I’m delighted to be able to write to all of you firstly to formally confirm that we have purchased a significant area of land in West Kingsdown, Kent, with a view to building a new high-end training complex for the club.
The process is still in its infancy but on Monday night I was fortunate to meet with local residents as a very early engagement exercise to outline our plans, what we hope to achieve and also what we feel we could bring to their community, while also better understanding any queries or concerns they had about the proposals.
We have appointed architects and will submit a full planning application as soon as possible. That process, which is likely to take at least a year, will include regular consultation with residents so as to ensure we can incorporate their ideas and find ways of overcoming any problems, alongside other key stakeholders including Sevenoaks Council, the Highways Agency and more.
Should our hope of building this new training complex become a reality then it will be a huge step forward for the football club on and off the pitch. Greater synergy between our first team and Academy set-ups is an imperative objective, as is the enhancing links between the football and business sides of the club. More generally the aim is to build and maintain training facilities which are amongst the best in the country. This will enable us to improve our own players to maximise their individual and collective potential and to become a more attractive proposition to new recruits across all departments.
It is very important to stress, however, that this is not just about us and doing what we can to grow as a club. We want to make a real impact within the area of West Kingsdown and as such, will look to widen the outstanding work of the Millwall Community Trust so that residents of all ages and backgrounds can benefit from their varying programmes, projects, and funding. What we need to do is better understand the challenges of the area and the problems faced by those who live nearby so that the Community Trust’s efforts can be tailored to best suit those objectives.
The obvious question is ‘how long will this all take?’. The truth is it is impossible to say at this stage, but we are conscious that the lease on the site at Calmont Road doesn’t have too many years left to run. I liken this to buying a house; once it all goes through you want to move in as soon as you can. This is no different and it’s never straightforward.
What we cannot afford to do is be complacent about any of this and it is crucial to take one step at a time. Next up is the task of submitting a full planning application and then following the formal process necessary within that.
We will be as open and transparent as we can be throughout the months and years ahead while also maintaining the confidentiality required at varying stages.
It remains important to focus on the here and now also, and this week we’ll be taking delivery of a new unit to house the gym and physiotherapy and sports science offices at Calmont Road. The installation of this large unit is part of a wider rearrangement of facilities there designed to improve the working areas of the management and the players.
Elsewhere on the property and development topic, we remain in discussions with Lewisham Council over securing a 250-year lease on the pockets of land around The Den, so that we can both futureproof the club at its current home and have license to develop the areas in question as part of the wider development of New Bermondsey. Obtaining that long lease is absolutely imperative for the club and not until it is secured formally,can we move to next stages including submitting any planning application.
The chairman and Board of Directors are entirely unwavering in their commitment to the development and our investment in the local community of Lewisham, and we hope to be able to make positive steps forward in the weeks and months ahead.
Because of other key societal and economic issues there seems to be less talk of COVID within the media of late, but we remain as vigilant as possible across our different sites to ensure complete compliance to all regulations and protocols in place for us as a football club.
The risk of further outbreaks remains very prevalent, and we will continue to monitor what is said by the government and footballing bodies in relation to the potential impact on the sport. Such a large percentage of the population is now double vaccinated, with most others having at least a single dose so far, and I’d urge anyone not in either of those two camps to help protect themselves and others, where possible, by getting the jab.
COVID protocols are set by the government and/or safety advisory groups and local authorities – not clubs – and I will again reiterate that we will never implement anything at The Den beyond what we are mandated to do. But we have to be mindful that the current Government ‘Plan B’ would see us mandated on vaccination passports and we have been warned this could be imposed at short notice, even as little as seven days. Hopefully it doesn’t get to that of course and we’ll ensure fans are fully communicated with.
The subject of safe standing is again on the agenda and we will be keeping a keen eye on any trials elsewhere so as to learn about what works and what doesn’t. We are eager to introduce safe standing areas here at The Den providing there is of course the desire from the fan base to do so, and also if it can be done in a way that is cost effective and enhances safety.
Clubs up and down the country are working with their local safety groups and authorities in terms of their own stadium and we are no different. As part of those discussions, certain issues are highlighted and one of our biggest ones is persistent standing (I appreciate the irony here!). It is particularly challenging in the away end because of the shape and incline of the upper tier of the north stand but also in certain home areas too. Please do be considerate of other fans if you are persistently standing and be conscious of the impact it also has on us to be able to trial different initiatives.
Back to the away end, we’re fully aware that over the years there has been a lot of talk about the lack of use of the lower tier in terms of housing opposition fans but increasingly we want to open it for all games where necessary. I’m regularly asked about why home fans can’t sit in that area, but it’s due to the north stand’s food/drink, toilets and access/egress facilities all being located on the lower level. It isn’t possible to split the stand vertically down the middle and segregate accordingly. Utilising the lower tier for away fans also alleviates the issue of standing in the upper tier which is higher risk and may provide us with more time to understand what does and doesn’t work in terms of safe standing trials in other grounds.
This week we will begin an engagement and consultation project with fans located in our Disabled areas here at The Den. Co-ordinated by Shona Groves, your supporter liaison officer, and a representative from the Millwall Supporters’ Club, fans will shortly be contacted and asked about their matchday experience and what areas we can improve upon across the short, medium and long-term. It is so important to us as a club that we are inclusive and accessible for all and so we will do everything we can to introduce any measures which showcase that absolute commitment.
That mindset extends to the Zampa’s Family Stand, which again we want to be as enticing an area to those who sit there – and those who would look to – as possible. As we all know, it was award-winning in 2017 but we are conscious that in the past couple of years it has needed a bit of attention and investment, and so next month we will be doing exactly that and revamping it during the November international break.
As always if you have any queries or concerns then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the club using the normal channels. Your continued feedback is necessary to help us ensure we are the best we can possibly be for you.