One great location, two great local institutions
Not so very long ago, football teams based in Kilwinning had a problem: finding somewhere to play their home matches. There was a community sports field at Pennyburn Park but facilities there were poor, as it had only a portacabin and four (two 11-a-side, two seven-a-side) rundown pitches to its name. Much of the park was flooded and there were neither floodlights nor dugouts. Change was needed.
That change came in 2000 with the formation of Kilwinning Community Sports Club (we’ll call it the ‘Sports Club’ for short), which brought sixteen local football teams together under one banner and co-ordinated their efforts to bring about an improvement in the town’s sports facilities.
North Ayrshire Council agreed to grant the newly created Sports Club a long lease of Pennyburn Park, and it thus began its journey into becoming the very impressive facility it is today. With the aid of both external and self-generated funding, the Sports Club can now boast of having no fewer than eight 11-a-side pitches, three of which (Kirkwood Park, David Faddes Park, and the Ian Cashmore Memorial Park) are named in memory of local footballing people, with another one (Buffs Park) being leased to Kilwinning Rangers FC. Seven of the eight pitches, including Buffs Park, have grass surfaces, with the remaining pitch being covered with astroturf. In addition, there are four 7-a-side pitches and four 5-a-side pitches. There are also three concrete tennis courts (due to open early in 2024) and a modern pavilion with a gym, changing rooms, and offices on site. And that’s without taking the facilities at Buffs Park into account.
That’d be impressive enough for a privately run, for-profit facility, but the Sports Club is a registered charity which is run with the needs of the community at its heart. Its mission is to provide sporting facilities for the people of Kilwinning which would otherwise not be available to them in the locality. As Colin Hunter, the Sports Club’s Development Officer, explained to us: “The Sports Club isn’t just used by football teams but is also utilised by walking groups, an NHS weight loss group, a mental health and wellbeing group, and zumba and yoga classes. Also, our new tennis courts, which will be the only publicly accessible ones in the town, are due to open soon. Our gym has a good range of modern equipment and can be used on a pay-as-you-go basis or by paying month to month.”
Figures provided by Colin attest to the popularity of the Sports Club: it is used by over 500 footballers, and gym membership stands at between two to three hundred at any given time. Although it’s not a free-to-use facility for adults, pupils at local schools are permitted to use the Sports Club’s football pitches (with the exception of Buffs Park) when they’re not otherwise in use.
The Sports Club hosts youth and amateur football festivals every year, and next summer will see them joined by a girls’ football festival, which reflects the rising popularity of the Sports Club’s girls football section.
The one addition which Colin feels would really complete the Sports Club is the addition of an indoor games hall. At the moment, it’s more of an aspiration than a project but the same was also true of the current facilities not so very along ago…
The Sports Club is already home to Kilwinning Rangers, the town’s largest and most successful football club by some margin, having won the Scottish Junior Cup twice in its history as well as a host of other honours.
The Buffs (as Kilwinning Rangers are known, possibly because of the colour of jerseys they wore in their very early days) have played at the Sports Club since 2019, having moved there from Abbey Park, their home of the previous 90 years.
The pitch allocated to The Buffs was formerly known as ‘E7’ but has now been renamed ‘Buffs Park’. Its facilities have been upgraded since The Buffs moved in, with fencing, floodlighting, a stand, and dugouts having been installed. It also now features a building called ‘The Claire Hodge Hub’, which was formed out of five modular buildings, as The Buffs’ Alan McAlpine explains: “Colin Evans, who was then the club’s Commercial Manager (he’s now the Chairman) sourced five somewhat run-down-looking portable buildings for the club in 2020. Acquiring them was one thing but installing and fitting them out might have been quite another thing without Colin’s foresight in putting the word out that we needed help. The response we got was staggering – an army of helpers, including people from every trade you can think of, soon turned the sorry-looking buildings into the great facility that it is today.”
Alan is rightly proud of The Claire Hodge Hub, which incorporates two rooms used for hospitality and a large bar area that’s open to fans. It’s also used by both The Buffs and the Sports Club for fundraising events and functions.
The Buffs run not only a male first team but also thirteen youth teams, as well as walking football, mini kickers (football for 4-year-olds), and other initiatives designed to attract local boys and girls to play football without having to be a member of an organised team. Like the Sports Club itself, The Buffs are very much a community institution. Indeed, as with many other teams in the lower levels of senior football, most of the people who work for The Buffs do so on a voluntary basis, with only the players and coaching staff having paid roles.
The Buffs currently play in the West of Scotland League First Division, having been relegated from the West of Scotland League Premier Division last season. Under manager Chris Aitken and assistant manager Ian Durrant, the Buffs’ aim for this season is to secure promotion back to the Premier Division, and at the time of writing, they’re currently lying fourth in the First Division but have three games in hand over two of the teams above them. With the top three teams in the Division being promoted at the end of the season, the Buffs’ prospects look good.
Indeed, it’s fair to say that things are looking pretty good all round for the Sports Club and The Buffs. But don’t take my word for it; go and see for yourselves. You’ll be impressed.