Rowley Fields has been available as a community resource, free to use by the townsfolk of Stratford for many decades. As Stratford has grown and tourism has increased, the need for open space has also increased. Rowley Fields provides an oasis of calm, close to the town centre, with free parking, it’s a safe area where young and old can meet, exercise, play or simply have contact with friends and acquaintances.
Part of the College Estate, the fields are now owned and managed by Stratford Town Trust. Town Trust members have a clear mandate to support, challenge and hold to account the 11 Trustees. The Trusts Memorandum and Articles of Association, its rule book define five objects. Objective 4 is to provide or support facilities for the recreation and leisure time of the beneficiaries – the people of Stratford. Rowley Fields clearly delivers this object.
In the early 90’s part of Rowley Fields was identified for development for the Shakespeare Hospice. The planning committee at the time rejected the planning application as there was an ‘overriding need to protect the area from development’. The only thing that has changed since that decision is that the demand for community open space has increased, making Rowley Fields ever more special to our community in Stratford.
More recently, Stratford Town Trust have purchased a property in Benson Road and have plans to develop that property and land to the rear, also part of Rowley Fields. For some time the group known as Rowley Fields Forever have lobbied and objected to the Trusts plans. This piece of Rowley Fields is now subject to legal dispute in the courts.
In 2014, the Trust submitted the larger section of Rowley Fields in the District Councils ‘Calls for sites’ planning consultation document, with a proposal to build 85 houses.
The community almost overwhelmingly opposed the development and a huge town-wide campaign swung into action. Slowly at first, but the tempo increased on a weekly basis as people of the town realised what was happening. Support came from all directions. Political enemies downed hatchets, interest groups and charities united in their bafflement at the proposal to destroy our green land. The CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) publicly opposed it and the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust expressed dismay that land which formed a barrier to one of the Midlands most important nature reserves would be developed. The local newspaper, The Stratford Herald shared the sentiments of the town and opposition grew at an astonishing rate. Concern quickly turned to anger and the campaign took on a huge momentum gathering over 1000 members on facebook over a weekend. A meeting took place up at the gate to Rowley Fields on Maidenhead Road on a rainy Saturday in February and 100 people turned up in the freezing cold to lend their support.
In December, a request for an Extraordinary General Meeting was submitted by the membership in order that they might debate the proposal to sell the land. We all know the outcome and whilst we can celebrate our success in relation to the larger section of Rowley Fields, we must remain vigilant and cautious for the future, we cannot relax our guard. It is highly likely that one day the option of developing Rowley Fields may occur again, when another developer offers even more money.
The Friends of Rowley Fields aims to bring together those who use Rowley Fields and/or support the retention of the land as public open space, free to use for recreation and leisure.
In the short term we aim to establish the association and in the medium term to support the Trust in managing the fields, encouraging wider use by the residents of Stratford. Long term we aim to ensure Rowley Fields is afforded permanent protection securing it for future generations.
On 24th February the Trust made the following statement:
Stratford Town Trust is announcing it has listened to the voice of the community and will not pursue the opportunity to develop7.8 acres of Rowley fields for housing.
Instead, the Trust wants to work with the townspeople to set up a Friends of Rowley Fields, to help with the maintenance of the land and to look at ways of further utilising it for recreational purposes and income generation for the future.
Despite recent experiences we must support the Trust with its management of Rowley Fields, we can influence the future and ensure the area is preserved.
We need YOU – join the Friends of Rowley Fields and help us Protect Rowley Fields for generations to come.