Eagles defender Joel Ward and chief executive Phil Alexander were on hand to officially open a £370,000 refurbished 3G artificial pitch at Darrick Wood School in Orpington.
The pair watched pupils test out the new surface for the first time under the guidance of Crystal Palace FC Foundation coaches after Ward had the honour of cutting the ribbon to launch the new playing surface.
The facility was made possible thanks to a £190,824 grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund, which provides funds towards developing new or refurbished grassroots football facilities. An additional £79,908 came from Sport England’s Inspired Facilities Fund, which has helped more than 1,600 local sports projects across the country. The school also received a further £80,000 grant from the Mayor of London Sports Facilities Fund.
The quality of the previous playing surface had declined rapidly in recent seasons meaning that participation had reduced, and the local community were in danger of losing access for good. Now though, the school possess a state-of-the-art facility which will be used heavily by pupils, the local community, Crystal Palace FC Foundation and local grassroots club Orpington FC.
The Foundation is strongly linked with Darrick Wood. They provide two work experience placements at the club, as well as stadium tours, to the pupils they coach. Foundation staff hold seminars with students about career opportunities and pathways into football, and also offer two places on a FA Level 1 coaching course for students aged 16 and over, plus support the Premier League Enterprise Challenge and Football League Trust Girls’ sessions held at the school.
They also worked in partnership with the London FA to secure a the grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund, and the new pitch is expected to see a 46% increase in the number of individuals using the site on a weekly basis for football.
Alexander said: “The new 3G pitch at Darrick Wood School is a great project for Crystal Palace FC to be involved in. The upgrade to a 3G surface has a multitude of benefits for players and coaches alike, and is a facility the pupils will get many years of enjoyment out of.
"I am delighted, too, that the Crystal Palace FC Foundation will deliver school and community sessions on this pitch. The Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund should be praised for putting vital funds into a worthwhile project.”
Barbara Rhymaun, Headteacher at Darrick Wood School, added: “We would like to thank Phil Alexander and Joel Ward for officially opening our newly refurbished 3G pitch. Without funding from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund our dream could not have been realised, so we owe them and everyone who has worked hard to make this happen a huge debt of gratitude.
"This facility will be a wonderful asset for the school for many years to come, and with help from the Crystal Palace FC Foundation and Orpington FC we are now able to offer the local community the opportunity to take part in sport in a safe and friendly environment.”
The Palace Foundation also received praise from Richard Scudamore, Chief Executive of the Premier League, who said: “This superb facility, which will benefit Darrick Wood School and the wider Orpington community, highlights the importance of investing in grassroots facilities. One of the Premier League’s main aims, through the Premier League & FA Facilities Fund, is to build participation in football and raise the quality of the experience for youngsters in the game, which this facility will do.
“The Crystal Palace FC Foundation deliver an impressive range of community outreach projects on the site. Premier League clubs play a vital role as hubs of their communities as they help to regenerate and bring people together, and Crystal Palace’s partnership with Darrick Wood School is an outstanding example of this.
“The commitment at the club is further underlined with Phil Alexander and Joel Ward giving up their time to open a facility which will no doubt inspire many young players of the future.”