The Bishopston Society (TBS) has applied to Bristol City Council for the Memorial Stadium to be listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV).
TBS is concerned that the special history of the site and the well-being of residents in the area, have not been much of a consideration to the Directors of Bristol Rovers Football Club, who own the land and the debt-laden football club.
Sainsbury’s, it is believed, no longer wish to buy the land. This may be confirmed after an appeal is heard, relating to a High Court ruling in July, which released Sainsbury’s from their contract with Rovers to buy the land. The Directors of Rovers are thought to be still seeking to sell the Memorial Ground, perhaps to fund the building of another stadium. The sports ground may be sold off for housing. Other uncertainties include the possibility that Bristol Rovers Football Club may go into administration. The Directors have not been communicative, either to Rovers’ fans or local residents, about their intentions for the site or for the football club. Uncertainty, the possibility of another inappropriate planning application and the lack of communication, have prompted TBS to apply for Asset of Community Value (ACV) status.
If ACV status is granted, and the land becomes for sale, local residents, or a group of Rovers fans, or a consortium with an appropriate plan, would have a six week opportunity to declare that they are willing to purchase the site, and to ensure that sport can carry on being played there.
ACV status was granted to Bristol City Football Club’s Ashton Gate Stadium in September 2014. Given this precedent, we are hopeful that Rovers’ Memorial Stadium will also be successfully listed as an ACV. Bristol City Council are due to decide on our application before 12th November.
Both TBS and our local councillors welcome a broad discussion with local people, football supporters, and with the owners of the site about its future. Imaginative and feasible ideas do need to be compatible with the special circumstances of a war memorial sport ground. It has been suggested that the Memorial Ground could become the National Rugby War Memorial. Could the famous sport ground (which is also a very effective local war memorial) carry on being just that?
Any proposed re-development of the Memorial Ground should:
1) respect the war memorial status of the site
2) be appropriate to its residential setting and
3) conform to the Covenant on the land which states that it must be used for sport or recreation in perpetuity. At the very least, the playing pitch area should be kept for sport, games, or recreation.
Please contact Daniella Radice and Tim Malnick, Bishopston’s councillors, with any ideas. So far the following suggestions are being costed and considered: a school, or retirement homes, or sport rehabilitation, or even a velodrome. It is understood that Daniella and Tim are to discuss the Memorial Ground with the mayor and that George Ferguson is to have a meeting with Nick Higgs, the Chairman of Bristol Rovers (1883) Limited.
Why TBS believes this asset is of community value
Research by the New Economics Foundation (Stephen Spratt) has shown just how important football clubs – and their stadiums – are to their local community. The stadium itself is the place that holds the memories of the fans and the team, often over many years. It becomes a home from home, a place which fosters and is integral to community cohesion, identity and confidence. Eric Pickles who as former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government introduced the Localism Act, has expressed this sentiment well: “Football stadiums are not only the heart and soul of every team, they are rooted in and loved by the neighbourhoods that surround them.” The Memorial Stadium is just such a stadium. Preserving and enhancing such well-established community assets, helps to strengthen and sustain strong communities.
The Memorial Stadium (or Memorial Ground) has long been a very special local and city asset, inspiring the city’s youth to take up sport and to lead healthy lives for almost a century. The Memorial Stadium is used by Bristol Rovers FC, one of Bristol’s two professional football clubs, and is a venue for League level football matches. Spectator sport is part of the entertainment industry, and football fans further support the local economy, especially food and drink businesses. Cherished sporting memories of the ‘Mem’ stadium are renewed every season, and woven into the social fabric of the city.
This site has been of value to and used by the community for at least 125 years. In the nineteenth century the site was used as a public showground, as well as for sports and games. The showground was named “Buffalo Bill’s Field”, after Colonel William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, whose Wild West Show had captured Bristol’s imagination when it was performed there in 1891. Buffalo Bill’s Field continued to be a public showground, used for flying loop-the-loop air displays, various sports, etc., until the First World War. During the war, the community benefitted from the allotments created on the land.
Buffalo Bill’s Field was donated for the purpose of creating a stadium for the Bristol Rugby Club, as a tribute to the 300 rugby players killed in the war, and for the expressed long term benefit of the Bristol community. Immediately after the war, Bristolians had responded to an appeal to fund the construction works and to equip the sports ground, generously paying thousands of pounds for the city’s first substantial war memorial in the belief that “No better way could be found of paying a lasting tribute to the players who played the game right to the end.”
In the interwar years, the Memorial Ground was used for rugby, football, archery, running and athletics. National and international matches have been held here. The sports ground became famous and much loved, the home and soul of Bristol rugby. Bristol Rugby Club shared the playing fields with the Combination Clubs and with schools clubs. Other community events included popular carnivals, and childrens’ sport and games for the 1935 Silver Jubilee.
Rededicated after the Second World War, the war memorial sports ground continued to be of great value to the community, hosting events such as Bristol Constabulary inspections, the St Peter’s Hospice annual sponsored ‘Stadium Dash’, presentation evenings for local youth AFC football clubs and the rugby varsity between the city's two universities. An annual Armistice Day service is held here every November. Since 1996, Bristol Rovers Football Club have also played at the ground.
This long history of local clubs playing spectator sport at The Mem has created a distinct local atmosphere to the area. The roar of the stadium crowd can be heard across Horfield and Bishopston, as far as St Andrews Park and Lockleaze. Elderly residents whose parents contributed to the fundraising effort have spoken of how they take comfort in this ‘sound of Horfield’. Sports fans from all over the city visit the locality, many choosing to walk the length of Gloucester Road high street to enjoy the bars and eateries, to the commercial benefit of the community with its many independent shops and businesses.
The Memorial Stadium is the city’s largest – and arguably most effective – war memorial. Whenever the ground is named and at matches every week, thousands partake in commemoration. The brilliant idea of a living, dynamic war memorial, marrying sporting culture with remembrance, is not an obsolete one. On the contrary, it has strong contemporary relevance, offering huge potential for its future development. The inscription on the stadium's listed gates bears witness to the Mem's local historical importance and to the whole ground’s status as a memorial to the dead of both world wars.
The Covenant on the land, explicitly states that it should be used for sport or recreation, for the benefit of the community, in perpetuity. It should be nurtured and protected, allowed to evolve and adapt to a changing world. Sport in built up areas in England is special but declining, due to green spaces being sold off for housing. A financially challenged football club must not be allowed to destroy the Memorial Ground, which should not suffer due to inappropriate decisions. In the event that the custodians of the Memorial Ground no longer have a sporting use for it, consultation with the local and Bristol wide community should, as a first priority, explore other sporting and recreational uses.
The Memorial Ground is a world famous sport heritage asset, a gem in the heart of our community. Its founders intended it to be a place for sport and recreation forever: a place of remembrance and an inspiration for future generations. At this particular time, when we are all urged to play more sport to keep healthy, it is important to the community that at least part of this site is maintained for that purpose. It has even been proposed that The Memorial Ground could become the national rugby war memorial, commemorating the sacrifice of all British rugby players, in all conflicts. We want to make the Memorial Ground literally fit for purpose – and pass it on to future generations.
- For a short history of the Memorial Ground, see here