Posted: 25.05.21 at 18:07 by Ellie Brown
A host of famous names from UK sport have given their support to a community bid for Udney Park playing fields just over a month after it was announced.
England Rugby CEO Bill Sweeney, former professional tennis player Irina Selyutina, former Wasps captain Sue Martineau and parkrun founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE are among the sporting figures lending their support to the plan which seeks to buy the park from private developers Quantum and return it to use as playing fields by Teddington's community.
Their endorsements can be seen on a dedicated page of the bid's new website which was set up last week by the Udney Park Community Fields Trust, the group who are organising the bid.
In his message of support, Bill Sweeney said: "Udney Park is an incredible playing space very close to the Teddington High Street that gives adults and children the ability to easily access the many benefits of grassroots sport.
"It is fantastic to see such a dedicated group trying to keep the fields for the sole purpose of community sport, including rugby.
"A lot has already been done in consulting with local clubs across multiple sports to gain their involvement and it’s important that the pitches and playing fields remain available for everyone to use.”
Meanwhile, pioneering women's rugby player Sue Martineau, who captained the first women's rugby team to play at Twickenham, emphasised the importance of the fields for women and girls in the area.
A Twickenham resident who has four sport-loving daughters, Martineau said: "I wholeheartedly support the bid to return Udney Park playing fields back to the community.
"It is essential that women of all ages have opportunities to be physically active and they have access to local sports clubs.
""Women in Sport" research shows that there are 700,000 more inactive women than men in the UK.
"They discovered that lockdown has led teenage girls to recognise the value of exercise for physical and mental health and with this in mind, we have to ensure outdoor spaces are safe and accessible to girls."
The bid also has backing from sports figures associated with other sports including tennis and running.
Former tennis professional and current Teddington resident Irina Selyutina said: "Being from a tennis background, with two children hoping to follow in our footsteps, finding tennis courts and playing fields is always a challenge for us.
"There are not enough of these beautiful parks in this country and every effort must be spent to hold on to them.
"By engaging our youth and playing a key role in developing our future sporting champions, these grounds are where it begins, and dreams are realised."
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Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE, who founded international sporting initiative parkrun in Bushy Park back in 2004, highlighted the potential for Udney Park to contribute to public health.
He said: "I have closely followed the story of Udney Park in Teddington, in an area with a population engaged in community sport there is a deficit of space for outdoor recreation, especially pitch sports.
"parkrun is keen to expand "junior parkrun", our 2 km events where children run independently. Udney Park is a perfect location for a "junior parkrun", as the Park has a secure boundary of around 1km.
"An Udney Park "junior parkrun" will be a great addition to the community and the first step in ensuring that our younger generation in Teddington starts out life with a healthy attitude to sociable physical activity.
"I am delighted to endorse the bid by Udney Park Community Fields Trust to acquire the Park and protect it forever, we have never needed locations for volunteer-led amateur sport as much as we do in 2021. "
Other sports stars also gave messages of support for the bid including England Rugby international Tom May, former tennis professional Wayne Black and international rugby referee Wayne Barnes.
Barnes said: "Not only have I trained on Udney Park with the other International referees, but I have regularly visited it with my own children and I know how valuable it is for the local Teddington community to have easily accessible grassroots sport, including rugby, close by.
"It’s so important that the pitches and playing fields stay available for everyone to use and it’s great to see such a committed group working hard to acquire the site to enable this."
In addition, the bid has endorsements from the organisers of local and national sports such as the CEO of the England and Wales Cricket Board and the director of London Marathon Events, plus representatives from Richmond Rugby Club, Teddington Hockey Club and Harlequins Football Club.
Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of St Mary's University Richard Solomon has also indicated that there could be a future partnership between the Trust and the institution.
In his message on the website, he wrote: "St Mary’s University is supportive of the proposals to secure community ownership of Udney Park playing fields.
"We look forward to collaborating with the team operating at Udney Park, and we would welcome the opportunity for our students to engage in coaching placements with community clubs.”
For more updates on and information about the bid, visit the website HERE .
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