The new £650,000 facility, located next to the foundation’s HQ beside the stadium at Montgomery Waters Meadow, is the result of years of hard work and substantial financial support from both the Foundation Foundation and Shropshire County Council.
It will serve the club’s impressive and ever-growing charity partner, who have redesigned and redoubled their efforts through the pandemic, reaching 14,000 participants each year. The facility, partly funded by a £470,000 Football Foundation grant, is also open to book for public use.
On hand to mark the opening was special guest and former Shrewsbury frontman Marvin Morgan, who brought his Fresh Ego Kid business’s charity football team to play against the ‘Heads Up’ team, from the community’s mental health and wellbeing support group.
Morgan was joined by fellow former players and promotion heroes Ian Sharps and Matt Richards, as well as community coach Sean McAllister, with chairman Roland Wycherley also on hand, as well as invited guests from Shropshire Council and former Town midfielder and community trustee Dave Edwards, who cut the ribbon with excited youngsters.
Jamie Edwards, who is chief executive of ST: In The Community, admitted the work that went into securing the facility was significant, but the impact it will have on the many thousands of participants across dozens of programmes will be endless.
He said: “We’re ecstatic to have the place open, it’s been four or five years of lots of work, applications, meetings, persuading, planning permission and costs.
“There’s been a few moments where you want to give up so to actually see this open and used in a less conventional way than people would’ve thought – I’m here watching Jermaine Grandison in a kit against Fresh Ego Kid and participants from a Heads Up team – it doesn’t really make sense but actually epitomises everything we are as a club and community organisation.
“It’s community first and giving them the opportunity they will remember.
“The staff are phenomenal and I’m really proud to lead them. I don’t think we’d have got it without them. Our reputation is growing as a charity that makes a difference and impact to people’s lives on a day-to-day basis.”
The pitch is just phase one of the community’s ambitious £1.2million plans with more projects in the works, including investment in the women’s team next season and other plans to make themselves more sustainable.
Edwards believe it is the charity’s established and growing reputation which has earned it such a significant backing.
Youngsters from Lakelands Academy in Ellesmere and girls from Shrewsbury Academy – who both work closely with the community arm – enjoyed coaching sessions on the pitch in the backdrop of the stadium, before the hour friendly, won 5-4 by the Heads Up team, kicked off at midday, giving participants the chance to play alongside and against former heroes.
The pitch will play host to a Heads Up tournament, featuring community groups from a number of clubs, next month, as well as a junior girls tournament.
It will be used by the community’s many young participants through every day of the summer holidays, as well as the other age groups the charity serves, including younger adults, those with physical disabilities, walking football and older adults.
Kate Lindley, health activator who oversees the health and wellbeing department, said: “It’s really exciting for us to have this huge and really versatile space, our groups are getting bigger and we want to launch more health intervention groups in the future.
“This a great place we can be proud of and means a lot for us.
“Everyone can use this, walking football for older adults, and hockey, netball, croquet for our Extra Time group, anything you can think of! We can all enjoy it. The Heads Up group will love it.”
Former Shrews midfielder Edwards, who enjoyed two spells at his hometown club including until this summer after previously coming through the academy, officially cut the ribbon on the all-weather multi-purpose pitch, which enjoyed a soft launch last month, where it was presented by the chairman.
He said: “It’s incredible to have such a high quality pitch for the community to replace a grass pitch and to use all year round, at the stadium as well.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be around the charity for a couple of years and can’t speak highly enough of the work that is done at Shrewsbury Town: In The Community. The engagement they get throughout the county is inspiring. I’m really proud.”