SWINDON Town Supporters’ Trust are breaking new ground as they explore the possibility of buying the County Ground, valued at £1.1million, the Adver understand.
The Trust’s annual meeting this evening is expected to ask supporters if purchasing Town’s stadium, currently a Swindon Borough Council asset, is a feasible ambition as the group looks for ways to revitalise their club’s fortunes.
The seven-figure fee is understood to have been discussed with council representatives, with a formal offer being mooted last June, in which a window until March 2018 to complete the transaction was requested.
It is the first time that a potential price for Town’s current home has been made public.
The low asking price is understood to take into consideration the Trust’s community status, the dilapidated state of the existing stadium and the covenant that stipulates the land be used for recreation purposes only, put in place by the Goddard family.
It’s also suggested that there could also be a council buy-back clause to prevent the stadium being sold on by future Trust representatives.
Talks between the Trust and the council have been ongoing for the last two years, and while the Trust’s proposal to purchase the County Ground has been put to current chairman Lee Power, it appears there is little interest from the club at this stage.
With no guarantee that League One Swindon will not try to relocate at any time, which would leave the County Ground empty, as well as the need to get the proposal past the whole council, the plans are also not without risk.
In recent years, the Trust, led by chairman Steve Mytton, have tasked themselves with trying to bridge the gap between the club and its supporters, with ambitious projects such as putting a roof on the Stratton Bank, put into motion.
That scheme hit the buffers, with the Trust struggling to raise the £500,000 required because investors were reluctant to pour money into an asset not owned by the club.
This stumbling block led to the Trust exploring the possibility of purchasing the ground on which, it is reported, the club currently pay a rolling monthly lease.
Trust representatives Mytton and Mike Welsh first met with council leader David Renard, as well as councillor Garry Perkins, cabinet member for the economy, regeneration, and skills, and head of property assets Rob Richards back in March 2015.
Further meetings, which included plans to develop the surrounding area to include ideas for a club museum, sport-themed hotel and gym, and a ‘Legends Way’ among other community and fan friendly facilities, proved fruitful, with Town director Sangita Shah attending two of the get-togethers.
However, following a meeting in December 2015 also attended by Trust external director James Phipps, the plans hit a bump, with the investors interested in backing the Trust purchase of the stadium and eventual construction of the Stratton Bank also pulling away from the deal unless all parties – the club, the Trust and the council – were in agreement.
At tonight’s meeting at The Goddard Arms, Old Town, the Trust will expand on the possibility of fans and investors coming together to purchase the ground, while addressing a host of other issues that they hope will improve the relationship between Town and its supporters.
Aided by representatives from Supporters Direct, Mytton will also raise suggestions for funding the project, taking into account urgent repairs and maintenance, further contingencies, and investment in further developments.
These suggestions are likely to include crowdfunding, external funding bodies and community shares in the County Ground – following in the footsteps of clubs like Portsmouth and FC United of Manchester.
Don Rogers and John Trollope will be taking part in a Q&A session from 6.30pm, prior to the meeting formally opening at 7.30pm.