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Questions concerning the proposed development at Dulwich Hamlet Football Club

By Paul Griffin

As the development of Champion Hill moves forward fans will inevitably have concerns. Hadley would like to address some of these here.

NB: We know that these might not deal with every issue.
We’re more than willing to update them with more answers as questions come in. If you would like to ask us to cover something that isn’t here, or find out more, please email us at: info@hadleypg.com with ‘Dulwich’ in the subject line.

The development

The situation at Dulwich Hamlet and in the surrounding area is very complex in planning terms. Why did you buy out the loan and take control of the football club?

In simple terms, we’re a developer that looks for opportunities to develop! The carpark scheme was brought to us initially and presented as something without significant challenges ahead, with a long-term rental possible for a club that is clearly going places (on the field). At that point, it may have made sense to some developers to simply stay out of the club’s affairs, and if it was going down – then just leave it alone to go under. That would have happened in about two to three weeks of the purchase, but we wanted to avoid that. We know the way that developers are perceived, and in many instances that reputation is completely deserved. We think that we’re right in getting ‘under the skin’ of the site on this occasion, and by committing a large amount of money and a lot of resources into saving and stabilising what is clearly a much-loved institution – and one which already offers significant benefits to the community. We wanted to build on that progress.

So our ideas for development quickly became something very different. We wanted to build something that, as well as providing us with the return on our investment, could sustain the club for decades to come. Once we started work on the project, it began to take shape: the 3G surface (which allows more intensive usage), the repositioning onto the existing training pitch. Eventually we worked out how much development we’d need to sustain that and secure funding for it, and that’s how we got to the scheme that we did. Dulwich is a very different kind of development to what’s come before, and by teaming up with the fans and community groups to this extent, the ambition is to do something transparent and open, and which leaves everyone involved with something to be proud of.

What kind of stadium are you going to be building?

The stadium itself will be 4,000 in capacity, and capable of operating at two flights of promotion – that’s another step further than the level that the current stadium can get to. We think that we’ve made a decent job of papering over the cracks at the current ground, and making it as pleasant as possible for everyone to visit – but that’s exactly what it is. Long-term, that building loses a lot of money and isn’t at all sustainable. We hope the new ground is somewhere everyone will love coming to, as they do now – and that the crowds continue to grow each week…

What are you going to do to protect the new facilities that you intend to build? Is there a risk that they’ll simply be sold off for profit, or separated from the ground, like so many other cases in the past?

That’s a good question, and an important one for all of us involved in the project – from us as developers to the supporters’ trust and supporters across the club. First of all, we want to remove the risk of the ground ever being separated from the club again, and we would like as part of the project for there to be a lock on development. That can take a number of forms, and we will be discussing those as we move forwards with the project. You can rest assured that this will be no repeat of anything that’s happened in the past.

What outside help are you getting to make sure that this project is a success?

Obviously we’re using architects, planning consultants, and the experts in ‘mixed use’ development (meaning residential, commercial, cultural/sporting etc) that would be standard on a scheme of this scale. We also ensure we maintain regular contact with the Trust over the project, and speak to their advisors, Supporters Direct (SD). We are also advised by Kevin Rye, who worked for SD for over 11 years, which helps us manage the issues that come up that we’re not experts in.

Do you think that the project will succeed?

We very much hope so! We’re committing all the time, energy and resources that we can possibly muster to do just that, and we hope that comes across.

Greendale has often been the sticking point in the past; what makes you think you’ll succeed where others have failed?

We weren’t involved with any previous attempts at development, but there’s a lot of differences between our proposals to develop on the existing astroturf training pitch and any previous attempts - which could easily be seen as encroaching onto the green space. The development, we think, will help to protect Greendale. There’ll be much better access and exit points to ensure that the community gets the usage from it that it needs.

Are you going to change your mind and just build houses on the land? After all it’s worth a lot more money that way.

No. It’s very simple. The football club, new gym, housing and Greendale are all key parts to this development. It doesn’t work if we leave one part out. We’d look to integrate that fully into the planning permission. It simply couldn’t work without that.

Ownership of the club

Why are you so keen on supporters owning the club in the future?

We’re investing a lot of time and money to make this project work, and we think that part of what makes it work is the genuine focus on a development that will be beneficial to the community. By placing the club in the hands of its fans and the community, we think that will make the development work better. It will provide a football club that’s a real and engaged part of the local area. We’ve also seen the huge benefits that this model of ownership has brought to other clubs such as Enfield Town, AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester.

We believe that Dulwich Hamlet is a club that has operated below its potential for some years, but that doesn’t simply mean on the pitch – though thanks to Gavin Rose and his players the club is doing well there too. Dulwich Hamlet FC and Champion Hill is located in a place that we think could be a genuine centre of the community in East Dulwich, and provide sporting opportunities to all ages. Some of the projects that supporters like the Rabble have got involved have been different and imaginative. As it’s also shown in recent years it’s also got the potential to reach out further into South London.

Are you planning properly for when the supporters take control of the club, or will you just ‘cut and run’?

Absolutely not! Part of the work we’re doing now with our advisors is to prepare for this properly, and with thought. We know that supporters are capable of running clubs, and on one level that’s been happening at Dulwich for quite some time already. There was no money forthcoming for quite a while before we stepped in, but the volunteers who kept (and keep) the club going are a great example of what the commitment of time and resources can do. The people who’ve been keeping this club afloat for the last five or six years have been doing a great job on incredibly limited resources – as it’s been close to going down a fair few times, as we all know. We know that it’s better if these changes of ownership can happen in a stable and planned way. That’s what we’re doing.

Will I be able to buy shares in the club when you sell it to the supporters?

