the most part, facilities have willing groups of trustees and volunteers, so the main challenges are getting them to work together, giving them the skills and getting CISWO to release funding, along with support from national sports governing bodies.
As I touched on earlier, Sport England helps many communities with health and wellbeing programmes, looking at ways to support community assets and to provide multiple services from one facility. Miners’ welfare clubs and sports grounds in coalfield communities have traditionally been used for a range of purposes, and I hope that Sport England sees the potential of many of those facilities as hubs for multiple services. That would also tie in with its work with deprived communities.
Sport England’s funding programmes, such as Inspired Facilities and Protecting Playing Fields, are helpful, but I would like to see a specific focus on coalfield communities and protecting the facilities that currently exist in those areas. As a Government, we should aim to prove that we are committed to supporting coalfield communities, to advancing the cause of some of the country’s most deprived areas and to genuinely be about helping the “just about managing” to have a better quality of life.
At the end of 2015, the Government published “Sporting Future: A New Strategy for an Active Nation”, which emphasised the importance of harnessing sport for social good. It was a positive publication and a step in the right direction, and the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, said that the Government would
“target funding at groups which have traditionally had lower participation rates”.
That includes places that are less active and less healthy, and coalfield communities generally top the charts in those statistics. Coalfield communities are generally some of the most deprived in the UK, with poorer health outcomes and lower levels of physical activity. I hope that Ministers look to coalfield communities when considering their duty to ensure that absolutely everyone can benefit from sport, because, as the report notes,
“the biggest gains and the best value for public investment is found in addressing people who are least active.”
I thank the Minister for her attendance, and hope she will be able to address some of my questions. I also hope to hear positive contributions from Members from across the House. I thank hon. Members for their time.
I thank my constituency neighbour, Ben Bradley, for securing this timely debate. I represented part of his constituency until the boundary changes of 2010, so I know Warsop and Welbeck extremely well. I recall the work that I and my office put in to get the initial significant grants to bring Meden Vale’s playing fields up to any kind of reasonable standard, but that was the beginning of the process, not the end. In former mining communities such as Meden Vale, with the level of enthusiasm and the number of volunteers there, it is fairly obvious to me that the Government are sitting on a health gold mine.
CISWO, with its legacy from the coal industry, is responsible for more playing fields in England than any other single organisation—a phenomenal fact. However, it has never taken that responsibility seriously. It has never had a plan. I have had many battles with it, even over basics such as getting investment in. That contrasts totally with the less well funded Coalfields Regeneration Trust, which has done and still does a superb job with meagre resources; it has pennies where pounds are needed. Its approach has been absolutely to the point in terms of recognising the economic and health benefits of investment, including in sporting facilities. The hon. Gentleman was right to highlight the important role that the Coalfields Regeneration Trust still plays. It could do more with more resource.
I am interested in the possibilities around CISWO and its land. The CISWO land in my area includes land in Harworth, a former colliery. It has cricket and football clubs. There was also provision for weightlifting and archery—Olympic sports. It was given £43,000 for floodlights, so that the football club, which has been very successful, can be promoted. The colliery is good at raising its own money, but it has never had any significant outside investment, only small amounts.
The land is there, and one of the Football Association’s multi-purpose, floodlit, full-size 3G or 4G pitches could be put there instantly, losing no facility whatsoever. It has a car park and changing rooms. It has the infrastructure. It has the community involvement, including among kids, and, critically, it has the volunteers. This is low-overhead sport. It does not require paying loads of people to do loads of things; it is volunteer-led. That kind of investment there would work. However, those volunteers are not the kind of people who have spent their time learning the routes to bid for various sums of money, so the money goes elsewhere, and they continue to spend their time running mass-participation events.
Costhorpe does not have any infrastructure. It has the fields, although it gave them over to the district council, and it has the cricket pitch. It lost its tennis facilities, and the bowling facilities are long gone, although the land is still there. However, there are no changing rooms, so kids playing football have to change in cars. There are no toilets, although the youth club is sometimes open to give that generous assistance. Again, it is pretty simple and pretty basic: any plan for sport—or for football, which is the biggest sport played there—would have that automatically built in. Football bodies, with their mass wealth, are not doing that.
