A new lease of life for the far pavilions

National Lottery cash is helping village cricket clubs to do a bit of home improvement. Christian Dymond reports
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There is glorious compensation for a brief innings at the North Devon Cricket Club: the view of the sea as you walk to the wicket and the sight of the pavilion as you return shortly after. No wonder touring sides head for Instow. The mouth of the River Torridge is a few yards from the boundary line and an occasional recipient of sixes, while the 18th-century pavilion is one of the oldest in the country and, according to the recently retired club secretary Bill Pain, "one of the prettiest".

The Grade II-listed building was originally put up as a barn for animals and then converted to a cricket pavilion in the 1830s. It comes with all facilities, but inside you can still look up from your cream tea to the thatch and beams of the roof above.

Save for an extension on the front, there has been little structural alteration over time, which is the same that could be said of the 70-year- old cricket pavilion at Hurstbourne Priors, near Andover, in Hampshire.

An attractive, wooden building with a thatched roof, it has no heating, no lighting, running water or bar. The club's 20 paid-up members and their visitors use it almost exclusively for changing and then move to the village hall for teas.

"We'd like to have an extension to give us basic amenities for the 21st century," says Martyn Page, club chairman. "In this day and age, you should at least be able to get a shower." The cost of providing showers, toilets and a small kitchen area is estimated at pounds 35,000.

Hurstbourne Priors is now preparing an application to the Sports Council's Lottery Sports Fund, which is where Pateley Bridge Cricket Club, in North Yorkshire's Nidderdale league, will be seeking funds in the future to improve its own facilities.

The core of the club's pavilion is wooden, but a stone and block extension was added in the 1970s. Members have to decide whether to knock down the whole lot and start again or simply to replace the wooden section. Estimates are more than pounds 80,000 for the former and pounds 45,000 for the latter.

The lottery has proved something of a godsend for local cricket clubs since March 1995. In that time, the Lottery Sports Fund has handed out more than pounds 10.4m to 200 such clubs for pitch improvements, practice facilities and pavilions. A further 181 applications are in the pipeline.

"The lottery has given clubs an opportunity to improve facilities which they have not had for years, and first-class facilities mean people knocking on your door wanting to play for you," says Penny Taylor, grant aid officer for the Hampshire Cricket Association.

This time last year, for instance, Woodgreen Cricket Club's pavilion in the New Forest was in much the same state as that at Hurstbourne Priors. There was no heat or light and the players changed and socialised in the same room. Even the windows were devoid of glass.

But, thanks to a pounds 37,000 wooden-and-thatched extension (pounds 12,980 came from the Sports Council fund and pounds 10,000 from the Foundation for Sport and the Arts), there are now two changing-rooms, hot showers, a disabled toilet, heating, lighting and glazed windows.

"It's a dream come true. We thought we'd have to raise the money ourselves, which would have taken many, many years," says Ray Mortimer, the club's secretary.

Martin Coales, chairman of Bomere Heath Cricket Club, in Shropshire, talks of "money beyond our wildest dreams" to describe the pounds 50,865 and pounds 28,500 that have come to the club from the Sports Council and the Foundation for Sport and the Arts respectively.

A new pavilion (replacing a wooden Nissen hut) and new ground facilities that together have cost pounds 130,000 will be officially opened at the start of the next season.

Improved facilities, however, do not necessarily herald an end to the rich variety of clubhouses that are one of the great features of village and small town cricket.

Keswick got a pounds 87,364 sports pavilion in 1994 to replace one that, according to the cricket club captain, Keith Richardson, was "dropping to bits". But the incorporation of the old pavilion's Lakeland green-slate roof, two ventilation turrets and balcony timber gives it a look that belies its age.

Traditional, too, is the three-and-a-half-year-old pavilion at Ripley, near Harrogate. The club wanted something that would blend in with the village and nearby Ripley Castle, so went for a timbered building with a veranda from a Worcestershire company called Courtyard Designs.

"The village cricket pavilion and the ground are part of our British way of life," says Suzanne White of The Cricketer magazine, which for the 25th year is organising the national knock-out cup competition for village cricket clubs.

Caldy and Langley cricket clubs will meet in the Alliance and Leicester Giro Village Cricket Championship final at Lord's on 1 September. Hurstbourne Priors and Pateley Bridge, alas, were knocked out in the first round.