Brentford is a club that is going places, quite literally.
Within a whisker of the top-flight in the summer, the West Londoners have certainly impressed on the pitch in recent times. Away from it, they’ve begun a new era in modern surroundings, all while making a conscious effort to remain the heartbeat of the local area.
Just a stone’s throw from the famous Griffin Park base which had previously played host to fixtures for well over a century, the Bees’ new nest quite literally has community in its name, something which has become an increasingly integral part of the Brentford Football Club philosophy.
The aptly-titled Brentford Community Stadium can hold 17,250 fans, including 2,930 in premium seats; it’s just 100 metres from Kew Bridge Station and has five premium lounges. Griffin Park’s red and white goal nets are still in place, as are the bricks from the Stable Block in the new North Stand. But it’s the detail beyond the stadium footprint which is the most striking.
The move will create hundreds of new jobs and homes, a state-of-the-art public square and purpose- built educational hub, which will benefit the area and its people for years to come.
Having first become involved over 30 years ago, Lee Doyle – current Chief Executive at Brentford FC Community Sports Trust – has envisaged this for quite some time. The link between club and Trust is stronger than ever, with the new stadium development evidence enough that it looks continue to grow.
“It gives you goosebumps, actually, seeing it come together,” he says, speaking to us in an exclusive interview. His work has helped see the club crowned Community Club of the Year on no fewer than four occasions.
"When you see the new stadium and badge glowing into the night, it’s an absolute gift. We want to become a destination, and it’s all coming together. We’re extremely excited by it all.”
Like many Clubs up and down the country, Brentford’s wider responsibility and influence as a result of its community work is undeniable, with local outreach arguably more important than ever in the current climate.
Doyle and the Trust have been involved in the stadium planning from the very outset, with the build set to expand the Trust’s efforts and, ultimately, give it a new headquarters.
“We’ve gone from having fewer than 10 people not so long ago to now having nearly 100 staff and volunteers,” he adds. “We’ve been working for a long time with this vision in mind and expanded to such an extent in the old ground that we ended up having to move out. It’s all part of a bigger picture for us; we’ve now got a base adjacent to the stadium, a two-floor building with a social, education and health hub on the bottom and offices above.
“The location is quite remarkable, it’s extremely well positioned and has a real heart and soul already. It’s been designed and shaped to be vibrant and I think it’s given people a lot of hope.
“The wider footprint of that is Gunnersbury Park, an amazing £14million facility that we’re a strategic partner in; we’ve got a partnership with the University of West London and we’ve even created a boating hub! It’s all about using local resource and engaging local people.
“The impact on local business, not only within the stadium footprint but beyond, is massive too. When it comes to creating jobs, we want to be a catalyst for opening up opportunities for employment and training, and the Trust has grown significantly in that area.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by the club’s Vice Chairman, Donald Kerr, who also happens to be on the Trust’s Board, another symbol of the close-knit operation.
“It’s a fabulous stadium, in every aspect,” he says, proudly. “The sound system is the best of its kind in a new stadium, the resolution on the screens, the seating and legroom, everything.
“The people who have seen it first-hand have been blown away. The moment they arrived, they all said the same thing; ‘wow’. It’s light years away from Griffin Park, a totally different experience. The opportunities for catering and corporate hospitality... it’s even got toilets, for goodness sake! Griffin Park was a fabulous ground, but it was 116 years old, and the new stadium is 21st century.
“For the Trust to be on site is a huge thing. It means we’re back together again and reminds people that the Trust is part and parcel of the club. At the meeting we had in 2012 in order to get planning permission, we had 15 minutes to present and five minutes of that was taken up by what the club and Trust were doing in the community.
"We’d had an independent audit of the social impact of the Trust, and we found we were having a huge positive social impact on the local area, with tangible cost savings and so the Trust has been an integral part of the new stadium development. It’s always been seen as the club and Trust being bound together.”
Quite literally a half-way house between Heathrow Airport and London’s West End, there’s a clear feeling that the opportunities presented by the location alone are boundless.
“We live in an area with a lot of blue-chip companies and are going to them as potential partners with a new stadium that you
fly over as you come into Heathrow and can see from the M4. It’s an attractive proposition, and we’ve been going to them jointly, as a club and Trust,” he adds.
“There’s a strong belief in the model we have. Going east, there are a lot of Trusts but, going the other way, I don’t think there’s a Trust between us and Wycombe or Reading, so it’s a great area to expand into. The future is bright, really bright. We’re going into it with huge optimism, and we’re doing it together."
Timing can be everything when it comes to football and, despite the first-ever fixture at the Brentford Community Stadium being played behind closed doors, this is a move which is generating hope, at a time when it’s most needed.
Clubs and communities need their Trusts, and the completion of the Bees’ new home is as big an indicator as any of their importance.
“This is a result of timing and, more than anything, people,” Doyle says in conclusion.
“That’s what’s coming to light now, there’s more awareness and people saying ‘what is the club doing differently and what’s the approach to club and community?’ That thought process, that culture, has really grown. If you go back to the roots of this development, a lot of work was done by volunteer supporters.
"When it came to planning, we said ‘we’re more than a club, we’re invested in our community’ and we could prove that. The question to us was ‘if we build this stadium, could the Trust do more?’ and we said ‘absolutely’, so the whole thing went hand-in-hand.
“When you look at the need of communities coming out of COVID-19, I think we can be part of the solution. Thinking in wider terms, when it comes to club, Trust and stadium partners, we can also be a part of the CSR solution. Awareness and engagement is only going to increase further, and we’ll be at the centre of that.”
‘Firmior’, the Latin word for ‘stronger’, adorns the coat of arms for Brentford and Chiswick. With this development, its local club and Trust are just that, and you can be sure the buzz will continue long into the future.
This feature originally appeared in the official EFL magazine in December 2020.