There is also Manton. I actually employed a member of staff, Kamini Patel, who spent three years battling with CISWO to allow investment in the facilities there. We pooled our money, Sport England money and various other types of money and put in changing rooms and a little multi-use games area. It was transformed from virtually nobody using it—one club, one football team—to thousands of kids using it, and thousands of girls playing football there. That continues to this day. It has decent changing rooms, decent toilets, a proper, safe car park, safe access and a little tuck shop room to make teas and coffees.
An all-weather facility could be put in Manton and the numbers would dramatically increase again. It needs a bit of assistance to get that going. It could also do with infrastructure money for the boxing that is held there, which is only just legal in the building used for it. There is also athletics there, which is highly successful. We are talking about potential Olympic medal winners training in the summer on grass marked out at the miners’ welfare. That is not the standard that we should aspire to in this country.
It seems to me that there is a huge opportunity for the Minister and for the Government. The facilities, the land and the consent are there. CISWO is not a dynamic organisation, but it is not the irritable blocker that it was when I dealt with it five or 10 years ago, when it tried to block every single thing. It gave me plenty of grief simply because we wanted to turn drinking clubs into sports clubs for kids. That has now changed, and CISWO will not stand in the way, but it needs some pump-priming. It needs the Government to say that they will put in extra money if it opens up football, cricket or athletics facilities, but what should the Government’s price be for doing that?
My final point, Mr Owen, is the biggest and the most important, and the one you will be most interested in, as will the Minister, I am sure. Any Government funding should be conditional on putting the NHS in the middle. The Government should tell the NHS that it has to be part of this. We put some good money into Manton miners’ welfare, and you cannot move for the vast number of parents and grandparents watching young girls and boys play football there on a Saturday morning. It is a wonderful sight, and statistically it is the Football Foundation’s most successful ever project. I hope it is listening in and recognising that.
What if NHS involvement was one of the conditions? Doctors could recommend walking round the pitch three times for each grandparent. Reading University’s academic research suggests that that will probably add half a year to their life if they do it every time they watch their grandchild play football. Let us bring in a little bit of quantified active participation and literally bring in NHS branding—force the NHS to think through using these facilities as part of its work. The key target group in Mansfield, Bassetlaw and other coalfield communities is the parents and grandparents watching their kids involved in physical activity. If what I have suggested is part of the deal, we will save the taxpayer a fortune. Three times walking round the pitch is quantified activity. We should say to those running the facilities, “It is part of your responsibility to get all the parents and grandparents doing it, because that is why we are putting the money in.”
That would be huge for the NHS. That is the little twist that I would build in. It would be transformative in coalfield communities. It would be great for mental health stuff and all the rest. Say to people, “Aye, go and have a drink if you want on a Saturday night, but these aren’t drinking clubs. They are sports clubs. As they were originally, so they are going to be again—a great national asset brought fully back into use.” What a chance for the Minister to be performing round the country and seeing great success in what she has done!
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate my hon. Friend Ben Bradley on securing this important debate and John Mann on his passion and enthusiasm for the changes that we are seeking in coalfield communities.
Coalmining was a major industry in Ayrshire from the mid-1700s until the mid-1980s, which saw the last of the deep mines in Ayrshire—or the National Coal Board west area, as it was known. Today, the surface scars of the collieries are all but gone, leaving a unique landscape of pine forests, moors, lakes and recovered open-cast sites. There are also many sites of special scientific interest, and I am pleased to report that the area hosts an abundance of wildlife.
When the coalfields were thriving, sport and culture also thrived. Over the past 150 years some remarkably talented individuals, including musicians and sports personalities, in sports ranging from boxing to bowling—not least Bill Shankly, of football fame—have hailed from Ayrshire mining communities. Bill Shankly was born not quite in my constituency but in a neighbouring constituency, in a small village called Glenbuck. It produced a number of world-class footballers.
