The future of Dulwich Hamlet Football Club's Champion Hill home could be saved after Southwark Council announced plans to acquire the ground earlier this month.
Uncertainty about the club being able to remain at the site had been circulating following property developer Meadow Residential’s decision to evict it from its premises.
Meadow Residential, whose parent company is New York-based Meadow Partners, bought Dulwich Hamlet out of administration in 2014, paying off the club’s debts and funding them for the next four years.
In October 2017, Southwark Council rejected Meadow’s planning application for the land adjoining the stadium. In a statement, Meadow Residential said its proposal for the Champion Hill site is “to replace the current ground with a new stadium, secure the long-term financial future of the club and provide much-needed housing”. The local authority argued Meadow had failed to provide evidence it would reach its 35% target for affordable housing.
Meadow then dropped its support for the club, leaving it with a rent bill of £121,000. When this went unpaid, the firm put up fencing and warning signs, preventing entry into the grounds. Shortly after, Meadow claimed ownership of the Dulwich Hamlet Football Club trademark, and anything relating to it, prohibiting them from using it in print or online.
On 14 March, Southwark applied to buy the grounds from Meadow Residential. If negotiations are unsuccessful, a compulsory purchase order is one of the possible outcomes.
Peter John, leader of Southwark Council, said: “This decision is about delivering much-needed housing in Southwark, and securing the future of Dulwich Hamlet, which we all feel passionate about”.
A number of notable names have recently come out in support of the club, including mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Helen Hayes, the MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, who secured a 30-minute adjournment debate in the House of Commons last Friday (23 March), raising awareness of the issue in parliament.
Peckham-born ex-England footballer Rio Ferdinand and his affordable housing company The Legacy Foundation made a bid of just under £10 million for the ground, but was rejected by Meadow.
Dulwich Hamlet FC are currently top of the Bostik Premier Division, and the club is marking its 125th anniversary this year. It is known for its long-running support of different charities, including LGBTQ charity Stonewall, whom they hosted a game against, as well as organising aid for refugees in Calais. The club also encourage fans to donate to food and clothes banks found in the grounds prior to matches.
Thomas Cullen, Dulwich Hamlet Football Club spokesperson, said: “We couldn’t ask for more from Southwark Council. It’s been an incredibly difficult time for the club and our fans, and to have the support of the council gives us some hope things can be resolved.”
Labour maintained its majority in May's local council elections, holding 49 of the 63 seats on the council.