A dream came true for townspeople and sports lovers in Uckfield on Wednesday.
Town mayor Cllr Ian Smith formally opened the all-weather pitch at Uckfield Community Technology College marking the end of a three year drive to finalise plans and raise money.
Since 2010, a group comprising people from the college, district and county councils, sports clubs and the North Wealden Sports Partnership have been meeting every three weeks to organise the campaign, lobby fundraising groups and negotiate for the best site.
Prime movers have been the college itself and members and organisers of the Uckfield Grasshoppers Junior Football Club, which was given the honour of playing the first official match on the new ground.
Set up in 1982, the Grasshoppers currently have more than 300 members aged from five to 16 which provides the town’s youngsters with the opportunity to play football in a safe environment.
For the past three years the teams have been supported by Uckfield firm TR Fastenings which this year becomes the main sponsor.
Vice chairman Paul Standing said: “The opening of a new, all-weather pitch inUckfield marks the culmination of many years of campaigning by local groups, including our club. We are delighted that our efforts have been recognised and the Under 11 team has been chosen to play at the first official match.”
Working alongside the Grasshoppers have been Uckfield Rugby Club, Uckfield Lions, the Town and District councils. There were various setbacks including initial uncertainty about where the pitch could be built and a final, agonising delay when a power cable was unearthed just below the pitch surface.
All along it was agreed the pitch was a vital asset to the town. Because Uckfield’s underlying soil is mainly clay, outdoor pitches have proved unplayable during most winters.
But the formerly waterlogged UCTC site proved ideal for an artificial, year-round playable surface.
The Three G pitch cost just over £700,000. Donations were received from the Football Foundation (£203,646;) Sport England (£100,000;) the College (£100,000;) Town Council (£135,000;) Uckfield Grasshoppers (£15,000;) Friday Media Trust (£20,000;) Uckfield Lions (£10,000) and Uckfield Rugby Club (£10,000) plus sums from dozens of supportive individuals.
Leisure operators Freedom Leisure has controlled access out of school hours and has already spent £90,000 improving changing facilities as well as pledging ongoing funding.