Diane Spencer reports from the playing fields on the effects of Major's latest sports policy on schools and clubs.
In the shadow of Lumley Castle on the edge of the historic town of Chester-le- Street, lies the country's newest cricket ground, Riverside, home of Durham County Cricket Club, and the latest first-class team to be created.
Durham and the surrounding areas also have a burgeoning cricket development programme. In Northumberland, for example, development officer Nick Brown has organised nine coaches to visit 180 schools to encourage 5,000 children to play Kwik Cricket, the junior version of the game. More than a hundred schools took part in 15 tournament days involving 2,500 children. Every Friday during the season schools are invited to put on a display of Kwik Cricket during the lunch interval at the new ground.
Albert McGrady is head of the National Cricket Association's programme for the North-east, and works closely with local education authority physical education advisers and sports liaison officers. He wants to encourage local clubs to make youngsters welcome, an idea close to John Major's heart.
The sports policy document launched by the Prime Minister earlier in the summer urges clubs to look at ways of improving links with schools and the Sports Council's regional offices will develop school-club links with the help of a special fund.
An extra Pounds 1 million will also be earmarked for school projects in the Government-backed Sportsmatch scheme, which awards grants for sporting facilities, provided that the school or club can raise matching cash from sponsors. Adam Tarrant, the scheme manager, said around half a million children had already benefited from some form of sponsorship project since the programme began in November 1992. He hopes that with the new allocation of money, this will rise to a million by 1997.
So far more than 1,000 projects have been supported in 55 sports. The average award is Pounds 8,000, with a minimum of Pounds 1,000 and a maximum of Pounds 75,000.
Sportsmatch intends to favour schemes that develop a "sporting bridge" between school and adult life, Mr Tarrant said. Many young people wanted to carry on playing when they left school, but the prospect of finding and joining a club could be intimidating. There are many schools and clubs which have playing fields, gyms and sports equipment not used to full capacity. Closer links would mean that these could be used more efficiently. The Institute of Sports Sponsorship, which administers the scheme, is developing a resources pack for teachers and governors to help them attract sponsors. Sponsorship need not just be in the form of money; it might also be employees' time. Many businesses are prepared to offer secondments to clubs and schools, thereby giving them opportunities to learn management skills they could otherwise never afford.
From January next year the situation should improve as the money from televised cricket will begin to filter into the recreational side of the sport. The National Cricket Association will get "a significant sum", according to Micky Stewart, the Test and County Cricket Board's director of coaching. This will allow them to make part-time officers full-time.
Mr McGrady works closely with Martin Robinson, Durham County Cricket Club's youth development officer. "I look after the grass roots but when it comes to excellence I hand over to Martin. We get some of the team into schools to get the kids interested in the game as opposed to football or computers."
Sportsmatch, Warwick House, 4th Floor, 25-27 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W OPP