THE NEW £1.9 million indoor artificial sports pitch at Clickimin is ready for action and will welcome the first players to try out the new surface in the first week of January.
Advance block bookings for the first few months of 2017 have been brisk, with the 60x40m playing surface to be used primarily for football but also for rugby and athletics.
It was built as part of the new Anderson High School project, with funding through the Scottish Futures Trust and Shetland Islands Council as well as a £500,000 grant from sportscotland, and will be used by the school’s PE department once that project is complete next October.
Shetland Recreational Trust will manage the Lerwick facility, hiring the space out to sports groups and other punters during the evenings, weekends and school holidays.
Clickimin Leisure Complex manager Robert Geddes said he couldn’t speak highly enough of the surface, which uses technology one step up from Whalsay’s full-sized artificial pitch in Symbister.
When Shetland News visited the facility on Tuesday, strong gales were battering the islands – highlighting the importance of a training surface for clubs to use during poor spells of weather in all seasons, not just the winter.
The pitch, which also has two changing areas and unisex toilets, is covered by a “tensile membrane” – essentially a white canvas which is three times as thick as the equivalent material used on the Scottish mainland to enable it to withstand strong winds.
During construction – carried out by specialist contractor Collinson – it was necessary to have wind speeds of under 7mph for several hours in order to install the canvas roof.
Geddes said his initial reaction had been “good luck with that in Shetland”, but remarkably “they got it at the first attempt” and the construction phase lasted only 10 days longer than expected.
The full 60x40m area will be suitable for seven or eight-a-side matches, while divider curtains can be pulled down to create three five-a-side pitches.
Only the changing area is heated, but without the wind chill the area should be a comfortable temperature for those running around, even if coaches on the sideline might find it a tad chilly.
Some clubs have already booked in twice a week, and the SRT is looking to start running eight-a-side leagues for seniors and veterans between January and April, with a view to expanding that for the 2017/18 winter session.
The surface itself consists of 60mm-long artificial grass, which is bedded in with sand and rubber crumbs. There is also a “shockpad” layer underneath, and it will be suitable for moulded or studded footwear.
Geddes said he believed that once people experienced playing on it they would never want to go back to playing on hard wooden floors.
With CCTV coverage, he hopes the facility can be run on with minimal staffing following a bedding-in period.
“Initially for the first six weeks or so we will have staff in here to answer enquiries,” he said. “The idea is to use as little labour power as possible. It’s fully covered with CCTV linked back to Clickimin’s dry side reception.”
Geddes said it was no coincidence that the introduction of artificial outdoor pitches in Brae and Symbister, enabling teams to train year-round, coincided with sustained periods of success for Delting and Whalsay’s senior football teams in the 1990s and 2000s respectively.
Staff are currently carrying out the last little bits of maintenance and the building now has clearance to open, with the first block bookings commencing on Wednesday 4 January.
Geddes added that it was not clear whether the pitch will generate income for the SRT because it is difficult to know at this stage precisely what the running costs will be.
But advance bookings have been “busy”, and it will also clear space in the main Clickimin games hall for sports such as netball, gymnastics and indoor hockey.
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