Bury St Edmunds Hockey Club members realised an ambition stretching back more than 20 years when they officially opened their new home at Culford School at the weekend.
The new state-of-the-art £600,000 sand dressed pitch with tiered seating built inside the ancient walled garden of the school — originally a produce garden — has been described as a ‘unique facility’ and adds to the existing Astro-turf pitch next door.
Named the Culford Hockey Centre, Home of Bury St Edmunds Hockey Club, it will see the club, one of 12 of England Hockey’s National Performance Centres, come back under one site having played across Nowton Park and Culford over the last few years.
England Hockey vice-president Liz Pelling was among the dignitaries on hand to perform the official opening on Saturday along with West Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock and Mayor of St Edmundsbury Julia Wakelam.
It saw them blow whistles in club colours before a ball was passed through the club’s oldest member, 82-year-old-former Olympian from Rome and Tokyo John Cadmore, to Bury’s youngest member, five-year-old Charlotte Whiting, who fired it into a goal surrounded by junior members.
After a myriad of pitfalls, planning and funding nightmares across a number of different site projects had seen the move put on hold, the day had extra special significance for club president David Johnson, who has been the chairman of the development committee set up to find a new home since 1996.
“It did get to the stage where we wondered if it would happen,” he admitted.
“As far as the facility is concerned, this is a top grade sand dressed pitch in a fantastic environment — the old walled garden, which makes it unique.”
Club chairman Bill Tasker said: “It is the culmination of 20 years of work across the club to have ourselves a facility which is worthy of the history of the club.”
Internal club members and friends were praised for raising £330,000 towards the project, while grants were obtained from England Hockey (£100,000), Sport England and the Hockey Foundation (£75,000).
A condition of the grants is a commitment to delivering hockey to the wider community which has seen Bury set up satellite clubs at Thurston Community College and King Edward VI School in Bury, to encourage more children to take up the sport.
MP Matthew Hancock said: “It is fantastic to see that here at Culford we are going to have the pitch and the ground which will be one of the major hubs for hockey in England.
“The partnership between the school and the club is very exciting and the amount of work that has gone into this is incredible.”
John Hendy, an England Hockey development director for the East of England, was chairman of the club when it first started planning a move.
He said of their new home: “It is absolutely fantastic. It gives the club a base to really start developing from.”
As well as the two all-weather outdoor pitches, the new site also gives access to a full size indoor pitch, changing rooms, catering facilities and a gym.
The club celebrated the official opening through a day of activities, including a youth tournament and skills exercises in the morning, an exhibition match featuring past and present club members, including those who have played at international level, in a President’s Mixed International XI against a Chariman’s Mixed Select XI. The action on the new pitch was rounded off with a mixed fancy dress 7-a-side tournament.
Sunday saw the club host The Suffolk Cup, an annual pre-season competition.