Will no one step up to save Wincanton Sports Ground?

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Wincanton Sports Ground could close by the end of September, warn the trustees, if no one comes forward. Rachael Rowe reports

The Blackmore Vale is full of brilliant voluntary services that keep things running in the community. If you want to be a volunteer, there are endless options to choose from – you can help to clear footpaths, run sports facilities or operate a food pantry.
But what happens when a voluntary role evolves into a full-time unpaid task? What if the volunteers want to do something else with their time? Wincanton Sports Ground is one of several organisations faced with a desperate need for new volunteers and trustees and it so urgent that it risks closure in a few weeks time.

Volunteers needed
Wincanton Town Council chairman Howard Ellard also chairs the trustees of Wincanton Sports Ground. He says: ’The sports ground works on a volunteer basis and is governed by a charitable trust (Wincanton Recreational Trust). Like so many local leisure facilities, it is not overseen by the local council. We have four trustees who have been in the post for seven years, and two wish to stand down.
‘The issue is that two of the volunteers have more or less been doing a full time job working at the sports ground. They want to do other things with their time.
It sucks the life out of volunteers when they don’t get any support.’
So, what are the consequences of not having any new volunteers or trustees at the sports ground? Howard explains: ‘The trust cannot operate without trustees. Activities at the sports ground will potentially cease at the end of September.
‘Without volunteers, so many essential jobs just would not get done. At the beginning of October, we will not have anyone to do the day-to-day jobs. We have tried to get people to volunteer – but we haven’t got very far. When someone is already doing something (as a volunteer or trustee), people think “Well, I don’t have to then”. We need people to step up; the sports ground is for the benefit of everyone.’

Sport for health
Wincanton needs all the sports and leisure facilities it can get. According to data from public health, the adult population in South Somerset has high rates of obesity (60% of adults). Wincanton also has higher rates of high blood pressure and mental ill health than other parts of England. These can all be improved by regular exercise. Sports and leisure facilities are crucial to preventing long-term conditions and ill health.
Wincanton Sports Ground is home to the tennis club, Wincanton Town Football Club and Wincanton Rugby Club. Popular local cycling club the Wincanton Wheelers is based at the ground, as is a forest school.
Naturally, the clubhouse is also booked out for events. Local people walk through the grounds, and the complex is well-maintained by the volunteers. A spokesperson for Wincanton Town Football Club says: ‘Wincanton Town Football Club has been in existence since 1890, and our men’s first team is currently playing at its best standard of football. We have managed to get help from the public to fund urgent drainage works for the pitch, and it is also our first season entering a ladies’ team into the Somerset Women’s League.
Wincanton needs to have its much-loved football teams playing here and we are entirely run by volunteers.’

So many tasks
There are various jobs that volunteers or trustees do, ranging from maintaining the grounds to doing the accounts and managing the building. There are also cleaning and serving positions in the main building. All the individual clubs run on their volunteers too.
Howard continues: ‘We have done some incredible things in the last two years, but we need people to come forward to replace the volunteers.’
The trustees have already looked at other options. They have met with other organisations that have the potential to take on the management of the sports ground. And they have also considered selling their surplus land, possibly for development. ‘We do have more land than we need,’ says Howard.

Community Asset
Volunteering is not only an admirable thing to do, it is rewarding and comes with a host of personal benefits. However, when it takes over your life it can become too much. As a society, we have become dependent on volunteers, and their presence can be taken for granted.
The work involved in running a charitable trust is also significant. Volunteers step forward to help society – but they also need support and a break from time to time.
If you are considering volunteering, remember that just one hour a month taking on a single task can make a positive difference.
If you are interested in volunteering at Wincanton Sports Ground, contact Howard Ellard
howard_ellard@hotmail.com.

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