Sadly, many such villages have disappeared, but since the mines closed the communities have remained proud and resilient. In recent years, for example, members of the Dalmellington curling club have worked to reinstate the outside curling pond at Craigengillan—currently the only self-levelling curling pond in Scotland—and almost certainly using granite curling stones quarried on the island of Ailsa Craig, off the coast of my constituency. Moreover, the Dalmellington band—it is well worth going to hear it play; it does very well in competitions throughout the UK—is playing on after 150 years in the Doon Valley.
There is much evidence to suggest an unhappy correlation between lower indices of health and fitness, life expectancy and deprivation in former coalfield communities, and a great deal of evidence to suggest that sports facilities are an excellent means by which to improve that particularly bad situation. At the moment, a number of organisations are doing sterling work for the welfare of former coalfield communities. Locally, we have East Ayrshire Council, the East Ayrshire Coalfield Environment Initiative, the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation, to name but a few. Indeed, another local organisation, the Coalfield Communities Landscape Partnership—it aims to reconnect communities with the landscape by creating opportunities for leisure, tourism and, we hope, jobs—has recently secured £2.5 million of national lottery funding, which will do much to support its work.
There is, however, a danger of overlap, and although I am very much aware that elements of sport are a devolved matter, community health and wellbeing is a matter of UK-wide importance. In many communities, the loss of sports facilities such as games halls, golf courses and bowling greens has left a significant health gap. Will the Minister therefore consider whether, despite the devolved elements, a UK-wide approach, with some form of joint working between Governments and the various support organisations, might see increased efficiency in the improvement of existing sports facilities, and in some cases the construction of new ones in former coalfield communities UK-wide? I will just mention that the proposed UK prosperity fund might be a till that one could dip into to improve some of these facilities, which are much needed.
There is the potential to make a significant contribution to the health and wellbeing of these communities, which in the past have played an immense part in the success of industry throughout the UK. We have taken the deep-mine coal, we have taken the open-cast coal and, as if that were not enough, we are now stealing the wind—for renewable energy—from these communities, particularly around the Doon Valley. I say to the Minister that it may be time to pay them back for what they have given to the United Kingdom.
It is a pleasure to be here under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I thank Ben Bradley for raising this matter. The Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation has been mentioned. Its headquarters are in my constituency, and I have worked with it over many decades. I am referring to the work that it has done and continues to do for mining communities and individuals in those communities. Its core activity includes services to individual clients through the organisation’s personal welfare service. That includes advice, guidance, advocacy and grant assistance to former miners and their families. The organisation’s website states that that is its medium-term priority. Sadly, we all know that that medium-term priority will be lessening all the time, because there are not many ex-miners around now.
Obviously, it is a long time since the coalmines closed in some parts of my constituency and, as has been pointed out, what we have left, as a consequence, is many recreation grounds that were tied to the local coalmine. When I was a miner in Maltby colliery, we used to pay a certain amount a week from our wages to the miners’ welfare field, which was there to assist with the different activities that took place. Providing support for mining charities acting within mining trusts and preserving recreational facilities in former mining communities is difficult at this stage, but I believe very strongly that we should look after these facilities for current and future generations.
I have discussed individual projects with the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation. I ought to declare an interest. My grandson, 10-year-old Ted Barron, plays for Maltby Miners Welfare junior football club. His older brother used to play for them, but he plays for another club now. There is still a hive of activity in these ex-coalmining communities, but there are a lot of problems.
I will not talk about all the grounds—there are many in my area—but one has been empty for years and we have argued about redevelopment and getting some sporting activity back on to it. It is in a village called Dinnington, where my constituency office is. Through CISWO, we tried to get some movement on that many years ago. We have had problems with other grounds as well. It may be argued that personal fallouts have been an issue. The biggest issue we have had recently at Maltby—I am going to ask the Minister whether her Department can help in some way—concerns the local football team. There are many people there—there is bowling and cricket, and whippet racing is still an activity—I have not seen a human beat one yet, but anyway, it is still an activity that takes place. There is an issue about ground improvement. Because no miners work down Maltby colliery any more, nobody is paying money into the welfare scheme, and the bar takings are depleting by the day. The culture is changing. We have a situation that is potentially a serious threat.
