GROUND has finally broken on a long-awaited scheme to turn disused playing fields plagued by antisocial behaviour into a village plaza for use by the community.

Following years of planning and consultation with locals, building work for the plaza at Houghton Road, Thurnscoe is now underway - and it’s hoped the array of facilities and potential uses of the site will make it a hub for not only villagers but the wider Dearne area.

A 25-year lease for the 2,000 square metre site was agreed to be handed over by Barnsley Council to Thurnscoe Regeneration charitable incorporated organisation (CIO) in March.

The CIO has drawn up ambitious plans for the £250,000 plaza which feature spaces for skating and parkour, community events and a community garden with a sculpture by artist Dan Jones.

Consultation by community group Big Local Thurnscoe - which was involved in setting up the CIO and has put £150,000 towards the plaza through its ‘legacy’ budget, as the group comes to the end of its ten-year lifespan - started in late 2019.

Big Local development worker Alison Vint called the project a ‘labour of love’ but said the long wait to finally gain planning approval - which came in May - has seen costs rise which will cause further delays in bringing plans to life.

Funding has been secured through Sport England, Keepmoat Homes, and section 106 money coming from developers for loss of amenity.

Sponsorship is now being sought from local firms, with a view to creating a modular building for storage and an independent cafe.

Alison said: “This has been a real labour of love for us and the partnership are to be commended for their tenacity in believing in this project and the benefits it will bring for all our residents, and especially young people.

“We have struggled with a number of problems from obtaining the lease for the land, to the Covid-19 pandemic and more recently problems with the supply of utilities, but we are determined to overcome them all and oversee the grand opening event of the community plaza next year.

“If there are any local companies who would like to sponsor part of the build or donate a modular building for the benefit of the community, we would love to hear from you.”

Aside from the plaza itself, money will also cover the employment of two outreach workers to be on-site to engage with any young people and dissuade antisocial behaviour.

Barnsley Council acquired the land from the British Coal Authority in 1990, with a covenant that it would be used for recreational purposes put in place.

Funding from Sport England in 2005 led to the creation of a multi-use games area and outdoor gym, but the space has since succumbed to some misuse.

The lease has been offered at a nominal rent to promote ‘external investment in the site, which will have significant socio-economic benefits to the local community’, said a cabinet report.

“The proposed transfer will provide investment in the site and encourage the local community to use and look after the facilities it will provide for the community again minimising the risk of vandalism and other antisocial behavior,” said the report.

Nearby Goldthorpe has been selected through the government’s Towns Fund - aimed at decentralising funding into the communities it benefits - to receive £23.5m, which council bosses have said will benefit the wider Dearne area including Thurnscoe.

Part of the funding will be funnelled towards creating an active travel route between the two settlements, costing £60,400.