Cycling hero Victoria Pendleton returns to former school to unveil 25M sports hub

Today, two-time Olympic gold medallist, Victoria Pendleton CBE, returned to her former school, Etonbury Academy to open a new £2.5m sports hub, which will be known as the Pendleton Centre. The Rt Hon. Alistair Burt, MP for North East Bedfordshire also joined proceedings.

The Pendleton Centre is a state-of-the-art multi-sports complex, comprising: four indoor sports courts; two team changing rooms; a fitness suite; car park; office space and spectator toilets. The project was made possible thanks to a £241,908 grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund, which provides grants towards developing new or refurbished grassroots football facilities.

The grant allowed the school to build a brand new floodlit third generation (3G) artificial grass pitch (AGP) that will be used by a number of local grassroots football teams, including: Stotfold Juniors FC; Shefford Saints FC and Arlesey Town Youth FC.

Through this project, Etonbury Academy worked in close partnership with the Football Foundation and Bedfordshire FA to establish a five-year Football Development Plan (FDP) – a long term vision for how sport will be played at the new facility.

The FDP is projected to increase the site’s number of partner teams by 22, with Shefford Saints FC and Stotfold Juniors FC establishing four new womens’ teams as part of an overall increase to on-site participation by 80%. Disability provision will be further improved, with Arlesey Town FC creating a new disability side among their ranks.

The Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund is funded by the Premier League, The FA, and the Government, via Sport England. It is delivered by the Football Foundation, the country’s largest sports charity. Since it was launched in 2000, the Foundation has awarded around 15,000 grants worth more than £580m towards improving grassroots sport, which it has used to attract additional partnership funding of over £800m – over £1.3bn of investment into the grassroots game.

Since 2000, the Football Foundation Funding Partners’ investment has provided 123 grants worth over £6m towards grassroots sports projects worth over £17m across the whole of Bedfordshire.

By providing more high-quality facilities, coupled with coaching at the appropriate age group, the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund aims to improve the experience for regular players as well as attracting new players to the game. Many of the new state-of-the-art facilities will serve to strengthen the connection between professional football clubs and their local communities, particularly in the most deprived areas of the country, through the professional clubs’ community trusts’ outreach work.

 Victoria Pendleton CBE, said: “It was an honour being back at my old school to open the new Pendleton Centre and 3G pitch. It’s still a bit surreal seeing my name on the sign! The facilities here are truly first class and will enable students across all ages and of all abilities to play sport every single day, as part of an active lifestyle. 

“I was fortunate to have competed at the pinnacle of my sport and having access to excellent facilities, just like this one, was a fundamental reason why I was able to achieve what I did. So, I understand the immense value that this facility will have and it makes it all the more special that it happens to be at my former school.

“Sport has the power to bring people together – just look at the Olympics. Facilities like this are hubs of their community, a centre for people to come and enjoy their chosen sport and build the sorts of friendships that last a lifetime. And as a result everyone becomes healthier, both mentally and physically.

“I would like to thank all those involved in the project – coming back here to Etonbury Academy really has left me excited to see our next generation of sport stars."

Rt Hon. Alistair Burt, MP for North East Bedfordshire, said: “I really enjoyed opening the new 3G pitch and Pendleton Centre alongside Victoria today, whose tremendous achievements and local background serve as an inspirational role model to all. The facility will act as an important hub for the local community, providing somewhere that locals can come to enjoy playing sport and the various mental and physical benefits that come with doing so.

“I would like to thank all those at the school for their dedication and commitment in ensuring the successful completion of this project, Victoria for opening these facilities and providing such a great example to all those here, and the Premier League, The FA and the Government through Sport England for their financial support.”

Alex Prior, Principal of Etonbury Academy, said: “We are delighted to be able to bring this fantastic new facility to the communities of Stotfold, Arlesey and Fairfield Park for the benefit of all, now and for generations to come. I am very grateful to Victoria Pendleton CBE (ex-Etonbury student) for her patronage and support, and being here to open the centre we have named in her honour today.

“This project is the culmination of years of work by BEST, Central Bedfordshire Council, The Football Foundation, The Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund, and many others. I know it is already transforming grassroots sporting opportunities in the area.”

Paul Thorogood, Chief Executive of the Football Foundation, said: “I am delighted that a grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund has enabled Bedfordshire Schools Trust to build the Pendleton Centre and 3G football pitch. This development will provide a real boost to sport in the local area. Thanks must go to Victoria Pendleton CBE and the Rt Hon. Alistair Burt MP for opening the new facility.

“Since 2000, the Football Foundation has supported grassroots projects worth more than £1.3bn, investing into areas where the need is greatest and where it will have the biggest impact in terms of getting more people playing football and a wide range of other sports. 

“With this funding, provided by the Premier League, The FA and the Government, through Sport England, we are helping to improve community sports facilities across the country and thereby the playing experience of those who take part. This latest project in Etonbury is the latest addition to the inventory of modern community sports sites we are developing that cater for the needs of local people who want to play sport purely for the love of it and to stay healthy.”