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Building A Future For Club & Community

Thu 10th Nov 2016 | Football Stadiums & Facilities

Club Profile - AFC Fylde: When AFC Fylde set up their Community Foundation in 2013, chairman David Haythornthwaite didn’t expect it to grow as much as it did.

Make no mistake; he knew it would have an impact in the local community but to see its growth in such a short space of time has astounded even him.

riven by the hugely energetic and enthusiastic, Tom Hutton, AFC Fylde’s Community Foundation is making a real difference not just in the immediate community but is spreading out to beyond the Wyre to Preston and Blackpool.

Tom is the club’s Director of Community Development and oversees the programme which employs 14 fulltime and 18 part-time staff serving around 5700 individuals of all ages a week and has an annual turnover of £450,000 thanks to a number of high profile commercial partners such as BAE Systems, Centrica, Cuadrilla and Frank Whittle Partnership (FWP).

These commercial partnerships account for around 15% of the Foundation’s annual turnover and help to deliver projects such as ‘Train Like a Pro’ a ground-breaking scheme being delivered in partnership with Cuadrilla which gives children from across the Fylde Coast the opportunity to enjoy weeklong camps aimed at encouraging greater involvement in sport and physical activity.

“The foundation was set up to be the link between the stadium, the club and the wider community,” explained Tom. “Over time we’ve developed a really complex understanding of how we can deliver real benefits to the community.”

The growth of the Community Foundation mirrors the rise of the club’s ambitions too. With a newly opened Mill Farm stadium, AFC Fylde has a home that is the envy of the nonleague and is providing Tom with the perfect base to grow and deliver his ambitious projects.

Opened at the start of the 2016/17 season, Mill Farm is part of a wider development which will see further community use 3G pitches for football and hockey as well as purpose built facilities for the Community Foundation’s programme delivery.

Currently top of the Vanarama National League North, AFC Fylde’s ambition is to become an EFL club by 2022 and Tom believes the growth of both the club and Community Foundation are part of a two pronged approach.

“As we grow, the club grows and vice-versa,” Tom added. “If we grow into new areas and develop new opportunities and new programmes, the club naturally grows with us. People, start to engage with the club and they buy into the club’s ethos of the total community approach. We’re not just one day a week; we’re seven days a week as a function.

“Mill Farm, as a site, gives us a fantastic base that no other club locally has. We’re going to have our own education centre, we’re going to have our own offices, we’re going to have a facility that we can be proud of and that is of benefit to the community.”

All of this wouldn’t have been possible without the vision and backing of chairman, David Haythornthwaite who has ambitious plans for the club and a determination to achieve them. Mill Farm wouldn’t look out of place in the higher reaches of the EFL.

“I’m fanatical about this having a 5 star feel,” said David as we chatted in one the six private hospitality suites during the club’s 4-1 victory over Curzon Ashton in early September. Outside the door of this suite is a large painting of Bloomfield Road, home to Blackpool FC, the place where David watched football growing up and what he uses as an example of “how not to run a club” according the plaque underneath the picture.

“I’ve just been in hospitality and I know that the purist football fan won’t want to hear this, but for us, the hospitality side of the business is a real opportunity to grow and generate real revenue.

“We’re a National League North club and we have six hospitality boxes and five of those have been sold at Championship club prices. Somebody pointed out that we played Gloucester around the same time of year [September] and the crowd was 455 and on Saturday it was 1360. Tonight’s attendance is 1362.”

David says he’s a believer in the classic ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy, but there seems to be a much more strategic approach to the club’s growth. AFC Fylde has a pricing structure that ranges from £8 in the terraces to £65 in the exquisitely furnished Churchill’s hospitality area reviewed in the previous issue of fcbusiness. There’s also careful consideration about things like parking and access to the stadium.

“Family club is often an overused term but for us it’s important to get people to come here and experience it,” David added.

“And that’s about the parking; the ground admission is straightforward with low turnstiles. We sold a thousand tickets for tonight’s game online. You can download it to your phone, you can print it off like an airline ticket or you can pick them up here on the day. We want to make it as easy as possible for people to come here and watch us.”

David admits to being a perfectionist but cautioned: “If it’s not right off the field then it’s our fault and that’s something we can do something about.

“I’ve been involved in every detail. I’m fanatical about this having a 5 star feel because realistically , everybody knows we only play football 21 times here but for the other 344 days of the year we’ve got to make money.

“We were confident people would come because there isn’t a facility like it round here. But you still have to deliver.”

And deliver they have both on and off the pitch with the club riding high in the Vanarama National League North and Tom achieving outstanding results with the Community Foundation, David was more than happy with the progress being made.

“I am privileged to have a guy like Tom working for me. He came here three years ago and I haven’t had to help him at anytime but I’ve supported him when he’s asked for money to get started and what he’s built is amazing. We’re spreading out over to the other side of Preston and he’s done an amazing job out in the community.

“He’s helping a diverse range of people, it’s not just about getting a few school kids in, he’s running drug rehabilitation programmes and working with re-offenders so I’m really proud of what is being achieved.”

There’s an energy and enthusiasm clearly evident around Mill Farm and David is keen to develop a full spectrum of sports and activities around the football club with the merger of Preston North End Ladies football club which have been rebranded under the Fylde moniker.

“We played Leicester and West Brom [women’s teams] and neither of those are playing at the club’s home ground, they have to play at grounds away from the men’s team. We said to our women’s team, ‘you can play here’, we want them to play here and give them that platform.

"They’ve taken the Fylde name so we’re building that brand and I don’t want them to feel like they’re second class citizens. They get treated the same here. “We’re also bringing in a very successful hockey club from Preston and rebranding as Fylde, it’s very much like the Bristol Sport model. It’s a smaller scale but that’s what I want to do here.”

Taken from fcbusiness issue 97

Posted by: Aaron Gourley 

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