© 2017 The Harpenden Society

As a thriving centre of enthusiastic sports activity, Harpenden is unquestionably a shining example. And, following the Harpenden Society’s hugely successful September meeting, under the theme of ‘Shaping the Future of Sport in Harpenden’, the prospects appear even more encouraging.  

Ten of the town’s leading sports clubs accepted the invitation to tell the 80 or so society members and others gathered in Park Hall about their respective organisations and spell out their plans and aspirations for the years ahead.  

Crucially, the meeting was a rare opportunity to bring the clubs together, enabling them to air their concerns on a number of administrative and management issues, leading – after the formal proceedings were over – to a number of exciting inter-club co-operation initiatives.

Several club representatives envisaged a Harpenden sports ‘umbrella’ organisation which could speak with a unified voice when required, notably in contacts with local authorities.  

Society chairman Chris Marsden, invigilator for the evening, pointed out that such inter-sport collaboration would be valuable when responding to the St Albans District Council’s request for constructive ideas in planning the new Rothamsted Park leisure complex, the go-ahead for which was effectively signalled by SADC councillor Annie Brewster, speaking at the end of the meeting.

Cricket       

The first presentation of the evening came from Geoff Newman, president of Harpenden Cricket Club. He said its 700 members included 400 young people. They played on three grounds, at Rothamsted Research and St George’s School, as well as on their own pitch on Harpenden Common, where its 45-year-old pavilion was due to be replaced before long. Geoff added that the club was actively involved in promoting cricket in local schools, including the new academy in Vaughan Road. But, he added (a common theme of the evening) there was a need for more coaches.

Rugby

Then Peter Danby, president of Harpenden Rugby Club, established back in 1921, said its 19 acre ground in Redbourn Lane had five pitches, and was home to 1300 members. It had a proud record, having nurtured five world class Rugby players. Peter said a major challenge was retaining the interest and enthusiasm of senior members after graduating from university. In consequence there was a shortage of coaches able to bring youngsters up to the club’s high standards. The club was however financially sound. In collaboration with Harpenden (Hammonds End) Golf Club, some £100,000 had been spent over the last four years in improving facilities. He said that, unlike many other of the town’s sports clubs, car parking at the Rugby Club was not a major issue. And he was willing to discuss weekend ‘park and ride’ arrangements with other clubs.  

Indoor bowls

John Williams is chairman of Harpenden & District Indoor Bowls Club, whose council-owned four-rink facility was established in 1974 and is located at Waldegrave Park, off Aldwickbury Crescent. John said that, although his club’s sport was aimed at ‘those of a certain age’, it was nevertheless vigorously supported. It had some 300 members, though it could accommodate a further 200.  During the winter months the club happily hosted members of the town’s outdoor bowling club (see below).

Outdoor bowls

Many Harpenden residents were, claimed its lady’s secretary Lyn Roberts with a smile, barely aware of the Harpenden Outdoor Bowling Club’s existence, perhaps because of its location, tucked away behind the houses in Spenser Road. But the town’s ‘hidden asset’, in Lyn’s words, was thriving. Its green was, she said, reckoned to be the finest in the county. She stressed that the club was by no means aimed primarily at retired people.  It had 85 gentleman and 50 playing members among the 200 or so total membership. The club ran four-week courses under the supervision of eight coaches. Lyn added that a number of club members headed off in groups each winter to the sunshine of Portugal, in order to keep up their bowling skills. As to the club’s problems and concerns, the greatest was that of parking in the Spenser Road area.

22 September 2016 Public Meeting

Football

Harpenden Town Football Club (HTFC), which plays in the South Midlands League, was founded as long ago as 1891, said chairman Roman Motyczak. For it to flourish as its members wish, investment of £500,000 was needed, he said, to install an all-weather surface, as well as floodlights, at the ground, adjacent to Rothamsted Park.  Other plans include the setting up of an associated ladies’ football club.  

Many members of Harpenden Colts, aged 8 to 17, naturally aspired to become HTFC players, indicated Colts’ vice-chairman Ed Venner at the meeting. He reported a thriving membership of around 900, including about 100 girls, adding that the club went out of its way to accommodate disabled youngsters. It enjoyed the volunteer services of some 140 coaches, including many parents. Because the club had no ‘home’ of its own, it had to find some £45,000 a year to hire pitches, some of those outside the town. It was hoped that a partnership with Roundwood Park School would lead to the provision of all-weather playing facilities, with funding assistance from the Football Association, though planning permission at the school had yet to be granted.  But, said Ed, Colts’ overriding requirement was for a permanent ‘home’, of the kind taken for granted by other sports clubs.  

Golf

John Rhead from Harpenden Golf Club said the club had a venerable history, going back to 1894, and today had some 900 members.  Many members, perhaps inevitably, were of retirement age, although there were over sixty members in the 23 to 40 prime working age category. He pointed out that, because golf was not a ‘team game’, it did not attract supporters. Rather it cultivated individual friendships among its players. They could ‘just turn up and play’, he said. Lessons were given to beginners, including ‘seniors’, as well as youngsters from 8 to 18.  The club also operated a ‘ladies’ academy’.

Also at the meeting was Emma Clifford representing Aldwickbury Park Golf Club, a commercially-operated enterprise set up in 1995, but now with an extended clubhouse. The club employed two professional coaches, she said, adding that it was keen to recruit more junior members, for which Saturday morning special sessions were organised.

Tennis

Harpenden Lawn Tennis Club had 12 courts, all with floodlighting, said head coach Tom Dybell. They included pristine grass and all-weather courts as well as five undercover courts inside the inflatable dome familiar to those using the adjacent Amenbury Lane car park.  Evidence of the club’s popularity was apparent in the frequent but unfulfilled demand for court space.  

948 Sports Foundation

Bryan Short explained that 948, based in St Albans, was a charity set up in 2003, administered by eight trustees, with the aim of helping local youngsters participate in sports of all kinds, especially in home circumstances where parents had made sacrifices to help their children in that direction. He said over £250,000 – on average £20,000 per year – had been given away in the form of some 200 grants, to talented individuals, as well as to deserving schools and sports clubs.   

Focus on sport as new leisure centre edges closer