Things are looking up for Clapham Common’s basketball court. As part of a project to support grass roots basketball in the UK, it’s set to be turned in to a proper spectator arena with new rows of tiered spectator seating around the sides of the court, as well as a big general renovation of the court itself to include sponsor logos. It’s a project by Basketball England, and part of a wider effort by the NBA and Footlocker which will see urban basketball sites in cities across Europe upgraded (similar projects are underway in Paris, Barcelona, and Milan). As the owner of basketball site Hoopsfix commented, “It’s going to be the nicest outdoor set up in the country and be huge for the basketball community“.
This follows an initial upgrade of the basic court a few years ago, which saw the rickety perimeter fencing that surrounded part of the site replaced, the whole court resurfaced, and new floodlights installed. The adjacent skate park also had a major upgrade, which has been a resounding success – it’s become perennially busy, attracting a surprisingly wide mix of people from dawn to dusk.
Building anything on ‘common land’ is an unusually complicated process, because the common has general ownership rather than it just being down to the individual landowner, with decisions being made by central government following detailed investigations – so although the work is fairly small scale and funding is in place, the project needs to wait for the Planning Inspectorate to give it the nod. The previous upgrade to the courts saw some concerns about common land being used for something that was more of a sports centre, as well as the impact of new lighting and fencing. However it’s fair to say that a run down and dilapidated facility does no-one any good, and since that upgrade the area has certainly seen a lot more public use. We understand that if all goes well, this should all get going in the summer.
Foot Locker ‘s involvement as a key sponsor and funder is a bit interesting. There’s an obvious marketing angle for Footlocker in further growing its basketball activity (which is why they are also partnered with the NBA for this project: the NBA is well aware that basketball could grow considerably in the UK!) – and their “raise the game” programme is designed to “celebrate the people, places and institutions throughout Europe which are committed to helping basketball culture thrive”.
But Footlocker hasn’t just turned up out of nowhere – they have surprisingly deep roots just down the road in Brixton. It’s a little known fact that Footlocker was originally part of Woolworths! And Woolworths’ first ever London store (and only their seventh store in the UK) was in Brixton – just along from the tube station. Woolworths later moved to the other side of the tube station, and Footlocker set up one of their earliest UK stores in part of the original building – which was their only south London store and something of a local icon. Until, that is, it was set on fire and completely destroyed in the 2011 London riots. Their building was wrecked, but was eventually patched up to become a dreary parade of phone shops. Footlocker were clearly still keen on Brixton despite the disaster that had befallen their store, and reopened for business five years after the fire in an new site (by T K Maxx).
All in all – coming on top of recent investments in the skate park, and the four outdoor gyms, it’s good to see the sports facilities in the Common being kept up to date. There’s probably also a mini golf on the way on Clapham Common Westside, which we’ll be covering in a future article.
On a loosely related note – The gradually-deteriorating former Recovery Kitchen next door to the basketball courts, which ran for a while as a health-focussed cafe but which has been closed for quite some time, was put up for lease again in the early summer (for offers around £25,000 a year, on a five year lease). We understand it is now, at last, ‘under offer’ to a prospective operator. Sadly Recovery Kitchen never really took off, despite the owner’s best efforts to spruce up what was frankly a tired and shabby building. Running a park cafe at those rent levels really isn’t a walk in the park (with limited evening trade, a trade that’s rather sensitive to the weather, and not a lot of indoor seating for the winter) – but the previous incarnation of the building as Fields was a huge success, and showed that even the most unpromising park cafe buildings can work with the right amount of imagination (and maybe a bit of luck). No news yet as to what the new operator plans to do, but with the Common’s other resident cafes La Baita and Common Ground – as well as Honest Tom’s snack van – all doing a healthy trade serving people on their outdoor exercise, the sooner this building gets back in use the better.