Jim Parker: We will need sport more than ever if and when we ever escape this dreadful pandemic

Picture of a Torbay councillor

Darren Cowell, sports supporter - Credit: Submitted

SO, it is almost a year now since me and Freddie the rocking horse first locked down in the playroom. 

During that time, and after countless zoom, teams, conference and jungle drum calls, we have somehow managed to launch and sustain the new Torbay Weekly newspaper and relaunch three other Devon titles with our special community content model with more projects to come. 

Oh, for the gym! Yep, regular, proper exercise and sport which is something I have missed more than most. 

I suspect I am not alone and it is something we should all be aware of if and when we ever get out of this pandemic. 

Sport has been the Cinderella in Torbay for as many years as I remember with little investment in facilities. 

Sport isn’t just about kicking a ball about or running a marathon. It is about health, well-being mental health and happier and healthier lifestyles reaching out to some of our most deprived and impoverished communities. 

It is about making sure we are ready for that ticking health timebomb that could be waiting for us. 

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But in Torbay things are at last beginning to happen…. 

The new Lib Dem/Independent regime at the Town Hall talk about partnerships and the community and they are putting their money where their mouth is as far as sport is concerned. 

Deputy council leader Darren Cowell is also in charge of the council’s purse strings. He is also a strong supporter of sport and he has found some funds to help to get the Bay back on its feet after this crisis. 

He persuaded the cabinet to set aside £20,000 every year for the next three years to help sports clubs in the Bay. There is already £34,000 in the pot.  

Clubs will be able to apply for funding to help improve facilities, attract volunteers and pay for coaches and simply get people into, or back into, sport.  

The council are working on a sports and playing pitch strategy. 

Bridges and relationships are being rebuilt with Sport England and sport’s national governing bodies. People are talking to each other. Sport Torbay, the old sports council, is being rejuvenated and there is talk of sports summit. Council officers are working with key partners to ‘reset’ sport. 

Money is actually being spent on projects. A large chunk is being spent at Upton Park in Torquay as part of the Torquay Town Deal regeneration funding.  

LED lighting is being installed, pathways are being improved and facilities like the netball courts are being resurfaced and fencing reinstated. The park already has its own bowling club and green.  

Cllr Cowell says: “British Netball have been very interested and supportive of investing in the project. The netball clubs are excited by the opportunities.  

“The next phase will be addressing the inadequate changing facilities there.  

“Upton is one of the most deprived areas in Torbay. 

“Our ambition is to have more of a Town Park.” 

Around £50,000 is being invested over at the White Rock football facilities in Paignton. 

Cllr Cowell says: “The changing facilities are not the best. The football club there has secured a long lease. That will open up the door for funding from the Football Association.  

“They want to increase the playing pitch and expand the changing facilities there to make it more secure. There may be some Section 106 money available to support that project.  

Discussions have also been held with the Lawn Tennis Association. Cllr Cowell says: “They have identified the need for investment in facilities such as Oldway where the courts have been neglected and at Abbey Park in Torquay and St Mary’s in Brixham. We are looking at facilities in each of the three towns. 

“Any improved sports facilities at Oldway would tie in neatly with what the community is doing there at the moment with the grounds being maintained and the tea rooms opened. It could bring Oldway to life.” 

The Mid-Devon Cycling also has big plans to improve facilities at the Clennon Valley velopark. 

Cllr Cowell says: “The importance of sport cannot be under-estimated especially post pandemic. It will get people out and about and fit and it is good for your health as well as your mental health” 

Me and my mate Freddie couldn’t agree more. Game on!