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Premier League footballer unveils 3G pitch at former West Berkshire school

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A school in West Berkshire welcomed back former pupil and Brentford midfielder Shandon Baptiste to cut the ribbon for its new 3G sports pitch.

Revisiting his old classrooms at Denefield School in Tilehurst, the sportsman stepped on to the pitch to officially kick off the opening of the highly-anticipated facility.

Pupils waited eagerly in rows across the new £730,000 synthetic pitch as the Premier League footballer greeted them all and presented them with medals.

Head of Education Service at West Berkshire CouncilIan Pearson with sportsman Shandon Baptiste and Head Teacher Edwin Towill.
Head of Education Service at West Berkshire CouncilIan Pearson with sportsman Shandon Baptiste and Head Teacher Edwin Towill.

After posing for pictures and signing items, leaving pupils beaming, Mr Baptiste told the young people to “use the pitch as much as possible”.

He said: “It’s a great thing to use if you want to be a professional footballer. Use it as much as possible.”

The children crowded around the pitch – which has been used since November – as the ribbon was cut and said that the experience has made them "more hopeful" when thinking about a future in football.

Year 10 pupil Maria said she had been getting good use out of the pitch already.

“We use it in PE, we use it for after school matches, I think I’ll now be playing more games,” she said.

“We watched it being built from start to finish, you can come and play out here more, it’s also good for the local community.

“Shandon coming down shows you that regardless of what school you go to, it’s possible. I want to keep playing football where ever that takes me.”

Fellow classmate Jack said: “We use the pitch every week after school as well as during school.

“We were told that [Shandon] would be coming when we were in PE. It’s just nice to know someone who has made it in football went to the same school as you.”

Year 8 pupil Lauren said the experience was quite inspirational and that, with a new pitch, she is hoping to play some more football.

Mr Baptiste said it was his first time back at the school and he was pleased to see how much it has developed.

He said: “This 3G pitch is a great facility for the kids, they should use as much as possible.

“I would have really loved to have had it.”

He said it was “crazy” to return to the school as a role model for the current pupils.

“It is a great feeling," he said. "When I was growing up I didn’t have that.

“But to be that role model for the kids, they can use my story and how I have been able to make it, they can use it for themselves.

“They can then go on and do the same, we can have more great students come out of this great school.”

The pitch is currently used daily by the school then becomes home to two partner football clubs, Westwood Wanderers and Barton Rovers, at evenings and weekends.

Year 10 pupil Andy has been playing football since he was four-years-old and said that meeting Mr Baptiste has made him want to play more.

He added: “It’s pretty cool. I didn’t know he went to the same school. I will now play a bit more.”

Classmate Caitlin said: “It’s good to see, that they’ve given us a role model.

“It makes you think, I can do that. If someone who came from here can make it. He is a realistic role model.

“I am going to play football for as long as I can.”

Denefield headteacher Edwin Towill said that he was pleased to see new facilities and opportunities open up at the school, in addition to its recent Pride of Reading award.

He said: “We are delighted to be providing this fantastic facility that not only the school can enjoy, but the community too.

“We are off to a flying start with Barton Rovers and Westwood Wanderers and have capacity for more teams or clubs to use the pitch.

“It was a big project that will yield great benefits for a very long term and we are extremely grateful for all the support we received to bring this vision to life.”

Head of PE Jemma Colbourne said that she reached out to Mr Baptiste as he would be a role model for the children.

She said: “We are very lucky to have him.”

She also said that the football pitch would offer up more opportunities for the children.

The costs were covered by a range of funders including £150,000 from West Berkshire Council using cash from the Community Infrastructure Levy, which uses income from developers to benefit communities.

The project was also supported financially by Greenham Trust, Sovereign Housing association, Englefield Trust and The Garfield Weston Foundation.

Football Foundation chief executive Robert Sullivan said “This grant award to Denefield School towards the 3G playing pitch is great news for the local community.

“We’re working closely with our partners – the Premier League, The Football Association, Government and Sport England – to support facility development projects like this across the country over the next decade to transform our grassroots game and unlock the power of pitches.

West Berkshire Council’s executive member for leisure and culture Howard Woollaston said, “Leisure is a key priority for us and we are very pleased to have been able to support this project.

“This facility forms part of the council’s overall Playing Pitch Strategy and it’s great to see students and partner clubs already using the pitch and we look forward to seeing many more enjoying it.”

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