The decision to change the whole structure, constitution and purpose of the Club to become a Community Benefit Society (CBS) was not taken lightly and it didn’t happen overnight. The creation of Dunstable Town FC Ltd on the 8th July 2021 came about only after many hours of meetings with the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA), fellow CBS clubs, AFC Rushden & Diamonds & Lewes FC, and after the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) assessed we met the strictest financial standards required.
The history of Community/Fan owned clubs can be traced back over 20 years, Enfield Town hold the distinction of being the first semi-professional club to become completely owned by their fans.
Dunstable Town FC became the 46th semi-professional club to follow in their footsteps.
Many of our fellow CBS clubs will have enjoyed success higher up the football pyramid before becoming community/fan-owned. Privately owned and riding the boom-and-bust football rollercoaster until, almost inevitably, an investor withdraws, or debt levels become unserviceable. The club’s future hangs in the balance, or as in the case of some, goes out of business before fans’ groups decide to band together to start afresh and run a new club, ethically and sustainably.
Our most recent history since 2017 has been a tale of dogged resistance and an immense team effort by a group of individuals working together to run a semi-professional football club.
Two successive relegations saw us begin life in the Premier Division of the Spartan South Midlands League at the start of the 2019 – 2020 season. In March 2020 the Covid virus enveloped the country and that season, and the following season was cut short. Sponsors withdrew due to the downturn in the economy and 90% of commercial sponsorship was lost. We folded our highly successful U23’s Development Team to save money.
To keep the Club intact and avoid losing its identity the Club’s members unanimously voted in two separate meetings last year to become a CBS and do things very differently.
Just calling ourselves a CBS and showing off our FCA credentials would change very little. For the past three seasons, we’ve campaigned vigorously to promote the work of the local mental health charity, Mind BLMK. Morally it was 100% the right thing to do with there being sufficient anecdotal evidence to know for certain that our stance had helped people engage with services and address mental health issues they had personally. Whether it helped the Club financially in terms of attracting sponsors was much harder to know.
Hence as soon as CBS status was awarded, we knew we had to “walk the walk” and not just “talk the talk”.
We have an excellent relationship with Creasey Park and the town council who are our landlords. They are supportive of our change to a CBS club and help us in every way they can. But they have books to balance, budgets to meet and council-tax payers to answer to. There is a limit to what help we can receive from them and in our individual case we exist in a world where we enjoy matchday facilities and training facilities which are second to none, pay a fair rent for the ability to do so, but see nothing of the matchday bar and food sales money, or clubhouse hire money which is retained fully by the Council. To put this in context, at our level of football, most clubs up and down the country fund a large part of their operations through exactly those means that are not available to us.
On the positive side, we don’t need to worry about stadium repairs, pitch renewal or preparation for matches or replacing floodlight bulbs. It’s very much a case of swings and roundabouts, and for a Club of our size, a highly advantageous agreement if we can attract more supporters to come to matches or disadvantageous if attendances stay low.
For us “walking the walk” means we do exactly what our CBS title says we do. We provide activities and groups as a “benefit to the community” free of charge for local people who want help and support either to improve levels of physical fitness or mental well-being.
Our project is called Improving the Lives of Others, and while it may appear somewhat grandiose it stands all the tests which you may want to use to challenge it.
We provide two Walking Football groups for people who want to address issues around physical fitness, blood pressure control, Type 2 Diabetes and weight management.
Exercise stimulates the brain’s production of endorphins, the body’s own natural antidepressants so playing Walking Football helps both physical fitness and mental well-being.
At any given time, we can accommodate up to 50 people between our two Walking Football groups, superbly managed by Ian Bateman and gloriously kitted out in DTFC colours thanks to the generosity of the Asda Foundation.
For people who don’t want physical exercise but do want more social support and the opportunity to make new friends, we have two Friendship groups which meet every week.
Chums and Crumbs is a joint venture between the Club, and Social Prescribers (Vicky, Imaan & Ruby) from Titan PCN & Stevenage Leisure Ltd. Lee Nutley runs the group on behalf of the Club. We meet every Thursday between 11 am and 1 pm in the Activities Room on the 1st floor of the Dunstable Centre. The group is becoming increasingly popular and would benefit from one or two more volunteers.
On Monday afternoon Sphere at the Glider meet for three hours of arts and crafts activities courtesy of the kindness and generosity of Club sponsor and owner, Rupert Groves. Sphere provides invaluable support for a maximum of 12 people. It is a peer support group for people with lived experiences of mental health problems. It is a closed group and is run by the members themselves. It is not a drop-in facility but provides long term support and friendship to the members.
We’ve established working partnerships with the Disability Resource Centre and ELFT NHS Foundation Trust Recovery College and will be looking to provide activities for their service users once our CBS base is established at Creasey Park and we have our own proper “home” for the additional Club’s community projects.
Our commitment is to provide all our community activities free of charge. Morally & ethically the Directors believe it is the right thing to do, and it prevents the charge being levelled that we’re funding the First Team from the pockets of people who don’t have any interest in football.
And that’s fine because our mission is to enhance the social, cultural and economic value of the Club to its communities and act as a responsible custodian of the Club for future generations.
Uphold the mutual ownership of the Club operating democratically, fairly and transparently.
Ensure the Club operates with financial responsibility, enabling the Club to be run for the long-term interest of the community.
Provide sporting facilities and opportunities regardless of age, income, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexuality, religious or moral belief.
Play at the highest level possible, but always operate in a financially responsible and prudent manner.
So far, we have 105 individual owners of the Club. The vast majority of them live within a 5-mile radius of Creasey Park, but we also now have four owners who live overseas in Australia, Cameroon, Canada & the USA.
We’re just three weeks away from our 1st anniversary. We’ve achieved a lot in our first year but there’s still a lot more we both want to do and believe we can do.
There are very few clubs who are doing what we do in terms of the groups and activities we provide. This social enterprise model is not right for every club, particularly those with a more traditional outlook and able to raise funds to support their operations with matchday bar and food takings and clubhouse hire for weddings and birthdays.
But the indications are that this has been a successful first year for us. Word is spreading slowly but surely that the Club has a future as well as a past with an alumni including George Best, Jeff Astle and Kerry Dixon. The next 12 months promise to be as exciting as the past 12 months have been.
The Club wishes to thank all of those who have supported our community endeavours and express our gratitude for your support, encouragement and guidance.
A very final thank you to Richard Irving, FSA Network Manager, Community Owned Clubs, and colleagues who have guided and supported us throughout the past 18 months.