Power to the people as pitch decision is overturned

SLT Committee member Albi Robertson outside the facility on Saturday. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, The Write Image.

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People power came to the fore this week following fears that amateur football club South Lochaber Thistle (SLT) would no longer be able to play or train at their home ground.

The club were denied access  to the Kinlochleven High School astro pitch for their scheduled Spring Cup fixture against Helensburgh on Saturday after facilities management company Mears, which provides a facilities management service at the venue, stopped taking bookings outside business hours.

On learning that the pitch would only be open until 8pm on weekdays and from 9am to noon on Saturdays, the club took to social media to vent their frustration.

A hard hitting post stated: ‘There can be no reason to deny these resources to the public other than to save on staffing costs.

‘This penny pinching denies a vital community asset to local people at the same time as the Scottish Government looks to stage a recovery from a potential mental and physical health crisis which looks set to cripple the NHS for the next 10 years.’

The decision caused a huge outcry locally, with more than 11,000 interactions on the club’s Twitter page, and was brought to the attention of Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP Ian Blackford, who brokered a meeting between Mears and High Life Highland, which has responsibility for the day-to-day management of lets of the pitch, on Monday.

As a result of the meeting a solution was reached, which will allow the team to continue to train and hold league fixtures on the all-weather venue.

Speaking to the Lochaber Times on Tuesday, Mr Blackford called it a victory for ‘teamwork’.

He said: ‘Common sense has prevailed and it is good to see the Kinlochleven players once again being able to access their local pitch.’

SLT president Pete Newman was equally delighted to learn the outcome.

‘An excellent example of public pressure and good work by local representatives to get a good result,’ he said.

The artificial pitch associated with Kinlochleven Campus is part of Highland Council’s second Public Private Partnership (PPP2) project and as such the assets are owned by Alpha Schools (Highlands) Ltd, the principal contractor.

A Highland Council spokesperson said: ‘It is unfortunate that the booking could not be confirmed and we will be reviewing our internal procedures going forward with our partners.

‘The Highland Council will continue to work closely with Mears and High Life Highland to deliver services to the local community in a safe and managed way.’

Explaining their position on the matter, a spokesperson from Mears Group, which has  looked after the school and pitch for more than 10 years, said: ‘Around six weeks ago when Covid restrictions began to ease in Scotland, there was an agreement made between Mears, Highland Council and High Life Highland for the pitch to be made available on weekdays until 8pm and on Saturday from 9-12pm.

‘We received an email at 3pm on Thursday last week asking for a booking to be made for Saturday afternoon from 1pm. We responded saying – in line with the agreement in place – that the request required permission from the partners.

‘We are of course sorry that this booking could not be confirmed and we will be discussing the potential of a review of the available times with our partners.’

Helensburgh have agreed to play the fixture at a later date.