Anyone for cricket? There’s plenty more than mere willow and leather that makes Edgbaston so special
Edgbaston is one of the world’s great cricket arenas. There’s nothing special about that statement – it’s a fact that fans of the great game, from Melbourne to Mumbai and Kingston to Karachi, will recognise. Or, as chief executive Colin Povey likes to put it: “Edgbaston is Lord’s without the stuffiness but with truly world-class facilities.” Over the years, it’s been the scene of some amazing pieces of sporting theatre and drama – West Indian great Brian Lara made his 501 highest score by a batsman in first-class cricket on the ground in 1994. England won the closest ever Ashes test match against Australia by just two runs in 2005. There are many, many more… Here in Birmingham, it almost feels at times like this great 128-year-old institution is taken for granted – just like so many other world-class organisations and venues we have in our city. Yet it’s debatable whether any single name bears the flag and good name of Birmingham around the world quite as well and proudly.
What makes Edgbaston especially great is what goes on behind the scenes – the largely unseen and unsung projects and initiatives which put the ground and Warwickshire county cricket club at the very heart of the city’s communities. Work that brings the club into contact with tens of thousands of schoolchildren and youngsters every year and which raises hundreds of thousands of pounds for charity and good causes. All these community and recreational projects are run Warwickshire Cricket Board – one of Edgbaston’s three main operational strands. The other two are Warwickshire County Cricket Club which looks after the first-class team, and Edgbaston Experience Ltd which manages the superb conferencing and entertainment facilities at the ground. As chief executive, Colin Povey heads up all three – and there is nothing, and we mean nothing, that he doesn’t know about Edgbaston, past, present and future!
“This is a very, very special place,” he says. “And in so many different ways, from what we see on the pitch every summer, through to everything we do with the community throughout the rest of the year. Our brief is to foster healthy participation in sport, healthy living and social activity and interaction among the young. And, of course, we always hope that through this involvement we will unearth the next great cricketer, the next Ian Bell.” To that end, the club has direct links to many schools in the region as well as hundreds of boys and girls aged from 10 to 19. On the charity front, the club supports three main causes: the regional branch of the Lord’s Taverners, Cure Leukemia and Fisher House. “We have raised more than £130,000 over the past few years to help children with leukemia,” says Colin. “ It’s a charity we are especially close to.” Fisher House is a drop-in centre for the families of injured army forces’ personnel who are being treated at Queen Elizabeth Hospital. “It allows the families to spend precious time in a home-from-home which is incredibly important,” adds Colin. “We aim to raise £10,000 for Fisher House this year.” Of course, Edgbaston wouldn’t be Edgbaston without a raft of community sports initiatives. “We are delighted that we have a lot of local community use of our ground,” says Colin. “We host four inner city cricket competitions each year and have involvement with the Al Faisals and Sandwell Asian cricket leagues.” The club also holds three skills festivals for primary age schoolchildren each year. The excellent indoor Edgbaston Cricket Centre is heavily used with various clubs and schools playing their finals there. “It’s also used for quite a lot of disability cricket,” adds Colin. “So kids in wheelchairs play table-top cricket which is really fantastic to see.
“Elsewhere, our cricket museum is in constant use by schools as a learning centre for children that ties in with work they are doing as part of their curriculum. So for example, children studying maths will come here and use our archives of cricket statistics as part of their course work.” Leaving the confines of Edgbaston itself, the club runs a huge programme of cricket teaching sessions in hundreds of schools – each one under the auspices of coaches who have been fully trained and qualified by the club. Finally, as a further initiative to ‘get ‘em young’ more than 3,500 free tickets to top matches are supplied to schools every season. All of these things make Edgbaston a real jewel of Birmingham life. But for Colin, there’s one thing above all others that makes the place special. “It’s the warmth, atmosphere and fun that’s generated in the ground when it’s full,” he says. “It sums up perfectly an organisation like ours which is at the very heart of a wonderful multi-cultural city.”