There was a scheme involving the football club, called Maltby Miners Welfare. This year it was streamed in the first FA cup round playing Pontefract Collieries. Sadly, Pontefract Collieries won—I was at the match and saw it. But the main thing about that is that there was an attempt to get some improvements through the Football Foundation, but that was not possible because of the lease arrangements between CISWO, the local Miners Welfare trustees and the users themselves. There is constant debate about the costs.
There are football clubs peppered throughout south Yorkshire playing in major amateur leagues. The football clubs have abandoned those grounds and gone elsewhere. At Kiveton Park in my constituency the football club left about three years ago—it could not get one locally. The priority for CISWO is the issue of independent advice, which I accept is important, but I and others would like the legacy left by coalmining to carry on now, in terms of health and activity in our constituencies, especially given the levels of childhood obesity. I am not saying that they should necessarily get an NHS grant, as my hon. Friend John Mann says, but these clubs will need advice as they move into the future.
It is clear that CISWO has some assets in buildings and land. Its priority at the moment is to look after people who worked in the coal industry and their dependants, which I understand. In my view, it needs some advice about the future, so that we can get Football Foundation money to keep the recreation going, and to keep our young and elderly people fitter by using these facilities, which are a legacy from coalmining throughout the UK. I am sure that, with some assistance, CISWO would be the right organisation to do that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate my hon. Friend Ben Bradley on securing this important and timely debate. I am pleased to follow the important and passionate contributions of hon. Members, which reflect a combined view across parties in this part of the world. I am a near neighbour of those who have spoken, except for my hon. Friend Bill Grant, who comes from north of the border but whose points were just as valid.
This issue is close to my heart. I did not have the privilege of being a miner, but both my grandfathers were miners and both of them effectively died from mining. I represent one of the pits that one of my grandads worked down, before he lost his leg and was retired. I have the privilege of representing lots of coalmining villages, including my own, which I lived in and my family have lived in for nearly 50 years. I know that the passion and community spirit is still there and I know how important it is to support that. I know the experience that has been discussed already. I have been to lots of the working men’s clubs and community facilities in these villages over the past few months, because I have been renting them out to hold public meetings and to talk to residents. Huge camaraderie and community spirit remains.
We will not debate this extensively, but it is fair to say that such places had the stuffing knocked out of them in the ’80s, and over the last 30 years or so they have got back on their feet and are moving again. Yet challenges remain, and it is places such as these where the community can still come together. Often some of these communities are somewhat isolated. I represent communities that are not that far away from the main town, Chesterfield, but actually most people look internally within that community—the bus routes are not great and not everybody has cars—because that is what people see and experience day to day. As a Government, we should think very hard about how we can support and improve this area.
There is some fantastic work already going on—I will name a few examples. I recently went to Tupton to talk to the local rugby club, which is doing fantastic work with the local community and is a real asset for the village. I have been to watch Eckington football club pull together dozens of young people every single week, to work in teams and learn to play football. Killamarsh Dynamos is doing the same in the next village. Last Friday evening I was at a local basketball club, Arrows Basketball in Dronfield, which operates across Dronfield, Yorkshire and Killamarsh. I have also seen Killamarsh Juniors, a club that is run to support local activities from a sports perspective. It has its own challenges, not least with npower—something I have been trying to help with over the past six months—which has put in four different smart meters and is getting different answers every time. I know that is slightly ancillary, but it demonstrates how close some of these clubs are to the bread line in supporting the activities they are doing. As a Government, we need to ensure that we recognise the important contribution that they make.
In my section of the party, I am somebody who believes in a small state and in Government only spending where it is necessary, rather than spending badly in lots of places. However, I am a strong supporter of infrastructure spending, and this is social infrastructure. I can see from the places that I have the privilege to represent and the place where I have grown up how important these kinds of facilities are for the communities that we have been speaking about today. If there is something that we can do here, we should consider it strongly.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen—in a different forum from our usual Wednesday morning standing engagement. I am conscious that the Division bells might ring in a moment, but I will keep the Chamber going until such time as we are interrupted.
