The mission to save the Former Leyton Football Grounds
Photos included: Former Leyton Orient Football Ground
Local communities can have agency in how their public spaces are being used.
Many would-be community assets have been lost to new city development projects in recent years. Development can be good. However, especially in cities like London, rich cultures and community spaces have been lost in this process forever.
Save the Hare and Hounds Football Ground is a campaign to save the former home of Leyton FC football club and re-establish grounds for grassroots football. The stadium has sat abandoned since 2011 following Leyton FC folding.
Interview by Ikesha Avo
Published 18th July 2023
Nigel West is an avid supporter of non-league football and launched the campaign in 2020. Though not local to the borough, when Nigel learned of the plans for the abandoned grounds to be developed into housing he decided to raise awareness among the local community in the hope of bringing back local grassroots football to the stadium.
An Asset of Community Value is a nomination
made by the community to protect a building or space they believe to hold value
Nigel West: I started the campaign just before lockdown with a facebook page called Bring Back Leyton FC. I later started a petition and realised quickly that there was a lot of interest to save the ground and it just grew from there.
There is interest from members of the local community to start something new. I hope that a club will form itself on the ground. Perhaps Hackney Wick or Chadwell Heath Spartens could move on to the ground as well. This will broaden the appeal of the space.
It has also been suggested that the neighbouring Leyton Orient should move their Women's Academy to the ground.
Ikesha Avo: Between the petition and facebook page, thousands of people have shown their support for the campaign.
NW: Yes including the local councillor of Waltham Forest, Jennifer Whilby. She wants the Asset of Community Value renewed on the ground. She has said she will support a club to approach the owners about it.
The Hare and Hounds Ground held this status before it expired in 2020. Its potential renewal could see it protected for the purposes of grassroots football.
IA: What is the next step for the campaign?
NW: I need to get a group behind me that I can trust. I need individuals or groups to help me to arrange meetings to get discussions moving forward on the subject of what can happen on the ground.
I'm passionate about this campaign. You have to remember this: non-league football is made up of volunteers. Non - league football is grassroots football.
There has been awareness, and rightly so, that top clubs are not investing money back into grassroots football. Football is a wealthy sport. There are players that earn over £30,000 a week.
Due to many of these top clubs and the FA not putting money into grassroots football, a lot of people are saying this is causing it to suffer.
Concerning the historical Hare & Hounds football ground it is down to the owners and also the local council. Leyton has Hare & Hounds football ground and Leyton Orient’s ground on Brisbane Road. It's all part of Leyton history and we need to preserve it for future generations.
Many grassroots football grounds are discontinuing because of lack of funding. Some have been replaced by housing.
IA - Describe grassroots football and the value in it?
NW: Grassroots football is where an aspiring footballer starts. With my nephew for instance, he started to play in the park with Millwall Albion. He didn't start to play for Arsenal or he didn't start playing for Leyton Orient. He started in the park with a Sunday League grassroots football team at junior level. That is grassroots football. You start in the park usually on council owned grounds.
Someone just getting the ball, practising in the yard, on concrete, or in the park. That's where they learn.
Development within cities is inevitable and in theory is favourable. However these plans sometimes seek to remove key foundations and cornerstones for local communities. With grassroots football being lacking in funding, it can often be vulnerable to being overlooked or worse dismissed in these plans.
A lot of playing fields have been lost to development. There is one of them in Fairlop near Barkingside that is actually situated in Redbridge Sports Centre. There was junior football being played and a cricket pitch there. A proposal to build flats on the land was defeated and the ground was saved by a campaign similar to this one.
Grassroots football is self funded. Hopefully the system will change when it comes to player transfer.
When a player is signed the transfer money is split and goes down to clubs they previously played for. Too often this does not include grassroots clubs. Some non-league clubs have connected to league clubs in order to stand a better chance of receiving these funds.
NW: I would like to see local football be returned back to the Hare & Hounds Ground. The local community being able to watch affordable football. There's a lot of interest in non league football now, partly because watching top level matches is getting expensive now.
Clubs like Haringey Borough are reaping the rewards. They’re playing the Ryman’s Isthmian league premier. Before this they had about 150 people turn up to matches but now they've got about over 300 people. Some of these people come from Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham to watch grassroots football. Players have come to join teams after being rejected by top league Academy.
IA: What do you think you will be doing after the hopefully favourable outcome of this campaign?
NW: I will continue to be (as people call me) an activist for non league football to raise awareness to the importance of it. At the end of the day, grassroots is where football comes from.
The views shared in this article are the author's own and may not be representative of ONE&WE. All photos included belong to ONE&WE.