My long experience as a teacher of 46 years standing informs me that we should always be planning for the future so that as and when change happens, we have the agility to adapt to those new and unfamiliar circumstances. I have a few strands in motion now for our school and its community for the months that lie ahead and I share with you one of these below , to support the further development of our sports facilities.
Claires Court School Fields at Ridgeway
When we purchased the fields adjacent to our Junior Boys school eight years ago, we laid some 14 acres of the fields immediately adjacent to the school as sports fields with two cricket squares, a proactive decision because such new surfaces take time for the land to settle and the grass to grow. Those original plans to use the fields as cricket squares, with the outfields serving as suitable playing surfaces for our winter sports of Rugby and Football, were superseded to accommodate other interests arising. In particular, as our revised proposals included using this land for car parking and to support the development of artificial surfaces for hockey, we did not at the time apply for change of use for this specific area of our field from agricultural to education use.
Since January 2021, we have been actively discussing how best to use this resource and have widened our conversations with local councillors, planners and sports bodies. Whilst our own efforts were underway, one of the major cricket clubs in the town lost access to their grounds and facilities. North Maidenhead Cricket Club has been a major partner with our Senior Boys school for some time, its excellent facilities providing two cricket squares and nets for our cricketers for ten years or so.
The sudden closure of such a remarkable club, with over 100 years of history and at the time hosts for the Berkshire Ladies cricket squad, affected us all with no notice given. Whilst Claires Court were able to intensify our use of our other partners’ grounds (Boyne Hill ) and guest at Cookham Dean, we still needed the pitches lost from North Maidenhead for our school use. It also left North Maidenhead Cricket Club in an impossible position and the adult club ceased to play in April 2021.
During the summer weekday, for cricket on any one games afternoon, we need 7 cricket squares/nets available for age range 9 to 18; we manage our own squares (3), have a formal partnership with Boyne Hill cricket club for the daily provision of 2 more, so the shortfall of 2 is real, and can only get worse as our girls’ increase their engagement with the sport as well.
Understanding that both North Maidenhead and ourselves had lost valuable cricket pitches, I met with Majid Khan, chairman of North Maidenhead Cricket Club and other players, and this summer were able to host some of their junior section on our current junior boys’ cricket facilities.
As our school does not play weekend afternoon cricket, there’s a natural synergy possible if our application for our own use of our new grounds is successful, as North Maidenhead could utilise this space for their club. With our sports hall, changing facilities and car parking alongside the new surfaces, already built in the school grounds, it’s a natural fit for both partners. Thus in August this year, we made an application for a change of use for the laid sports turf area from agriculture to education. This application is now live on the RBWM planning portal, planning application number 21/02500, where all plans and supporting documents can be viewed.
The whole of the fields as seen are within Claires Court School boundary, with the shaded area showing the grass playing fields laid in 2013. Whilst we propose to use a quarter of the 48 acres for sport, this does leave the substantial remainder for agricultural use, currently hay cropping. Whether winter or summer sports, the activity will be supported by our own school sports building offering changing facilities and toilets, current roadways and permanent parking. There are no plans or applications for additional buildings, lighting or permanent parking facilities. The current sports busses we use for carrying our senior boys sportsmen to their games sessions will carry our pupils to the grounds, and no additional traffic is expected to be generated during their normal internal use.
Partnerships with Maidenhead & district sports clubs.
As a major secondary school providing sports education to over 600 boys and girls every day, it’s difficult for a lay person to comprehend why we need such substantial sports facilities. We coach nine sports to county/regional/national/international standard, those being athletics, cricket, football, hockey, netball, rowing, rugby, sailing and tennis. Other sports that we also provide for are golf and swimming. Our active, formal partnerships with local sports clubs include (in South Bucks) Huntswood Golf, Phoenix Rugby, Taplow lakeside and (within RBWM) Maidenhead Hockey, Maidenhead Rowing, Maidenhead Sailing, Boyne Hill, Living Tennis at Bisham Abbey and Little Marlow Athletics stadium. This investment the school makes with its partners helps both school and clubs; not only does it provide additional revenue for the clubs, but it also introduces our boys and girls to ‘club life’ meaning they continue one as sports players beyond school age, with all the benefits for fitness, health and community engagement that brings.
International sporting legacy
Following the wonderful performance of the amazing athletes of all nations in the Tokyo 2020 competitions this summer, our children have returned to school keener than ever to develop their sport. And as Emma Radukanu and Leylah Fernandez showed last weekend at the US Open tennis finals, international competition and stardom beckons just as adulthood begins, so school is where training and competition has to take place. Our town and its sporting clubs therein has a wonderful history of supporting the development of athletes of all hues, let alone the achievements of those from our own school, such as Ellie Rayer who won Olympic Bronze with Women’s Hockey at the Olympics. That’s something Claires Court certainly chooses to continue further with our boys and girls for many years to come. And we do that best by sharing the development of facilities for all, as our partner sports clubs are sure to testify.