We were delighted when an invite dropped into the ACN inbox to get an early glimpse at Community Sport Foundations' fledgling new build on the outskirts of Norwich, The Nest.
The Norwich City Community Sport Foundation (CSF) and Norwich City's media team are sensitive to the fact that there are some City fans, who believe that the club shouldn't be putting any time or effort into raising money for anything other than the actual football club, ie buying players and paying their wages. For that reason, each are cautious about banging on about how linked the two institutions are.
They are separate, but every fan, nay, every Norfolk resident should celebrate how closely linked they are and from what we saw at The Nest today, have so many reasons to be proud of both.
Let's kick out any of that cynicism. The Nest is not funded by NCFC. Yes, the Legends game proceeds helped with Phase 1, which has brought billiard green, small-sided pitches, state of the art residential and event facilities to a disused site on the fringes of Norwich International Airport. But CSF stands very confidently on its own two feet, and on the shoulders of its 80+ staff and thousands of one-off to full-time volunteers throughout each year.
The Nest is self-funding and self-sufficient.
It's been designed like that from day 1. They've already had speed awareness courses, training and other events since they've finished the last lick of paint 6 weeks ago. As the eloquent host of our tour, Tom Smith admitted, there may be a few more cosmetic updates due for the grounds, but the 60 or so local school children charging around the first class turf today wouldn't have noticed any of that. The fact they chose the airport as a site for development was shrewd - way cheaper than anything else that size with good transport links given its proximity to the airport making it unattractive to other profit-motivated developers.
CSF benefits the football club in the same way Football In The Community schemes did years ago. When Jon and Tom were on the Scrimmage earlier this season, it was the programme where Rob and Phil requested memories of which players the listeners met at the culmination of half-term soccer schools in the 90s. They came flooding in (and mostly trumped Tom's Gary Megson story). For each one echoed the fact that it was these experiences of getting to meet your heroes (again, Gary Megson aside), which cemented their own love for the club.
When Ivo Pinto is helping you with your reading, or Zimmerman is joining in some weird combo of handball and charades (it wasn't really clear from the video we were shown what on earth was going on to be honest), it may just help those youngsters and their parents in the case of those with a tougher start in life than others, look more fondly on the club than they otherwise would have done. And perhaps a few more kids will ask for a yellow and green shirt from Santa, instead of picking whoever has recently purchased some silverware/the cover star of Fifa.
It's seriously impressive what this local charity has pulled off. Other charities associated to clubs of all sports are constantly on the phone to CSF and asking their inspirational leaders Jackie and Ian for advice and to speak at events. We literally have one of the biggest and most respected foundations of its type on our doorstep.
The technology and architecture of The Nest is innovative and includes fancy wrist bands which grant access to only your room or where your team are meeting/training. The Norfolk-built, space age sleeping cabins made me long to be an age when you don't just share rooms with your mates on a stag do.
Norfolk (for those of us lucky enough to live near our wonderful football club) needs help with social mobility - it's a core goal of CSF in the coming years.
Norwich City needs as many young fans converting as possible. CSF's work is delivering them. Also, youngsters who don't make the elite cut as a pre-teen, through CSF's programmes can be nurtured and delivered back in a few years into the under 23s. This is already happening.
It's up to you and your life experiences which causes are closest to your heart. But as a Norwich City fan, if you haven't already, the least we ask of you is to read up on the fantastic work CSF do, and you may just be moved to bung them a pound or two towards phase 2.