I commend Ben Bradley for securing and kicking off this excellent debate. We have heard excellent contributions from the hon. Gentleman himself, the hon. Members for Bassetlaw (John Mann), for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant)—who I will come back to in a moment—and for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), and Sir Kevin Barron. I do not always agree with my friend, the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock. I did not agree with him—as hon. Members will have seen from my excessive gesticulation—when he suggested that we should have a UK-wide approach to spending on these matters, but I suspect that we shall have to disagree on that.
I am delighted to begin the winding-up speeches on behalf of the Scottish National party. I want to refer to one or two initiatives in Scotland, as the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock did, before placing on the record my plea—not to the Minister, because this is a matter not for her but for my colleagues back home on Glasgow City Council—for some sports facilities in Glasgow East.
Before I do that, I want to pay tribute to the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, which receives financial backing from the Scottish Government in Edinburgh. Some £750,000 has been pledged to the trust this year to support the enabling of grassroots activity, which can tackle issues relating to employment, sport and training. We know the good work that the trust does and what good value for money it is—it has been reported that it delivers £1.81 for every £1 it receives, so it almost doubles the money it receives.
One of the three current priorities of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust is health and wellbeing, and encouraging sport. Since 2014 it has run an annual football event for five-a-side teams aged 14 to 16 in each country, with finalists going on to play against each other in the home internationals. It is one of the few occasions when Scotland seems to do well at the moment, so I will certainly support that. The trust also recently ran a sports challenge, inviting sports clubs and groups to bid for financial support, to encourage those young people to get involved. It was not just football and rugby that benefited; we saw basketball, lawn bowling, boxing and even an Australian rules football club receive support.
The hon. Member for Mansfield was right to frame the debate in the way he did. A particularly hot topic in my constituency at the moment is the need for a new sports facility in the village of Baillieston. The village grew out of a number of small hamlets, including Crosshill, Barrachnie and Bredisholm, which developed as farming and weaving communities in the latter part of the 18th century. However, the opening up of the Monklands coalfield, with the construction of the Monklands canal and later the railway, stimulated the rapid growth of Baillieston. It soon acquired the typical character of a mining village, although some weaving survived until the end of the century, and we still have the last weavers’ cottage on Baillieston Main Street, which I am glad to see has been done up.
A continuous programme of pit sinking drew in workers from across Scotland and beyond, and the population grew rapidly to reach almost 4,000 by the time of the first world war. Of course, for reasons of politics, Baillieston does not have that mining industry now, but it is a radically different place. We once again have a growing population and the issues associated with that, and for that reason residents in that part of my constituency are quite right to say that they want proper amenities and facilities that reflect the dynamic and growing population that now lives in Baillieston and its surrounding communities. Since being elected, I have been working closely with my SNP colleague, Councillor Elaine Ballantyne, to apply maximum pressure to Glasgow City Council to make sure that the community gets what it was promised many years ago. A sports hub is what they were promised, and it is what we will deliver.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen, for what I believe is the first time. I thank Ben Bradley for leading this debate. His constituency is directly affected by this important issue, which his predecessor was also concerned about.
One in 11 people in the UK live in coalfield sites, and as many hon. Members will know, coalfield sites fall well below the national average in most national indicators. My husband is from a little mining village in Wales, and we often talk about the challenges faced by people who live in such rural communities. Whether in employment rates, prevalence of ill health or life expectancy, coalfields have some of the worst statistics on deprivation in the UK. The 1980s miners’ strike may be a distant memory for some, but for residents in coalfields across the country, the job losses that came afterward have cast a long shadow. The Government of the time were responsible for ripping coalfield communities apart, and the then Prime Minister did little to repair the fabric. We are still trying to rebuild those communities up and down the country. Sport programmes delivered in coalfield areas have been shown to have a positive impact on communities. They reduce antisocial activity, increase feelings of public security and reduce the number of young people involved in violent crime. In many of those communities, only one or two pubs in certain villages bind people together, so sports facilities provide an essential opportunity.
