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Saracens 'owes Barnet community' for welcoming club to borough at Allianz Park
An expanding community outreach programme at Saracens' stadium is helping the club “repay” local people for letting the club build its new home.
The Men in Black officially moved in to Allianz Park in February and stadium director Gordon Banks says the club is looking to build on its existing Saracens Foundation community work.
Finishing touches are still being made to the Champions Way venue, in Mill Hill, and increasing numbers of schools and local groups and organisations are signing up to use the ground.
Mr Banks said: “It is very exciting and hugely demanding. Stadiums take up a reasonable footprint and so it seems wrong to play 15 home games a year and leave it standing for the rest of the time.
“It is a massive opportunity to increase what we do outside of that. I think this will be the first genuine community stadium in the country.
“We have schools coming in for the indoor athletics training area and we’re talking to judo, archery and fencing clubs that want to use the space.
“Most people will think, ‘it’s a rugby stadium, it’s not relevant to me’, but by incorporating the community we can make it relevant for them.”
The England Athletics Board held a meeting at the former Copthall athletics stadium last week in preparation for a ‘summer of athletics’ being held at the venue.
Mr Banks says getting more children involved in sport is a major driver for the foundation programme, which interacts with more than 75,000 children every year.
He said: “It is a big motivator – sport gave me a massive opportunity growing up on an estate in Birkenhead and I’m now running a stadium, all because a teacher got me involved.
“We want to do the same thing – it is a great opportunity for children to open up their aspirations and realise what they can achieve.
“We already have case studies through the Saracens Foundation where people have gained employment through the work we have done.”
The artificial pitch at Allianz Park is already being used for various coaching programmes on non-match days and the club says it is two to three months away from having it in daily use.
Mr Banks admitted that positive community relations is good for big brands like Saracens but he is adamant there is far more to the outreach programmes than just good PR.
He said: “People have said we are doing this community work because we wanted the planning permission but we have been doing this for ten or 15 years.
“The local community have allowed us, indirectly, to build a stadium for ourselves here and we have an obligation to repay that.”