The start of the new season is always worthy of celebration, but for Pollok United Soccer Academy there is an extra reason for festivities. It is one year since their state of the art complex, complete with 3G pitches, was opened, transforming the area into an ultra-modern resource at the very heart of the local community.

The pitch may be artificial, but there’s nothing synthetic about Pollok United. The Dennis Donnelly Park is pointing the way forward for football in Scotland. An area large enough to allow four 7 a side games at a time which means players of all ages and abilities can train, play and enjoy the beautiful game in conditions which encourage participation. These include responsive surfaces, brilliant lighting and secure changing areas for use all year round.

Pollok United operate teams from the 2008 age group all the way through to 1998, with pre-school, girls, boys and veteran sides representing the club. While it took a lot of effort to secure funding for the facility, Pollok United are certainly seeing the rewards of their hard work, with Donnelly Park becoming the centre of football in Corkerhill and the surrounding area. As well as United’s sides, the training facilities are enjoyed by many local teams, including Pollok Juniors, and are also used by various after-school clubs.

The club managed to secure the funding from Cashback for Communities for around £90,000. Following on from that, Chairman Andy Elliott spoke to the Scottish Football Partnership who said they would provide them with dressing rooms if the club got the area fenced in. Andy said, “We managed to go to Glasgow City Council, who said it was £30,000 to fence the area in to protect it. At that stage we then spoke to Glasgow Housing Association and they helped us with some funding.

“When it came to the pitch, the expertise of sportscotland proved vital. Initially it was just going to be 40mm AstroTurf but sportscotland recommended a shock pad underneath and they then supplied us with the funding for the floodlights. That obviously meant the pitch could be open 52 weeks a year. So all in all it was about £290,000 from a variety of funders.

“Particularly within Glasgow we couldn’t have done it without the help of GHA. They project managed it and they acted as the banker. This was really important because some of the grants weren’t payable until the work was done. GHA were good enough to support the project.”

Andy also described the benefits to the community of the facility saying, “If we didn’t have our own facilities we would be all over the place. The coaches are now all in the one place and we have this hub here.

“It’s potentially between 4 a-sides and 7 a-sides that the pathway for our players can begin. If the younger kids are on the pathway from the Mini Kickers and they are at the pitch, wearing the badge on their chest, then they ultimately feel part of the club. They are also making lots of friends and having a lot of fun.”

An inclusive ethos is at the heart of the club, and despite achieving multiple Scottish FA quality awards since its opening, the club isn’t going to rest on its laurels. As a result of the facility and club development the club have developed a girls section which they hope to grow in the upcoming years. Staff have been trained in inclusivity and disability awareness, and offer specialised training for those with additional needs.

“As it should be it’s all just about fun. The kids absolutely love it and some of our own players come along as well for a bit of extra training for roughly an hour on a Saturday.” said Andy. “One of the aspects we are looking towards in order to achieve the Legacy status is becoming disability inclusive. We’ve had the Disability Officer for the Scottish FA, David McArdle, out and he spoke to us. There are a few of us going on the training course to be disability inclusive.” It’s with this in mind, and having seen membership climb to the 300 mark, that the staff at United are determined to continue their growth.

Glasgow Development Officer for the Scottish FA, Gary Doctor, shares the club’s vision of taking its place in the community by involving diverse funding bodies. “This particular facility is an interesting model of practise. It started as converting a pitch, but growing into a project, adding changing facilities, floodlights and perimeter fencing. This made it more than a pitch and the cocktail of funders saw the opportunity to be involved in something that will support positive changes.”

The community spirit and drive for inclusion at Pollok United can be seen in club member Josh Granger. Josh’s mum had to raise £50,000 last year to pay for an operation in America that would help him walk again, as Josh has cerebral palsy. His classes at the club play an important part in his rehabilitation.

Andy Elliott said, “He has now had the operation and part of his rehabilitation is working his muscles and he comes down on Saturday afternoon. His ambition is to be playing for Pollok United one day and hopefully for the kids and coaches that come down, they find that quite inspiring. There a few boys with cerebral palsy that are coming and hopefully we can continue to help them develop.”

As a community managed facility, Dennis Donnelly Park is open to the public. Gary Doctor said, “This type of facility is vital moving the game forward, to allow clubs to share facilities and in turn help each other, instead of teams training separately. It can help foster a club identity and a place to call home.”

“This support network based together is more likely to keep people involved in football for longer if they feel they are part of something”, added Gary, and it’s that spirit of togetherness which will keep driving Pollok United forward.