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Bishop's Stortford Hockey Club all set for life at Herts and Essex High School's new sports complex

Bishop's Stortford Hockey Club is looking forward to starting a new chapter in its 71-year history and building an exciting legacy for the next generation.

The club will be based at the Herts and Essex High School's new sports complex in Beldams Lane, with the senior league season, which starts in September, fast approaching.

And the club hope being part of the project will enable them to hit some ambitious targets and continue to grow over the coming decades.

From left, Bishop's Stortford Hockey Club president Bernie Cotton, club member and Herts and Essex High School governor Pippa Bull, BSHC development officer Gregg Pettit and Herts and Essex's chair of governors Bob Fielden. Picture: Vikki Lince
From left, Bishop's Stortford Hockey Club president Bernie Cotton, club member and Herts and Essex High School governor Pippa Bull, BSHC development officer Gregg Pettit and Herts and Essex's chair of governors Bob Fielden. Picture: Vikki Lince

Stortford have been playing at Hockerill Anglo-European College since 1993 - away from the clubhouse at Cricketfield Lane - so the new facility will bring unity.

"From the club's point of view it's been 25, 30 years in the making in terms of trying to get a pitch and clubhouse next to each other," said Stortford's development officer and former men's club captain Gregg Pettit.

"The club used to play at Cricketfield Lane with the clubhouse and the grass pitches outside, which made for that lovely social interaction between the playing, the watching and the drinking afterwards.

Bishop's Stortford Hockey Club men's first team celebrate promotion. (14324185)
Bishop's Stortford Hockey Club men's first team celebrate promotion. (14324185)

"We've lost that since we've gone to Hockerill. Hockerill's a fantastic facility, but unfortunately we don't have that social side attached to it.

"We're hoping that here people will play, come into the clubhouse and watch the following games and stay longer."

The club is still riding the wave generated by the London 2012 Olympics and has seen its junior section swell to almost 500 members.

As part of their 2018-23 action plan, Stortford are looking to increase the number of juniors progressing to adult hockey, as well as growing the number of qualified junior coaches and the proportion of members who are qualified umpires and/or coaches.

"For the last two or three years, for the juniors, we've been hiring the Bishop's Stortford College pitch for pretty much all day Sunday, some Saturday games as well and some midweek training," said Pettit, whose wife Jemma was head of the junior section for 10 years and oversaw its expansion.

"That's a big cost to us, so now with our own pitch we can put that money into our own facility again. And now the juniors' parents, instead of standing on the sidelines in the wet or bad conditions, can be inside, have a coffee and a cake and chill out.

"I think our female intake has increased by 30 or 40% since 2012, so it's really surged, even above the national average for hockey in that time.

"Now with this partnership with Herts and Essex, a girls' school, we're expecting it to surge even more in terms of girls participating."

As well as helping to establish Herts and Essex as a strong hockey school nationally and strengthening relationships with other school to deliver coaching in partnership, the club also wants the senior side to continue flourishing.

Among the key goals in the five-year plan are getting the ladies' first team into the national league, getting the men's first team in line for three promotions - they were crowned East League, Division 2S champions last term - and to have seven adult ladies' and six men's teams playing competitively.

"We're already looking at six women's teams this year with the move to here, so it's only one extra team needed from there potentially, and hopefully we'll get the men another couple of teams," said Pettit.

"This facility will bring the juniors and the seniors together. At the moment there's a bit of disjointedness because the juniors are always on a Sunday and the seniors on a Saturday. The juniors don't tend to come back to Cricketfield Lane and don't tend to associate that as part of the club.

"This will now hopefully make it feel more like one club and help to bring more of those juniors through into the senior section.

"It's all about getting people to play the game, enjoy playing it and hopefully then keep playing it when they get older.

"There tends to be a bit of a drop off around the teenage years, but we hope with this new facility that people will carry on playing."

Stortford are part of a sports partnership alongside the school, Bishop's Stortford Judokwai, the Lawn Tennis Association and netball clubs Saffron Hawks and Crosskeys of Harlow.

The facility, which also includes the likes of a gym, tennis courts, netball courts and dojo, has required a financial partnership with local education authority Hertfordshire County Council, the Education and Skills Funding Agency and East Herts Council.

"We've invested about £300,000, which is effectively half the cost of the pitch, into the facility. That's a big chunk of money and the majority has come from our members," said Pettit, who is head of assets at Lee Valley Regional Park Authority..

"We did get a nice grant from the National Hockey Foundation of £50,000, and also £2,500 from the Stansted Airport Community Trust. The rest came from members, our VPs and generous donations.

"We've been lucky enough to be closely involved with Herts and Essex in the design of the pitch and the clubroom, and they've been really good in letting us lead some of the spec on bits and pieces.

"You get a great view from the bar overlooking the pitch and we think it's as good as anything out there - I can't think of anything better.

"We hope it's going to attract new players and people to come here and think 'what a fantastic facility'."

As it will be used by the public, the new complex is set to benefit people from all walks of life and with varying sporting passions.

And Herts and Essex students will also be relishing the opportunity to develop their skills.

"This facility will make a huge difference to the school, having an Astro pitch on its own site," said Pippa Bull, who has been a Stortford hockey member for 39 years and is a governor at the Warwick Road secondary.

"Although it's a school facility first and foremost, I see it as much more than that. It's a sports centre for the whole community.

"Encouraging the community to play is very important to the hockey club, with Back to Hockey sessions and disability hockey."

With the future looking incredibly bright, the club now want to get more sponsors on board to join them on their journey.

"We're hoping we can now really push that forward as it's something we've not pushed for a few years," said Pettit.

"We haven't got any main sponsors at the moment, so we're kind of a blank canvas for somebody to really put their stamp on it.

"We've got 200-300 seniors and 400-500 juniors now. That's a lot of people a sponsor could get some benefit from."

Visit bshc.hitssports.com/default.aspx to find out more about the club.

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