MORPETH Harriers will soon be able to once again offer its athletes the full package.
Work has now started on a new 400m athletics track and facilities for field events such as the long jump and triple jump, shot, discus, javelin and pole vault on King Edward VI School land.
Although the club continues to do very well in cross country and road races at a regional and national level, the lack of track and field provision has meant that some athletes have moved to other parts of the country to further their career in the sport.
So after years of trying to find a site to meet their needs, its members are eagerly awaiting the day when it is ready and are making plans for how the area will be used.
Secretary Mike Bateman said: “This project will give us, as well as the other athletics clubs in the area, the facilities to be able to develop athletes across the full range of events.
“In recent years we have identified many youngsters with track and field abilities from our involvement with sportshall athletics, but we had nowhere to develop them.
“We’ve had quite detailed discussions with architects M Design and the locations of the field facilities are in specified positions to allow a range of athletes to be competing or training at the same time.
“Our development plan for the next three years is currently being discussed and so now it’s important for us to get coaches in place to work with the athletes.
“A key feature is the floodlights as they allow us to do training in the winter months to a certain time and KEVI can play football and rugby matches in the evening.
“Adults who took part in athletics events when they were younger will be welcome to come along and give it another go.
“Funding is still needed for items such as throwing implements, landing areas, hurdles and barriers - we will provide some of it ourselves and we will seek the rest of it from external sources.”
Plans for the school site were progressed when proposals to develop Craik Park encountered problems.
A Sport England grant of £443,000 through its Community Investment Fund will help to pay for the project.
Northumberland County Council has contributed £375,000 as well as £40,000 from its Aiming High Fund. Morpeth Harriers has put forward £11,000 so far and £175,000 has come from the school.
Blyth Valley Arts and Leisure has project managed the £1million scheme.
Its progress came as a great relief to Morpeth Harriers’ most famous athlete Jim Alder, who won gold and silver respectively in the 1966 and 1970 Commonwealth Games marathon races and bronze in the 1969 European Championships marathon.
He said: “We have been up many garden paths and false dawns and it got to the point where I thought it would never happen in my lifetime.
“Having these facilities will allow us to hold athletics league matches in Morpeth instead of Jarrow and hopefully we can get back our reputation as the top track and field club in the North East.”
Sport England’s development manager Dave Mitchinson, said: “Sport England is committed to community sport and using the impetus of the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games we are seeking to create a lasting legacy for sport across the country.
“We have been part of the project since it started and so we’re delighted for Morpeth Harriers that it is going ahead. Being at KEVI makes it even better because the facilities will also be used during the day.
“We see the track as the perfect solution to a lack of quality community and school synthetic athletic track facilities in the North East.”
As part of the scheme, funding has been secured to purchase a new synthetic surface for the school’s existing shale all-weather sports area and make improvements to four football and rugby pitches.
There will also be renovations to changing rooms and better access to the site.
KEVI Chair of Governors Roger Vaughan said: “It feels like Christmas for us. We have been looking to improve our sports facilities over the last few years and it’s fantastic to be the beneficiary of this project during the school day.
“We’re very grateful to the Harriers and Sport England, who have been working for years to develop a site, and we’re honoured to be providing it for them. This will make our community links even stronger, particularly with the Harriers as I’m sure more of our students will become members of the club.”
Construction work is being carried out by GB Building Solutions and is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
The track has six lanes for 300m of it and eight lanes in the home straight for 100m and 110m hurdles races. Much of the soil dug up will be kept on site as it will be used to make grassed embankments for spectators.
Coun Neil Bradbury, Executive Member for Customer Services and Culture at Northumberland County Council, said: “After all the preparation and detailed planning it is exciting to see work begin on this fantastic project that will benefit young people in Morpeth as well as athletes from across the county.
“The county council’s successful collaboration with Sport England, Morpeth Harriers and King Edward VI High School will create a much needed facility ahead of the 2012 Olympics, which it’s anticipated will spike interest in sports participation.”