As the shadow Minister for Sport, I have seen at first hand how sport can change lives, especially young people’s. The physical benefits are plain to see, but just as important are the support structures it can provide: mentoring, friendship and a place to belong. I will continue to be an advocate for community sports. However, we need more than somewhere to play sports; we need coaches—people who can spot talent, or who can spot vulnerable young people and go on to help them. Sometimes people cannot get the support they need from their families and they look to coaches in sports facilities to be the person they can rely on. It is about camaraderie, the team, being together and knowing everyone is there for one another. The power of sport should not be underestimated.
Most sports facilities in coalfield sites are still privately owned and operated by the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation, which we have heard about already. It is a national charity that supports mining communities and oversees hundreds of formerly British Coal-owned sports facilities, which are leased out to local miners’ welfare schemes. Recently, however, the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation made “a strategic decision” not to offer grant aid to support welfare schemes running recreation grounds, but instead to focus on providing support services to individuals. That was part of a three-year plan created in 2015 to cut spending by £600,000, to extend the organisation’s projected lifespan. It has led to a growing number of sports facilities in coalfields having to close because they just do not have enough money to keep going. That has happened at a time when Government cuts have forced secondary schools to cut the provision of physical education teaching by almost 35,000 hours.
It seems clear that the Government owe a historical debt to the communities in coalfield sites. For years, people in those communities worked in incredibly dangerous conditions, as we heard from Lee Rowley, who spoke about his family’s involvement. They worked in those conditions to produce the coal that fired this country’s economy for decades. What reward have they received for their service? A Prime Minister led an attack on mining in which miners were described as “the enemy within” and which decimated the mining industry and the communities that depended on it.
I urge the Minister to consider the points that have been made in this debate, to do everything she can to reduce deprivation in coalfield sites, and to focus particularly on the sustainability of sports facilities. Sport can improve lives, increase community cohesion, give young people a purpose, give families an opportunity to be together and change young peoples’ futures. I urge the Minister to ensure that the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation has the financial support to ensure that coalfield communities do not miss out.
I would be delighted, Mr Owen. Unlike Dr Allin-Khan, I do not think that this is the first time that I have served under your chairmanship. I am sure that it will be as much of a pleasure as last time.
I thank my hon. Friend Ben Bradley for securing the debate. I welcome the opportunity to raise awareness of this important issue and to explore with hon. Members what can be done. I am grateful to him, my hon. Friend Lee Rowley and John Mann for meeting me earlier this year. It was a helpful introduction to their concerns about the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation and to the aspiration of hon. Members to seek greater investment in their communities. I would also be very happy to meet Sir Kevin Barron to discuss Maltby, if that would help. The point made by my hon. Friend Bill Grant about devolution is interesting, albeit challenging, given the way that funds are distributed for sports across the UK. I will take that away and think about it.
This is clearly an important subject. Like all hon. Members who have spoken, I firmly believe that sport and physical activity should be for everyone, no matter where they come from or where they live. Sport has the power to transform lives and the benefits go far beyond the physical, which is at the heart of what we are trying to achieve through the sport and physical activity strategy. Sporting Future was one of the first strategies that I delivered as the Sports Minister in 2015. At its core is a desire to create a healthier, happier and more productive nation. Supporting people to be more active in whatever way best suits them is a crucial part of that.
One of the greatest factors that affects people’s desire and ability to get involved is the environment and facilities that they can access. Facilities are key. For some people, especially for older generations, taking part in sport can bring back memories of crumbling changing rooms, muddy pitches and jumpers for goalposts, so good-quality, inclusive and welcoming environments are important in encouraging people to get active and, more importantly, stay active.
I am pleased that the Government are doing so much to transform sporting facilities across the country. I recognise that Sporting Future is not perfect, but we are insistent that facilities and the environment for sport and physical activity should be a priority. It made clear our support for bringing together sport and physical activity facilities with other community services. It also highlighted the benefits of multi-sport facilities in improving usage and sustainability. More than that, it placed the customer—the person—at the heart of facility design. Gone are the simple days of “build it and they will come”. We must be smarter and we must think harder.
