Plea to bring back ‘Jim’s Pitch’

Tiarni Perth, Jim’s grand-daughter, Rachelle McFarland his daughter and Paul Charles

Monday, 28th March — By Harry Taylor

cammarch Image 2022-03-25 at 15.11.02 (2)

Tiarni Perth, Jim’s grand-daughter, Rachelle McFarland his daughter and Paul Charles

RESIDENTS on a council estate are trying to raise £30,000 to renovate and restore a football pitch named after the father of one of the tenants – after the council shut it down and said it can’t afford the repairs.

The pitch on the Russell Nurseries housing estate in Belsize Park is named after Jim McFarland, who had founded a tenants’ and residents’ association and been instrumental in getting the pitch built and opened in 2000.

Tiarni Perth, Jim’s grand-daughter, Rachelle McFarland his daughter and Paul Charles due to health and safety concerns.

The pitch, perched overlooking Belsize Woods, is subsiding. Railway sleepers which shore up a bank on the opposite side are already leaning inwards.
Rachelle McFarland, Jim’s youngest daughter, said she finds it heartbreaking to see the pitch in such disrepair.



Her father died while it was being built, after raising £50,000 as part of the Play and Leisure Scheme (Pals) group.

The ground was named in his memory with a sign recognising his “outstanding commitment” to the area.

She said: “It’s a big part of our lives. I’ve been here for 30 years and I’ve got children here as well, but the council has shut it down saying it needs repairs, without having any means to reopen it.

“It’s a real shame, and it breaks my heart to see it how it is now. It feels like his grave has been desecrated. It’s the only thing I have of him.”

Jim McFarland

Ms McFarland added: “It should be a priority as the estate doesn’t have provision for children and teenagers.”

The 35-year-old was told that no community infrastructure levy (CIL) money – money collected through planning agreements – was available and that she should apply for funding from Hampstead district management committee (DMC).

An online Crowdfunder has raised a small fraction of the funds Town Hall officials say is needed.

With no sign of it ever opening up, some on the estate say that teenagers have been getting involved in nuisance behaviour.

But the mum-of-three said: “They have nowhere else to go because it’s shut. They’re just hanging around outside their houses because there’s nothing to do, they’re not loitering.

The locked up pitch

Fellow campaigner Paul Charles, 37, who used to help his football-loving stepdaughter Marina train in the pitch said: “Yes, the Heath is nearby and people can go there. But it feels safer here, especially for the younger teenagers, because we have got plenty of families who can look out for them.

“It’s also closer for parents who aren’t as mobile and can’t get to Hampstead Heath either.”

As well as being a playground for games, the sign with McFarland’s father’s name on is also a “Poke-stop” for the popular immersive mobile phone game Pokemon Go.

A Camden Council spokesperson said: “Sadly, the pitch was assessed as high risk during our independent inspection in late 2020 and closed as a result.

“This decision was made due to structural issues with the retaining wall and the fencing as well as decay of the wooden elements, which posed a significant health and safety risk to all users.

“The council’s green space officers have met with a group of local representatives to discuss their requirements and sought quotes for the works.

“We understand that the group will be seeking funding via the District Management Committee process and fundraising independently.”

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