'Incredible' plans are under way to completely overhaul a recreation ground with new outdoor activities, a bigger cafe, upgraded sports pitches and a redesigned skate park.

Courtside, the social enterprise behind The Coffee Shed and Premier Tennis, has been awarded nearly £700,000 to develop their award-winning community café at The Leys Recreation Ground in Witney.

The investment will be used to create a bigger, more efficient community café with new kitchen and increased seating, better public access toilets, an indoor activity space, redesigned skate park, padel tennis courts and a mix of other outdoor recreational facilities. 

Courtside said its vision is to provide ‘a brew, a loo and lots to do’.

The project, which is backed by Witney Town Council, has been a long time in the making.

Witney Gazette:

The proposal has been shaped by annual user surveys, council presentations, community meetings and, most recently, a public consultation, which achieved 93 per cent positive support for the hub.

The award of £649,000 levelling up money from the Government matches contributions from Witney Town Council as landowner and Courtside as leaseholder.

Witney Town Council is contributing £250,000, plus a further sum that had already been set aside for the regeneration of the skate park.

General manager of The Coffee Shed Vonnie Whalley said: “We are absolutely thrilled to hear that our proposed multi-activity hub on The Leys has been successful in its application to the Community Ownership Fund. 

"This investment will make such a difference to the local community, improving people’s health and well-being and saving our public facilities for future generations. 

Witney Gazette:

"While there is plenty of work ahead, we can’t wait to get started.”

Work on a planning application will now progress in conjunction with West Oxfordshire District Council

Town council leader Vicky Gwatkin said: “Courtside’s plans were incredible, offering informal activities for all age groups and the central, accessible community space we had been craving – so good in fact that it felt a little out of reach.

"Since then, Witney Town Council have committed to providing land, financial support and our wholehearted backing." 

But she said the real credit lies with Courtside as "it is their vision, passion and tenacity which has unlocked this investment".

Courtside is a community interest company which works to encourage physical activity and promote community through the transformation of local parks.

As well as operating The Coffee Shed in Witney it has local partnerships in over 50 parks from Sheffield to Southampton, under the name Premier Tennis. 

Witney Gazette:

All existing park users - Witney Vikings football club, cricket club Swifts, Tails & Fins skateboarders, Witney Town Bowls Club and tennis players and netballers - will be consulted on the plans.

Discussion with local youth work specialist, Got2B, and residents at neighbouring Fernleigh will also continue.

Witney MP Robert Courts met founder and managing director of Courtside CIC, Jeff Hunter,  last summer to hear his proposals.

Following the meeting, Mr Courts wrote to the Minster for Levelling Up, Dehenna Davison MP, expressing his support.

He said he was "beyond pleased" at the announcement.

"The funding will transform the area around the Leys, and I look forward to continuing to support the team with their plans going forwards," he said.

Witney Gazette:

The Coffee Shed was launched by Ms Whalley and assistant manager Saphron Driskell in 2015.

They turned The Leys’ old cricket pavilion into a vibrant, family-friendly café with tennis courts and an adventure golf course.

Sharon Groth, Town Clerk and Chief Executive of Witney Town Council, said: “The Leys programme of transformation is one of the top strategic projects for Witney Town Council.

"Our masterplan includes the multi-activity hub, improved sports pitches and relocation of the maintenance depot.

Witney Gazette:

"These complementary actions will address the ageing facilities, protect the park’s heritage and deliver a sustainable income stream.

"Above all, it will help make Witney an even better place to live, work and visit.”

A ‘drop-in’ event is planned on Wednesday April 19 at the Corn Exchange between 6pm and 8pm where anyone can go along to find out more about the project.


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This story was written by Miranda Norris, she joined the team in 2021 and covers news across Oxfordshire as well as news from Witney.

Get in touch with her by emailing: Miranda.Norris@newsquest.co.uk. Or find her on Twitter: @Mirandajnorris

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