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New Ferry Rangers Community Clubhouse

23/10/2023 | John Meadowcroft

“My wife thinks I’m mad for taking on so much,” Simon Crabtree laughs as he takes us to the site of the New Ferry Rangers Community Clubhouse at the end of Cornwell Close, New Ferry.

Today, Simon is part tour guide, part site inspector at the site of the old Bebington Youth Club; the Army and Sea Cadets to the left of us and the hum of the A41 on the right.

This, Simon says, will be the New Ferry Rangers Community Clubhouse. A place for families to come to socialise and work; for kids of all ages and backgrounds to play and make friends; for people to get fit and active; for the hungry to get fed and access wider community support, and more.

This is what regeneration really is, we think, as we cover ourselves from the rain outside the building, weathered by time as much as the heavens.

It can be easy to get swept up in grand plans, ideas and architect drawings. A sense, sometimes, that regeneration projects are social media PR. Is regeneration real and will it really help?

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Simon’s attitude is a bracing analeptic to that doubt, and an assurance that it exists even beyond the council’s plans. Determined people like him are spending every waking second across the Left Bank – sometimes totally hidden from view – working to make our home a better place to live.

“This whole centre will be open from 7 AM until 9 PM, seven days a week,” Simon says with excitement, pointing to the end of the road where a five-a-side football pitch will be.

“It's going to be caged and have a net across the top because, obviously, we don't want any balls flying over the New Ferry Bypass,” he says as we head up the stairs of the temporary site containers.

The old youth club looks pretty small from ground level, but Simon’s plans make more sense from a floor up, as he gestures over the sizable rooftop.

“It’ll have dipped floodlights so we don't disturb nearby residents,” he tells us. “The roof is prime for solar panels, and I want to try and get some on there at some point.

“We’re going to be drawing a lot of power. As well as floodlights there’s the internal lights and heating – internal cooling as well for the air-conditioned gym - and we’re going to have a kitchen as well…

“We’re looking to work with a charity out there who could help us. Solar power could also help the clubhouse make a bit of money, by giving energy back to the grid.”

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We see why Simon’s wife’s concerned. Simon is also Interim Vice Chair of Tranmere Trust and is also currently overseeing the construction of Tranmere Garden, approximately 50 times the size of the Clubhouse.

Simon’s also founder and Club Chairman of New Ferry Rangers Community and Football Club. The club, which is also a charity, started in 2006 as a way for Simon’s son and his friends to have a kickabout. It now has more than 200 children pulling on the shirt to play games at Mayfields and New Ferry Park.

Inside, we can see the old Youth Club is dimensionally transcendental (for want of a better word than TARDIS), big enough to fit all of Simon’s future plans. Arguably the most important part of the plan is the café Simon takes us to by the entrance.

“It’s going to be run by NEO Community,” Simon explains. “NEO fights food poverty, reducing food waste and food insecurity for families.

“They’re currently based in Lower Tranmere and wanted to have a base in South Wirral. They’ll run the cafe as a commercial operation with the money going back to the charity to help fight food hunger.

“They’re doing great work, helping people who can’t afford to eat. That includes kids that they help with their holiday hunger programs, going around the community and providing them with breakfast.

“We’re combining our services and giving NEO the space to do that, while we build on other things to help the community.”

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We’re shown a shared office space – a place where people can potentially come to work – large accessible toilets and changing rooms, larger spaces that can be created for health and fitness activities like yoga (with the help of bifold doors), before we end the tour in the area that will become the gym.

The large room has a huge stone in the wall laid by the Chairman of the Bebington Youth Club Management Committee, Edgar Ashton Hebron MBE, on 25 November 1962. It’s a literal sign of the old and the new coming together with one goal: to enrich and enliven New Ferry.

“The club wasn't getting used over the last 15 years as it should have been,” Simon says, “so the council approached us - New Ferry Rangers - about six or seven years ago and asked us if we would take it over.

“This was an asset they didn't really need and the land was of no monetary value because of its position. So they asked us if we’d like to take it on and we said yes. We had a few discussions, formulated a plan, and set out to find funding. Sport England got really involved, they really liked the project and helped us get the ball rolling.”

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Other bits of funding have come in and Simon still has ‘irons on the fire’ he says, but he’s still looking for help for what is a long-term community project. He’s set up a Crowdfunder as a bridge to help with wages, insurance and other bills for the first year.

“We don't want to open in dribs and drabs,” he explains. “We want to open, hopefully early next year, and get everyone in. We want to interview people now to help run the place, give them jobs and security for them and ourselves.

“Then, from the second year, we’ll have four years of accounts by then and potential access to other forms of funding to expand the club outwards in the future.”

As we’re rounding up a builder comes over and points to the floor. “Watch yourself there, that’s wet cement.”

“Can I write my name in it?” Simon laughs. Why not, we think. Simon’s name being etched in the building alongside Edgar’s would be a fair reward for all the work he’s doing to revive and regenerate this part of the Left Bank.

Image credits: Simon and Lois Crabtree

Find out more about the plans for the New Ferry Rangers Community Clubhouse on Simon’s Crowdfunder page

Learn more about New Ferry Rangers Football Club and the charity’s work

Find out more about NEO Community and their mission


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