It is the green space that resounded to the thwack of leather on willow 40-odd years ago as a young boy practised his cover drives and bowling technique.
At the campaign meeting: from left, Jackie Martin, Marie Botham, Kate Ashbrook and Ashley Strelling
That young man went on to become one of England’s most successful all-round cricketers, with more than 19,000 runs and a wicket tally of 1,172. Sir Ian Botham’s contribution to English sporting history might never have been possible without the green fields of Yeovil Rec where, as an eight-year-old, he would place one stump in the ground and continually practise his bowling aim at it. Now, the Rec is under threat, and Botham’s mum is not best pleased.
South Somerset District Council is determined to build a sports centre on the site of the Rec, one of the few remaining green spaces in the town. Determined locals have mounted a spirited opposition to the plans, led by, among others Sir Ian’s mother Marie Botham, a parish councillor, who said of her son’s early sporting development: ‘‘I don’t know what we’d have done without the Rec.”
Now, the Open Spaces Society, and its general secretary Kate Ashbrook, are pressing for the Rec to be declared a town green. To gain green status, it has to be demonstrated that the area has been used for informal recreation for more than 20 years, without being stopped or asking permission.
There is strong evidence in support of the case. In a letter to the local paper, the Western Gazette, Marie Botham recalled her son’s frequent visits to the open recreation ground: ““I know that if my son, Ian, hadn’t been able to go over to the Rec during holidays and after school, he may not have developed the skills he is best known for.
“I remember Mr Stainer, the park-keeper, telling my husband and me that eight-year-old Ian would regularly come over to the Rec and put one stump into the ground and continually bowl the cricket ball at it. At this young age, he needed this environment to practise and develop his skills.
“Without this freedom to practise and explore, would his techniques and talents for football and cricket have flourished?”
The decision to apply for town-green status came after a meeting last week attended by more than 100 supporters of Save Yeovil Rec. Ms Ashbrook said: “With the society’s help, there is a good chance that at least part of the land can be registered. That should make South Somerset District Council think again.”
During the meeting, 75-year-old Robert Woolridge, who has known Yeovil Rec since 1939, said: “I’m surprised and disgusted that we’ve got to fight so hard for what is ours.”
Jane Bayliss, a child-care professional, told the gathering: “An important part of my job is to ensure that children get out every day into the fresh air. Many people can’t afford to go further afield to enjoy the outdoors.
“Yeovil Rec is there on their doorstep, and is ideal for families to enjoy. There, children can play and learn in safety. It’s a wonderful educational resource. But if it is built on, it won’t be outdoors any more.”
South Yeovil council said: “The Sport Zone [the proposed leisure centre] is about trying to provide residents with first-class sport and recreation facilities; about widening the range of opportunities for people of all ages to participate in leisure; about enabling more young people to take part and achieve their potential in sport without always having to travel outside the district; and to enable Yeovil to become the first choice location for competitive events within the region.”
It said choosing a different site would mean the council would have to show why it did not consider the Recreation Ground, as it is an urban site, which would not spread development into the countryside beyond the Yeovil development limit.
Jackie Martin of Save Yeovil Rec said: “This meeting has been very encouraging. People have been fired up to support us. It’s good to know that so many people care.”
Ultimately, South Somerset District Council members must ask themselves: is it wise to take on a man who eats three Shredded Wheat?