“Work with us to explore the options for this most special of gifts to the children of our city” – this was the request of members of the TV Harrison Community Action Group as they delivered deputation to September’s full council meeting, writes Keely Bannister.
Group members Aaron Lambert, Lea Westerman and David Williams used the speech to set out the history of the TV Harrison ground in Oldfield Lane, explain why it is “cherished” by the local community and ask that it is saved from house building for future generations to use.
The full speech can be read below:
“Hopefully, the majority of you will be familiar with our city’s neglected, abandoned though much-cherished sports ground and also aware of the rich historical importance of our city’s spiritual sporting landmark. Our great city, made great by our people. People like Thomas Vernon Harrison.
“TV Harrison Ground, Oldfield Lane was first recorded as a sports venue in the early 1850s. Cricket, rugby and football all being played here. Two Rugby Yorkshire Cup Finals took place and in the late 1920s, a campaign was run in the Yorkshire Evening Post to purchase the land by subscription.
“The people of Leeds raised £2,200 and the land was purchased in 1929. In 1931 a ceremony took place on the land as the deeds were handed over from the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Alderman G Ratcliffe To a Mr TW Shortridge – as the land was gifted to the school children of Leeds. In the deeds, it clearly states that the land ‘shall be left open and unbuilt upon’.
“Thomas Vernon Harrison was a WW1 hero who was headmaster at two Leeds schools, Hunslet Lane & Christ Church Junior Schools. TV Harrison believed that having a sports field for children would help with their schoolwork and also help keep them physically fit. With this sports ground being the first of its kind in the country he hoped that other cities and towns would follow suit.
“Unfortunately, TV Harrison passed away before the deeds were officially handed over. Due to Mr Harrison’s involvement in securing the land, they decided to name the facility The TV Harrison Ground.
“As well as school sports, sports day and Children’s Day activities, the ground was the home to Leeds City Boys, who are the representative team for our city at schoolboy Level. All school football finals were played here. The likes of Madeley, Reaney, Harvey, McCall, Deane, Batty, Whelan and Smith all started their careers here. Don Revie and Les Cocker often visited the ground, scouting the next big thing.
“The trustees, Leeds Schools Sports Association (LSSA) closed the ground approximately 15 years ago, though people have still used the land in whatever capacity they could.
“We know of at least three sporting groups who attempted to resurrect the facilities in Wortley FC, West Leeds ARLFC and Armley Amateurs FC. Negotiations with LSSA, the trustees and Leeds City Council were extremely protracted and ultimately futile on each occasion. A £2 million price tag being quoted.
“While facilities for our kids are ever-dwindling, school grounds being fenced off and green land being built upon. Wortley and surrounding areas appear were hit the hardest with very little funding.
TV Harrison has been the pride and joy of our area. The Jewel of Wortley, even Wortley’s Wembley. It is a treasured landmark of Leeds and the pitch is second only, in historical importance, to Elland Road. It would be sacrilege to lose it especially when our kids need this facility more than ever.
“In the past, I have read Leeds City Council plans to make Leeds the greatest city in England. This does not mean filling up green spaces with homes where the infrastructure cannot support it and where you are leaving little for the next generation in terms of much needed accessible facilities.
“We, as the people of Leeds, want the best for our city. The best facilities for this and future generations. To get a grip of knife-crime, obesity, gang culture, mental health issues and disillusioned youth. Prevention being far more cost-effective than the cure.
“It will always stay with me hearing Eddie Gray, speaking at the late, great John Charles’ memorial. It is the people of Leeds that makes this city great.
“There are many options available to us to develop the ground into a multi-functioning sports and cultural hub that would meet the following points in the Leeds Economic Growth Strategy:
● Putting children at the heart of the growth strategy
● Best city for health and wellbeing
● Supporting places and communities to respond to economic change
● Building a federal economy
● 21st century infrastructure and so on…
“We ask that Leeds City Council work with us to explore the options for this ground before it is built on and lost forever – we feel the wider implications are not being assessed in terms of community benefit.
“Please let’s not have houses built on land which was THE MOST SPECIAL OF GIFTS to the children of our city. YOU HAVE THE POWER.
“The people of Leeds have never fallen out of love with this special place. The trustees did that. We invite you all to experience the place for yourselves. Carpe Diem. Do something good with that power and don’t let your legacy let you down.”
The deputation has now been passed to the relevant council officer and executive member for consideration.
Leeds City Council are intending to build council housing on the site with a capacity of 61 units being set for the Old Field Lane site.
A planning application is expected to be submitted in the autumn of this year, which the council says will provide greenspace as part of any housing development.
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