Given the local government cuts in leisure, given that the industry does not support sport as it used to, certainly in my area, and given the real problems of modern illnesses such as child and adult obesity across the UK, particularly in our coalfield communities, what more does the Minister think the NHS can do to make a large-scale material difference in improving the health of our country by promoting physical activity, as my hon. Friend John Mann suggested? The Minister’s strategy is worthy, but will it make a sufficient difference to deal with modern killers? Do we need to be much more ambitious and involve the NHS?
We already involve the NHS, but we can do more. That is not within my portfolio, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that a lot is going on in terms of the social prescribing of physical activity in local communities to combat the issues that he mentioned. Other things can be done—he should remind me to tell him about some girl guides from Wales who just visited me, who have been working hard to get sports such as rugby into their schools, despite opposition from their headteachers to allowing girls to do traditionally boys’ sports. I will talk to him about that outside the Chamber, because it is not the issue that we are talking about today. There is no simple solution, though; we need a partnership across many different agencies.
To support the Government’s ambitions, Sport England is investing £40 million in large-scale facilities up to 2021 through its strategic facilities fund. Its community asset fund provides grants of up to £150,000 to organisations and communities that want to take more ownership over the spaces and facilities in their local areas. I am pleased to see the extensive support that Sport England has already provided to mining communities, with £4.8 million of public investment having been awarded to 30 miners’ welfare organisations since 2005.
I was very interested in the comments by the right hon. Member for Rother Valley, because it says here in my script that the Kiveton community sports park in South Yorkshire is a particularly successful and recent example of how Sport England funding has helped to regenerate land and support mining communities to be more active. The park is used for sports as diverse as football, cricket, tag rugby and bowls; there are also para-sports such as boccia and goalball. Clearly, we need to talk about Kiveton outside this Chamber. It also says here in my script that it is a wonderful facility, and I am thrilled that so many people are being introduced to such a wide array of sports. Clearly, our perception of what is being delivered at Kiveton is very different from the reality on the ground, and I welcome his feedback on that.
It also says here in my script that Kiveton is a great example of how local interest and drive can be harnessed to make a real difference for communities. Regardless of Kiveton, however, it is clear that facilities only work properly when they are properly planned, properly used and properly maintained. That means being clear about which people we think would benefit the most from using them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield and others spoke about CISWO. Although colleagues will appreciate that I am not in a position to comment on specific details of CISWO’s operations, I encourage all interested parties, including CISWO, the local trusts, local county sports partnerships and others to come together to discuss how local communities and facilities can best be supported and managed. Sport England has huge expertise in this area and I am sure that its staff would be very happy to contribute to such conversations. If that is of interest to colleagues, we can help to facilitate it.
We all know that many of the mining communities that we have talked about today include people from some of the hardest-to-reach groups in society, who are exactly the people who benefit the most from becoming more active. That is another key message in the sport and physical activity strategy. We want a strong focus from the whole sport and physical activity sector on how we can reach people who traditionally have not got involved in sport or who think sport or physical activity is not for them.
A great deal of support is already out there. Sport England has delivered a range of opportunities that place tackling inactivity and engaging under-represented groups at their core, and it is investing up to £100 million in 12 local delivery pilots across the country. These pilots focus on bringing together a wide range of partners to solve inactivity challenges in very specific locations. We are monitoring those pilots very closely, as they will be vital in helping to deliver better interventions across the country in the future.
Public funding and support can only stretch so far, but I shall make sure that the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield is passed on to the Chancellor as soon as possible. However, as I said earlier, there is no simple answer and therefore no one solution. Organisations that have great ideas about developing their facilities need to be encouraged and directed to other sources of finance and support. They need to be brought together—even cajoled—and it is in this regard that local leadership and understanding is key. Local authorities are the organisations best placed to understand what is needed in their communities and how to build support for any proposal, and the brokerage that local leaders can offer is invaluable. I urge the parties involved to get around the table to find a solution. Whether it is the challenges of planning regulations, access to finance or a lack of co-ordination, there is an opportunity to address real community need.
