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‘We want kids playing football, not Fortnite’: Entire village pitches in to save flooded north-east park

A major community effort saved a north-east village’s football pitch when water damage left children with nowhere to play.

After missing out on training for much of the past year, youngsters returned to the turf in Cuminestown with some excitement this past Easter.

Their cheer came to an abrupt end the moment their boots squelched onto the surface.

About a quarter of the pitch had become “a bog”, the elements wreaking havoc with it during the winter months when it was barely in use.

Cuminestown Youth Active Football Club (CYAFC) organisers were dealt a further blow when they learned the cost to repair it stood at an impossible £30,000.

Young players stuck in the mud

What happened next demonstrates the community spirit in the picture postcard village near Turriff.

The pitch is owned and managed by the James Tenant Playing Field Association, a which also manages the local tennis courts, bowling and croquet greens.

Members were left weighing up some unattractive options – such as waiting until funding became available to sort out the waterlogged turf or developing expensive plans for a weather-resistant 5G alternative.

Neither possibility would allow the 80 or so members of CYAFC, aged from seven to 15, to return in the near future.

It takes a village…

The last thing coaches wanted was for children to face “another year of uncertainty”.

So they decided to take on a mammoth DIY project, asking locals to dig deep to help out.

Over a July weekend of bright blue skies and soaring temperatures, the community came together like never before.

Young and old alike clubbed in to rescue the bog-like pitch

Companies stepped up to provide diggers, labour, stones and pipes free of charge to bring the pitch up to scratch.

A baking rota was even set up to help keep the volunteers fed during the tough work, and tea and coffee were in constant supply.

Local photographer Richard Baron got involved too, putting his talents to use by capturing the project from above with some stunning drone footage.

These pictures show the scale of the work that took place over the three days this summer.

Coach Garry Cowie explained how a few requests for help snowballed into the mammoth effort.

The plumber said: “The costs seemed to be spiralling so I asked some friends of mine about helping out, and one thing just led to another.

“There were about 80 people taking aggregate in and out, digging trenches and helping out with the manual work.

“A momentous amount of effort went into it, it’s staggering.

“And the main thing is, the children are not going to lose another season, they are able to play here now.”

The Cuminestown pitch means a lot to the rural community, particularly to its football-mad youngsters

Over the three days, 1,300 metres of pipes were laid and 300 tonnes of stones were put in the ground to bring new life to the pitch.

  • The stone was provided for free by Banff-based Bridgend Aggregates
  • Diggers and drivers were supplied by Callum Chalmers Irrigation from Turriff
  • Balgownie Ltd offered up some tractors
  • The fuel came from John A Smith and Sons in Peterhead
  • Brian Pirie Castle of Auchry wind farm and Graham Mackie of Turriff provided money to help with the work
Dozens of people were happy to donate their free time to help out.

Fellow coach, Andrew Strachan, remains in awe of the spectacle that unfolded last month.

Andrew, a farmer who has played for various local sides and now referees amateur ties, said: “It was fantastic.

“There were fathers, sons and grandparents – everyone just mucked in and got on with it.

“Had it not been for that fantastic support, Cuminestown wouldn’t have the pitch now.”

A local lad does his bit.

Club chairman, Steve Harrison, hopes the top quality turf will help to bring back some lapsed players.

He told us that during the “bleak” first four months of the year, two of their teams folded as players left for other clubs or “gave up football to play more Fortnite late at night”.

Coach Andrew added: “It’s been very difficult coming back from lockdown, a lot of teams are still playing but it can be hard to get children out of bad habits and back into sport.”

Lots of heavy machinery was required to get the job done.

That is a pattern which emerged across the UK, with many children missing out on the routine activities they previously enjoyed.

A study by Sport England earlier this year outlined “deep concerns” about the  the impact of Covid-19 on children’s physical activity levels.

Figures showed the majority of young people failed to meet the recommended 60 minutes of daily exercise in the 2019/20 academic year.

Almost a third of children were classed as “inactive” as a result of lockdown restrictions, not even doing 30 minutes per day.

Watch as the club leaders explain the herculean community effort that saved their surface – 

Steve told us this was only the first stage in plans to upgrade the pitch, and make it an even better place to learn the beautiful game.

The dad, who works for Scottish Enterprise, said: “We want to have more lights, so the children can play for longer and more often in winter.

“And later we hope to get seating areas as well, as the community likes to come out and watch the games.”

This aerial view shows the park after the work was completed.

But for now, the Cuminestown club’s focus is on making up for lost time when children were unable to finesse their skills during the Covid crisis.

The plan is to have the pitch in better condition than ever by next March, and to arrange a “celebratory” fixture to thank all of those who helped get it into shape.

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