Alan Sefton at new sports centre on Queensland Road
Alan Sefton at new sports centre on Queensland Road

Arsenal in the Community is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and has moved into a new permanent base on Queensland Road.

The Arsenal in the Community team, headed by Alan Sefton MBE, are settling into their new surroundings and headquarters in the newly opened sports centre on Queensland Road, adjoining the Emirates Stadium.

Speaking about how the Arsenal in the Community programme has grown and developed over the last 30 years Sefton said: “The JVC Centre (at Highbury) was the focal point when we started. Any outreach work we did was additional.“When we lost that, you could say the outreach work became the focus, so we had to go out more to schools, pitches and community facilities.

“Now the new centre will be a community hub and will act as additional to the massive outreach work we do. It will glamorise and ‘Arsenalise’ the very extensive programme that we’ve got.”

The new sports centre on Queeensland Road has a 50m x 18m 4G astroturf indoor football pitch, a café area, classrooms and a computer section known as the ‘Red Zone’ – an updated version of the facility that existed at the JVC Centre.

Sefton believes these facilities will allow a far wider range of participation groups to become involved than was possible when the JVC Centre was opened.

“We started off with a lot of children’s soccer schools and because of the nature of the centre, one of the other activities was senior citizens’ bowls,” Sefton recalled. “Eventually we used it as a full-sized rink.

“Also, we ran a very good hockey programme, which is still going, and a tennis programme. We always did primary schools’ football, which is now something government has focused on as well.

“We have a very big football programme for people with mental health issues twice a week at Market Road. It’s not just the physical activity that’s extremely important, it’s the camaraderie of people who are often very isolated getting together.

“Our programme for people with disabilities has expanded, as has our football programme for women and girls. We started off the Arsenal Ladies programme, which Vic Akers eventually took on, and they continue to do a lot of grassroots work.”

The sports centre on Queensland Road is the final piece of the regeneration project that begun when Arsenal moved to the Emirates in 2006.

Sefton believes that it signals an ongoing commitment for Arsenal to their work in, and be part of, the local Islington community.

“If you want planning permission, you have to be a good local citizen – but planning this stadium was not conceived of 30 years ago, when the programme started,” he pointed out.

“Ken Friar, the managing director at the time, was a very strong supporter of it – as he still is today. At Arsenal, we would like to think we’ve been part of the community ever since we moved to Islington in 1913.

“There are well-documented stories about the club raising money for local hospitals and that sort of thing. Players came to matches on public transport and mingled.

“We regard it as very important that we stay at the forefront of the community.

“I hope local people and the local council see the club as very important to the area as well. That is what most of our work is about.

“We are a huge name abroad and we do work abroad as well, but we are committed to putting on 51 hours of sessions for local people each week and we hope the new centre will spice up the programmes we’re doing.”