An amateur sports club chairman from Wigan has hit the jackpot ... but not in the way you might think!
Because Wigan Cosmos chairman John Pendlebury is the brainchild behind a new venture on the William Foster playing fields, which he hopes will bring the community together.
The 39-year-old said: “I have long had this dream that if I won the lottery I would spend it on a big sport hub. Well I haven’t won the lottery but we are going to press ahead with it in any case!
“Wigan Cosmos already play on the William Foster field, as do several other football and rugby teams, and the players have to get changed at a nearby pub.
“We want to transform this place into somewhere that helps to knit the community together.
“This is more important than ever with other traditional hubs of the community like churches and pubs closing.
“And while we have Robin Park at one end of the borough and Leigh Sports Village at the other, there is not so much in the middle, especially as Rose Bridge community centre has shut at night.
“We know that Ince is one of the most deprived areas of the country so we want something that will give a big spur to local people. But we want to attract more people from outside to come to the complex too. The railway station being just round the corner helps.
“It is a gradual process - it’s not going to happen over night. But if we can secure initial funding - perhaps from the council - and we begin to improve facilities there, through the introduction of changing facilities, floodlights, 4G pitches and suchlike, more sports organisations will want to pay to use them and increase revenues so we can do more.
“And it is very important that it is affordable for all. I don’t want financial issues to be a barrier to anyone so we would not charge silly money.”
Mr Pendlebury was keen to stress that the project would not be set up as a rival to other sport and leisure ventures in the borough, including Wigan Youth Zone, but as a complement to them.
Major eco firm CCG Energy has agreed to project manage the improvements, a charity called the Cosmos Foundation has been established to run the scheme, and applications are being made to other organisations, including the National Lottery, for further funding.
The club is also in talks with Dutch football giant Ajax about becoming one of its academies under an international scheme it runs, including educating coaches.
Ideally the community centre wouldn’t just be a social meeting place, but also incorporate services and businesses including hairdressers, doctors’ surgery, cafe, gym, library, sports shop and drop-in facilities.
A creche is also being considered to remove another barrier to some people’s participation
Mr Pendlebury said that if initial funding came through, they could have container-style changing rooms on site within four weeks, although the aim is to provide a wider range of services once the weather improves next April.
At present the fields are home to three football pitches and one rugby pitch, an overgrown bowling green and an arson-damaged pavilion.
The first thing the foundation would do is to put up fencing to make the land more secure and improve the playing surfaces. Floodlights would be screened from neighbouring houses by large trees which are already there.
Mr Pendlebury said: “The fields are pretty much a blank canvas at the moment but we are hoping that this will evolve and evolve. The more of a success we make of it in terms of attracting more teams to play there the more money we are likely to attract, including from the Lottery, until it becomes a project where you are talking about money in seven figures.
“From a purely sporting perspective we want to help with the grassroots nurturing of talent.
“I don’t think that the system we have in this country is working very well and unless someone shows incredible talent at an early age the others can well be overlooked.
“We want affordable but top quality facilities for everyone, encouraging young talent but also providing facilities for older people: from cradle to grave if you like.”
Councillor Chris Ready, cabinet member for communities at Wigan Council, said: “Through The Deal more and more community groups and individuals are helping to create a better borough. I’m delighted that Wigan Cosmos football team is doing their bit by looking after the fields.”