What we must avoid at all costs is building facilities that do not have the support of local organisations and that have not been tested by the community. I know that as someone whose constituency received funding for a major sports facility in the early stages of Sport England and lottery funding. That facility was developed, but a few years later it went into administration, because it had not been subject to community testing and did not have the right business plan. I really encourage thinking through the bids that go into the lottery organisations.
We all want to see more and better facilities. It is important that we work together in partnership to help people to get active, but sporting facilities all need to be properly planned, and that is where the leadership of colleagues here in Parliament, including leadership of their colleagues in their own constituencies, is incredibly important. Understanding the needs of local communities and building a broad consensus are crucial, and those of us in central Government in Whitehall are probably not best placed to do those things. However, we can provide the expertise from Sport England to help to support those conversations.
In addition, the Cabinet Office and the Local Government Association’s “One Public Estate” programme brings together partners from across a range of different local backgrounds to help to deliver property-based projects. I know my colleagues in the Cabinet Office would be very happy to meet interested Members to discuss that programme further.
At the very centre of this debate is the importance of understanding how we can help communities to be more active, including how they can access better quality facilities. We all know of the benefits that people gain from sport: it improves mental and physical health, improves skills, brings communities together, and makes the country a more productive place. That is why we want to see strong local partnerships coming together to understand the needs in their area and consequently to reinvigorate their local facilities and green spaces.
That already happens in many places, but there is scope to do so much more. I want communities to be supported to ensure that everybody, regardless of their ability or background, feels able to get active and live a healthy, happy and full life. I urge Members, CISWO, the relevant local authorities and county sports partnerships to meet urgently to identify a way forward. It is only through local collaboration and the drive of the community that meaningful progress can be made.
I thank all the Members who participated in today’s debate. Their contributions have been thoughtful and insightful. The points that have been expressed have been well made and I hope that progress on this matter will be forthcoming, because, like everyone else in this Chamber, I passionately believe that sport should be for everyone and is at the heart of a happy and healthy nation.
I thank the Minister for her response to the debate, for her consideration of this issue and for touching on the many positive things that the Government are doing to help grassroots sport. I particularly welcome her interest in discussing the matter with CISWO and the national governing bodies of sports. I would appreciate her help to facilitate that, whether the discussion is about finding new money—I have spoken to the Treasury about this issue—or how we co-ordinate and bring together the partnerships that she has mentioned, to make sure that any new money reaches the kind of facilities and communities that we have been discussing today. All of that would be very welcome.
I apologise for coughing my way through the debate; my next speech is about weaponising toddler germs for use by the Ministry of Defence. [Laughter.] My hon. Friend Bill Grant made some comments about the historic success of local clubs and sportsmen, and the positive contribution that lottery funding can make, which was a very good point to include. Sir Kevin Barron told us about his experience of local clubs and laid out the challenges with CISWO. We have touched on how important it is that we can bring CISWO funding together and get CISWO to put a plan together, as John Mann, who represents a constituency neighbouring mine, mentioned. His point about NHS involvement was interesting; the health aspect of sport is certainly critical. He is right to say that it is the parents and grandparents of children who are the health priority in areas such as ours, and sporting facilities are clearly an access point for health services to reach those people. My hon. Friend Lee Rowley, who is my Nan’s MP, touched on the community spirit that remains in coalfield areas, and the resilience and grit of these communities. He is absolutely spot on.
It was a shame, therefore, after such a positive debate about the future of our communities that Dr Allin-Khan, who is the shadow Minister, could not help harking back and politicising the issue. I find that even in communities such as ours, my constituents tend not to appreciate that. My predecessor’s will to continue to do that is part of the reason that I am now here in Parliament, truthfully. I find that very interesting.
I strongly believe that investing in sports provision in coalfield communities should be a huge priority, particularly in terms of improving the health and wellbeing of those communities. Without spending a great deal of money, there are opportunities to create a really positive legacy for the coal industry and these communities.
I appreciate everybody’s support here in Westminster Hall today and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to raise this issue.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered sports facilities in coalfield areas.