A CONVERSATION WITH IAN HARRIS, TRUSTEE OF THE LONDON CRICKET TRUST
Updated: Jan 21
Unknowingly, I’d first come across the work of the London Cricket Trust (LCT) during the summer of 2020. During a small window of freedom, from the shackles of COVID-19, a friend of mine mentioned that Peckham Rye Park & Common had just put up some brand spanking new cricket nets. Surrey and England’s young starlet, Ollie Pope had been in attendance at the launch initiative, which had attracted a gathering. Then, during my conversation with Middlesex women’s captain, Naomi Dattani mentioned she was an ambassador for the charity and I started looking into them, a little more.
Formed of the 4 London cricketing counties (Essex, Kent, Middlesex and Surrey), their aim is to ‘put cricket back into London’s parks,’ mostly through free-to-use, non-turf, cricket pitches and nets. I was interested in learning more about their work, so I spoke to Ian Harris, one of the LCT’s trustees, representing Middlesex.
The ECB’s South Asian Action Plan (SAAP) cites 1 in 5 South Asians asked have trouble finding a place to play cricket. The SAAP also found 50% of players in community leagues were dissatisfied with the quality of pitches. The limited access…and availability of good quality cricket facilities in areas, where the vast majority of the South Asian population live, represents the most significant barrier…to increasing the level of play in South Asian communities.[i]
Though the LCT’s work is separate to the ECB, Ian praises the body in saying they’ve “been absolutely fantastic” about funding and assisting the charity’s initiative. Along with the nets at Peckham Rye Park & Common, the LCT have now completed work on almost 54 new facilities across London, including 2 installations in my own area of Southall. “We almost exclusively put [pitches] into parks and commons,” Ian explains. There are some exceptions, e.g. where Lampton secondary school, in Hounslow, has seen a pitch added to their playing field, but that facility will also be available for wider, public use. The LCT also provide equipment grants and ‘starter kits’, which is something they have done for local state schools, e.g. in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, in the earliest stages of LCT’s operations. They have now supplied 66 cricket starter kits, to schools across London.
Initially, Ian says “we would find the places where there was the most need and we would say ‘we will do this for you. We just need your blessing’.” As time progresses, and with councils and boroughs seeing the benefit of these initiatives, joint ventures are becoming increasingly popular.
Talking about progression, I wonder what the future holds, for the London Cricket Trust? What does success look like? “You can count the number of facilities we put in. You can count the amount of equipment that we dole out. You can do some counting on the number of people who participate in cricket, who probably wouldn’t have participated before. You can do some counting of the people who get exercise, who wouldn’t have done any exercise before.” But Ian is pragmatic, in his thinking of what this leads to. “Of course, that isn’t the same thing as that flowing through into people joining informal clubs.” He is, however, optimistic. “During the pandemic, I have seen families out, at least walking, or exercising, playing in the park together, in ways that I hadn’t seen before. I’m rather hoping [that family games of cricket]…will just seem like a natural progression to some people.”
Living in West London himself, Ian understands the community. This is perhaps where his optimism stems from. “The southern Asian community here…I know the enthusiasm is there. If we provide the facilities, then I think it will help to get more people started.” He continues….“for the ones that show some real promise, I don’t think there’s any difficulty in funnelling them into activities that mean that they will be picked up and get to play something that’s a little bit more formal and have a chance.” This, I think, is extremely important. Giving those a chance, where previously there may not have been one. Planting a seed, which one would hope see grow.
- One of the 2 pitches at the Southall Recreation Ground
There are a couple of questions, at the heart of this blog, if I can call it that. One of these, and the root question, surrounds the reasons for a lack of British South Asians, in English cricket. “The London Cricket Trust is not the be all and end all in addressing your question,” Ian says. “One of the reasons we’re doing the London Cricket Trust is that we started with your question. We’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about that question. The London Cricket Trust is one thing that we can do. It’s something that’s within our control. But it’s not going to solve everything that’s tied up in your question and there are lots of other things that we could do, or should do. I am committed to helping in any way that I can to make cricket a wonderful thing for everybody.”
The passion for the work that Ian is doing, with the LCT, is clear. The following year will hopefully see another 25-30 facilities, in the way of non-turf pitches, grass pitches or practice nets (COVID-19 permitting). “I want to give people that love. Because you can get a love from cricket in so many different ways.”
- Surrey's Ollie Pope & Bryony Smith, at the Peckham Rye Park launch, with the Streatham and Marlborough CC juniors.
- Middlesex's AB de Villiers and the Deptford Dragons, at the Deptford Park launch.
For more information, including a list of pitches and facilities in your local area of London, visit the London Cricket Trust official website: https://londoncrickettrust.co.uk/
Also, visit Ian's very own Ogblog at https://ianlouisharris.com/
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