No. Supporter ownership isn’t an opportunity to buy shares. Supporter ownership will be exercised through the Dulwich Hamlet Supporters Trust. That will be done with the help of the experts in this field, Supporters Direct.

Do you know any of the former owners of the club?

Not apart from in the context of buying the freehold.

Will you change your mind and sell the club privately when you realise how much it might be worth?

No. We want to bolt this into the planning permission too.

Why do you want the supporters’ trust to be involved so much? What makes them the experts? They’ve never run a club before.

It’s an ideal vehicle for ownership; its rules mandate it to be open, democratic, transparent and focused on the local community. This, in turn, will benefit the club, its supporters and the surrounding area. We want the club to pull together and apply as much expertise as can possibly be resourced. It’s not for us to tell anyone how to do anything, but there’s already a lot of people at this club who are doing a lot for it. If everyone is integrated and pulling in the same direction, there should be a huge amount of expertise that can be drawn from. The committee and the supporters’ trust board talk together, and there’s a lot of areas that can be crossed over on. There are lots of people in football who have never run a club before, but they learn and grow. They will also have access to the network of clubs that Supporters Direct manage. We think that there’s a wealth of talent, existing expertise and acumen that, if applied together, will put this club in a great place.

Will anyone else be able to get involved when the club passes onto the supporters?

Yes. Part of the way that the model of ownership works is to provide opportunities for everyone who wants to to become involved in the ownership and running of the club. We’d encourage everyone to join the trust who wants to be part of the future of the club.

Have you spoken with any other supporter owned clubs about what they do?

Yes. We’ve visited a few, had calls with others – and we know that the supporters’ trust will continue to explore this issue as well.

The local area, politics and residents

What are your relations like with the ward councillors, and with Southwark Council in general?

We have good working relationships with all of the local councillors, and update and consult on the scheme as regularly as possible. We hope that they all see the benefit of this project.

Do you anticipate any problems with the local residents?

We think that this development will improve the local area significantly, with the parkland, local leisure facilities, and the way that the football club will be owned and run in the future, all bringing particular benefits to those who already live there. It’s really important to us that developments like this are bringing tangible benefits to the whole community.

Have you met with any local residents groups yet?

Yes – of course. We’ve met with a lot of local representative groups, and are going to be holding some drop-in sessions where those interested in the scheme and its surrounding ideas can come by and talk to us directly.

Hadley’s reputation and why they’re doing this

Is this all a bit of a PR exercise for you?

PR is about our reputation, and our reputation is very important to us. Our reputation directly affects our ability to carry out large-scale developments like this. We don’t just ‘build houses’; we want to be seen as a developer that develops in sympathy with the local area, working with residents, businesses, and community to create good living spaces. This needs to be for everyone who uses, lives, works or shops there.

Property developers have some of the worst reputations around, and they’ve been responsible for some pretty unpleasant things in football. Why on earth are you making your life even harder by hanging around for longer than you need to?

We’re aware of the reputation of developers, as we’ve already indicated. We want to get this right, and we also genuinely think that there’s something exciting to be done at Dulwich Hamlet.

The club

What potential do you think this club has? Can it make it to the League?

We think it’s better that the club, in the control of the supporters, makes those decisions, but certainly has a lot of potential on-and-off the pitch, yes.

What is going to happen to Gavin Rose and his coaches when the supporters take over? Will they leave?

We all know that we’re lucky at Dulwich Hamlet to have the manager and dedicated coaching staff that we have, and they want to achieve things here. Gavin also signing a new contract means a lot too. That’s partly down to the stability of the club, which is also partly down to Gavin’s influence. Managers are ambitious people, but we think -and very much hope - that he’s someone you’re going to see at Dulwich Hamlet for a while to come yet.

How can I get involved in the club now? Are there any chances for me to do so?

We’re always working with all of our advisors and the supporters’ trust on how we can gradually bring more skills into the club, and that means supporters. We can always use help from volunteers, and would love it if more and more folk would get in touch with potential ideas and resources to help. We also need everyone at DHFC to get behind this – every planning application needs support in order to make it happen, and there will always be people who make noise against change. We want to make sure that the voices of the fans, and the people who care about the future of the club – here at Champion Hill – get heard, loud and clear, as well.

The gym

Who’s going to be running the facility – are you handing it all over to the supporters?

Part of the purpose of developing the ground is to provide the club and the community with facilities that serve them all year round. One of the things that will ensure that happens is to ensure that the whole site is owned securely and operated professionally. We’re talking with providers who do this day in, day out – and who can help secure a good ground rent for the club, which will be able to help it remain stable and keep progressing. As soon as this is secured, you’ll all know about it; and it’ll definitely be before the planning application is submitted.

Aspire Academy

Is the club going to continue working with the Aspire Academy?

Yes. The arrangement works for everyone concerned. Young players are being given the chance to develop themselves, and in the future will have available a really top-class facility. Both the club and Aspire have worked out a way that we work together that really benefits everyone - financially too - and we’re going to continue with that. Of course things change, but we’re all happy with things as they are. We want to carry on pushing Dulwich’s youth programme, and doing everything we can to keep helping ASPIRE to push the potential achievements of all the youngsters involved.

Please feel free to ask us more questions. We’re organising some drop-in sessions, and there’ll be a public meeting too. We want to hear what you think, and make sure that this is all done in the correct way. We need your help to make this happen, make no mistake - and we want to make sure that we all come out of it with something that everyone is proud of, which lasts for many years to come.

Updated 13:40 - 2 Oct 2015 by Liam Hickey

Where next?

Tough FA Cup Tie Awaits Dulwich have been drawn away against league rivals Hampton & Richmond Borough in The Emirates FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round.
Update from The Hadley Group As things continue to move forward on and off the pitch, Hadley would like to update fans with a progress report.

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