Our field of dreams: Coppermill Swifts FC speak out against Secret Cinema

The men’s football team at Low Hall Sports Ground. Credit: David O’Driscoll

For the Coppermill Swifts, Walthamstow’s contested Low Hall Sports Ground isn’t just any old field, but the field of dreams. David O’Driscoll, manager of the men’s team, shares his view…

On hearing the news that Secret Cinema was planning to bring its next venture to Waltham Forest, I was excited, as I’ve been to four of their previous events.

I enjoyed how they made their audience feel part of an iconic film experience, and I was particularly impressed with Secret Cinema’s use of brownfield sites and disused buildings to stage their screenings.

Personally, I was also happy with the success of Waltham Forest’s year as ‘Borough of Culture’ in 2019 – and I’ve long looked forward to the possibility of another major cultural event in my local area.

But I was somewhat surprised and nonplussed that the site Secret Cinema have approval to use is Low Hall Sports Ground. It is not ‘a field next to a brownfield site’, but home to a vibrant sports community and the Coppermill Swifts Football Club.

The Swifts have become quite a local phenomena, growing organically from a word of mouth connection between local men. Along with the men’s team, the Swifts comprise of four boys’ teams, a girls’ team and a women’s rugby training group.

We have a network of over 45 players. I manage the men’s football team and we train on the site every week. It is also our home ground for eleven a-side games.

Our captain, John Mannon, with the team’s backing, represented the Swifts in contesting The Secret Cinema’s proposals at the council licensing meeting and has been quoted widely in the national and local press. One of the boys’ team coaches, Laurence Standing, was also interviewed on ITN about the impact on the children’s teams.

All of the men have acknowledged the importance of this football team as part of their physical and mental wellbeing – as well as the broader social network it has fostered.

In my day job, I’m a psychological professional working in the NHS, and I know how even a little exercise can have powerful effects on our physical health – but also our mental health, too.

This applies to all age groups – but today, we know that nearly 80% of UK kids don’t meet the minimum recommended amounts of activity, and studies indicate this has dropped even more with lockdown.

While it is claimed that we can still access the area if Secret Cinema are here, the field is a quiet breathing space away from the busy urban environment, which continues to encroach on our local open spaces at an alarming rate.

To all of us, it is a oasis, a sanctuary from the stresses of life in which to play, to dream and to breathe.