A new competitive sports facility could open in Shaftesbury within the next year.
Since 2017, Shaftesbury Rotary Club members have arranged funding and secured a site for a cycle speedway track. Rotarian Tony Morgan now wants to recruit volunteers to steer the project forward.
Last week Shaftesbury Town councillors reconfirmed their commitment to lease land at Wincombe Recreation Ground for use as a cycle speedway circuit. “The Town Council’s solicitors, at this moment, are drawing up the lease with the not-for-profit company, which is just about to be registered. We do have to go for planning permission. I would hope that shouldn’t be a problem,” said Tony.
Immediate neighbours have been consulted over the plans. Around 200 leaflets have been delivered to people living nearby. “I think three people raised concerns but they didn’t object. Parking was a worry but because it’s in the centre of the housing estate, most people are going to walk there or cycle there. If there are visiting teams, which undoubtedly there will be, I’ve got agreement from the school opposite and from Wessex Group, who’ve got a large car park, which could be used. We are looking to minimise the impact on any parking,” Tony assured residents.
There is just one misunderstanding, which Tony remains keen to address. The cycle speedway bikes will be powered by pedalling and not by petrol. “It is not motorcycles. It is ordinary bicycles, with no brakes and no gears. You are cycling round a relatively short track. It’s not a question of being out on the road. It is a safe environment,” he said.
In fact, cycle speedway riders use special bikes and Tony has already secured funding for 20 of them. “These bikes come out at about £250 each and I’ve already got sponsors from local businesses.”
This project is new, but Shaftesbury Rotarians are trying to revive what was once a popular North Dorset pastime. “In this area, there was a North Dorset Speedway Cycle League. The cycle track was at the bottom of Zig Zag Hill. Before you start going up, on the very first left turn bend, if you look across to the right, you’ll now see some farm barns. That was a natural amphitheatre arrangement. People used to sit on the banks going up the hill,” said Tony.
“There was a chalk and cinder track. It’s where Melbury Lions cycled against the other local clubs like Donhead Dragons, Marnhall Mustangs, Blandford Bats, Child Okeford Otters, Hazlebury Comets and Newton Eagles, which I think would be Sturminster Newton,” he added. “They competed in a league and also competed against other teams. That’s where the idea came from.”
Cycle Speedway was in its heyday directly after the Second World War. “In the bomb sites of London, youngsters got together, cleared away the rubble and created their own track, with no involvement from adults. It was such great fun that, at its peak, there were well over 3,000 cycle speedway clubs in the UK. In Dorset alone, there were 61 clubs,” said Tony.
The sport remained popular locally until the 1950s when other distractions emerged. Tony is hoping that children can be lured away from their phones and screens to enjoy outdoor activity through cycle speedway. Poole has a thriving club and videos on their website, PooleCSC.com, reveal the cross-generational appeal of the sport.
“If you look at that video, you’ll see toddlers on there, aged four or five years. They are racing around. They even have a senior’s event, so people like me, when I get my new hip, might have a go!” Tony laughed. And he wants the fun to be affordable. “The cost to a club member probably would be no more than £10 or £15 a year, and that’s mainly to cover insurance.”
It seems that a lot of the hard, detailed planning work is complete. Rotarians have secured tens-of-thousands of pounds in funding pledges for this project and they’ve found a field where the track can be built. “Shaftesbury Town Council has been brilliant,” said Tony. “We located a piece of land, which is behind the play area, at Wincombe Lane. There’s a very large field with a couple of goal posts for a casual kick around. In the far corner, the Council has allocated us a portion of that land. We’re in the process of agreeing on a head lease between the Council and the not-for-profit company, which is being driven by the Rotary Club of Shaftesbury.”
Local Rotarians have made the commitment of their largest ever pledge of up to £10,000 to the cycle speedway scheme. That cash can be added to more promised funding. “The support of the Lottery Fund, via Sport England and Dorset Council, means we have pledges of £100,000 pounds to create this track. It’s well on its way to successful completion,” said Tony, who is confident that the funding target has been reached. “We’ve taken advice from Sport England and the figure of £100,000 was based on the information they gave us.”
Tony says the speedway track specifications have already been determined. “It’s probably about 60 meters from one end to the other, but oval in design. It will take up to six riders at a time. People have said to me ‘that’s not very big’. And I said the same thing to the Poole Club Chairman. He said, ‘You go around there five times and come back and tell me that’s not very big when you are flat out’,” said Tony.
Friends and family will be able to watch and cheer on participants from the sides of the track. “The seating will probably be the bank of earth, which is dug out to create a sufficient depth for the substructure,’ said Tony.
Any potential volunteers who might be worrying about running a club will find friendly advice from Tony’s contacts down on the coast. “The Poole club has been established since 1974 and they have been brilliant in supporting us. They said they will be our ‘mother club’ and help us through all of the ins and outs, all of the problems, we may or may not encounter,” said Tony.
So who will the new Shaftesbury Cycle Speedway team – or teams – ride against? Obviously, there is a Poole Club but the Donhead Dragons and Newton Eagles are long gone. Tony is confident that teams will soon emerge when the track is established. “I’m hoping there’ll be more than one club in Shaftesbury. I’ve spoken to all of the academy’s schools and I have the support of the headmasters. I also called a meeting of the parent-teacher association chairs. They see it as a great opportunity for Shaftesbury.”
Tony believes that, if volunteers step up, the club could be active, and kids and adults could be racing, by next summer. “This has to move from being a Rotary project to being a community project. We need people to come forward to say, ‘I like the look of that. I’ve got young children. I’m prepared to become involved in a role’. It’s a pretty good offer to say to people here’s £100,000 get on and make it happen,” said Tony.
If you want to find out more, talk to Rotary Club members at their Gold Hill Fair stand on Park Walk on Sunday 7th July. And you can find out more about the sport’s heritage at CycleSpeedwayHistory.org.uk.