Hadley’s approach to the development of their Dulwich site has raised a few eyebrows in the property world… and a fair few more in the football game. We caught up with Andy Portlock (CFO) to discuss what makes this scheme a little different to the traditional property developer/sports club approach to the land.
“We’d realised that the initial scheme, intended for the club’s car park, wasn’t going to generate enough revenue to help save and then revitalise a football club with losses that were quickly spiralling out of control. Every time we opened a cupboard things got worse – and the bailiffs were still coming some three months after purchase! At that point, moving the stadium onto the training pitch, and adding a 3G surface made much more sense. So the original 60-unit scheme became around 150, to sit on the current stadium site. This jump obviously meant that that a sensitive design was going to be essential – and so that was when we enlisted the help of Sir Terry Farrell, who loved the challenges that the site posed, and also the fact that we were intending such a holistic scheme for Champion Hill.”
“The fans were rallying the troops, and had tweeted that the right thing to do would be for the fans to chip together and take ownership of the club over, and run it themselves. Rather than fighting this, and holding onto an asset that we had no experience of running, nor a long-term interest in holding, made it sensible for us all to open this up for a genuine discussion.”
“I’m not even sure what prompted us to head down the fan ownership route to begin with, if I’m being honest.” Mark Lebihan, Hadley COO continued. “I think it was one of the guys in the office, checking the twitter traffic about the club. Of course, there was only about 400-450 at the games when we first purchased the ground, so there wasn’t such a heavy online presence as there is now – but the news was out that a developer was buying the freehold, and they were panicked by it. Which - to be fair - is the normal, and often justified response. I mean, it’s not often that these things end well, is it?” He continued. “They were rallying the troops, and had tweeted that the right thing to do would be for the fans to chip together and take ownership of the club over, and run it themselves. Rather than fighting this, and holding onto an asset that we had no experience of running, nor a long-term interest in holding, made it sensible for us all to open this up for a genuine discussion.”
There was a lot of cynicism for a long time. Matt Rimmer, Head of Communications added: “I spoke with a couple of fans at one the games about six or seven months after the purchase had gone through. We’d settled a number of the crippling debts that the previous owners had accumulated, abolished the long-term unemployed 'Workfare' scheme at the club, and made public our intentions to make Dulwich the first non-league club to pay the London Living Wage. One of them told me that they’d been expecting to be manning the barricades long before that point, and had been a little taken aback by the way that we’d sought to work with them.”
The proposed development sees a new stadium and training facility for the cash-strapped club, a transferral of the physical stadium itself into the hands of the club, and a gratis allocation of the facility for local schools and community groups.
“We realised that there were a lot of interested parties, and wanted to involve everyone from an early stage." Matt continued. "We knew that a school would be operating from the Dulwich Hospital site, and that they didn’t have any provision for playing fields. A meeting at the ground told us that giving them all the use that they need during lesson time won’t dent the commercial income that the club needs - as the money is brought in with pitch lets at lunchtime and evenings, when the kids are long gone. The fact it’s a 3G surface means that it can also be used for 60 hours a week, rather than the three or four that you can get from grass. There’s more than enough usage here for everyone. It just needed a little joining up.”
Gavin Rose, the manager behind the team’s recent ascent, has been running the club’s feeder academy ASPIRE from Beckenham for years due to a dearth of funding and facilities at the current ground. “Now we have something to work towards. The youth can work with in tandem with the senior side, and the academy can really kick on. We can put four times as many programmes through the gates, including ones for girls and walking football for older fans. This club’s always been central to the community, but now there’s a firm base on which to build this up.”
“Now we have something to work towards. The youth can work with in tandem with the senior side, and the academy can really kick on. We can put four times as many programmes through the gates, including ones for girls and walking football for older fans. This club’s always been central to the community, but now there’s a firm base on which to build this up.”
With the application due to be submitted in early 2016, Hadley are hoping that the progressive manner in which the consultation has been handled stands them in good stead. Andy echoes this. “We’ve learnt a good deal about stepping back and engaging genuinely, rather than just doing the stereotypical developer thing of throwing money at an issue, hoping it’ll go away. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel – just listening to people, and acting and reacting accordingly. Hopefully that will resonate in both Dulwich, and in our future developments across the city.”