An image of protestors standing outside of Islington Town Hall holding up red cards

Protestors fight to save Islington community football pitches

Around 50 Islington residents gathered outside the Town Hall to protest against the demolition of Finsbury Leisure Centre, in a bid to save community football pitches.

The peaceful protest, which took place on 22 June, saw frustrated residents including children from local football team City of London, address councillors during a committee meeting to discuss additional funding.

Islington Council proposed plans to replace Finsbury Leisure Centre, to provide a new leisure centre, 100 new council homes, a new health centre, four new pitches which includes a rooftop football ground.

Bunhill resident Lisa Smith said: “Today they are increasing the budget because they are spending money they don’t even have. We just want improvements and not overdevelopments.

“We need the open space, the kids won’t be able to access the new pitches and people without the money will not be able to access it. It’s a ridiculous vanity project.”

Protestors held up red card signs with the message ‘Show Islington Council the Red Card, Save London’s Open Space For All, No to Overdevelopment, #savestlukesarea #savebunhill’.

The council’s proposal involves replacing the existing four on-site pitches on Norman Street, South Islington, with new houses.

As part of the plan, replacement pitches will be constructed on the rooftop of the new centre.

Currently, the Finsbury Leisure Centre outdoor space is used for numerous sporting activities and events that are popular among the community.

However, residents argue that the location of the proposed rooftop pitches may cause disturbances for neighbours when children occupy the space.

Moreover, the proposed new space is reportedly much smaller, may cost members more money to use and comes with restrictive rules as to not cause nuisance for neighbours.

This will also mean the open space available to local children will need to close with immediate effect for a number of years, causing disturbances for activities already taking place.

Councillor Diarmaid Ward, deputy leader and executive member for finance, planning and performance said: “This is all about meeting the needs of our borough. 100 council homes will change the lives of 100 families.”

He shared that there are 14,000 households on the housing register who are in desperate need of social housing, including street homeless individuals and describes the new leisure centre as bigger and better.

The council’s proposal however, was not widely welcome amongst the community, as protestors expressed concerns about the excessive scale of overdevelopment in an already densely populated area.

According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) Islington is the second most densely populated borough in London with around 200,000 residents.

Protestors argued that constructing new homes on the current site of the sports pitches will jeopardise community access to play, cast existing social housing into shadow, and contribute to fuel poverty.

One protestor, who has been living in the area for more than 11 years, said: “My son has been a part of the club for three years, it’s not fair for the children, he is very sad about this.

“There is not a lot for them to do because we live in a block of flats, they enjoy going to the football pitch.”

A representative from Finsbury Leisure Centre community group said: “A terrible detour is being taken in the Finsbury leisure redevelopment. The council is failing in its obligations to the children and schools.

“This will satisfy the needs for profits, but it’s a terrible deal for the residents of Islington. The council is giving away far too much of our communities legacy and will be lost forever with this project.”

Ward disagreed, arguing that there are many residents who welcomed the redevelopments.

He said: “I want to build 100% council homes on every single development in Islington, if I could, I would.

“But we can’t do that because this rotten Tory government stops us from actively building council homes.”

The protestors argue that open space and play is vital for the kids’ wellbeing and demanded a community led development.

City of London FC, run by coach Eamon Gately, 42 and two others, provides more than 150 children an affordable space for them to train.

Gately and two others took over the Finsbury pitch just after Covid when it was feared to close for good.

They revived the club by reducing the fees as well as providing free transport to tournaments to allow more children to attend.

Gately said: “This is a vital space for the children, there is nothing like this in the area.”

The club currently runs five sessions a week including community training every Saturday at Kings Square for children aged six and over and has 11 teams taking part in tournaments across London.

Smith expressed her concerns over the councillors making the decisions to increase the budget for the project without listening to the community.

She said: “We don’t have a councillor that listens, we don’t live in a democracy, it breaks my heart. They are not listening to the people they represent. They already have their minds made up.

“We want them to maintain much needed open space for mental health, allow the pitches to be accessible for all incomes and it won’t be if its up on a roof. It allows a mix of community and they are killing it.”

Ward said he is working with organisers Gately in the interim period to ensure children do not get affected by the redevelopment and will use pitches on council land across the borough.

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