When the first designs for the development of the South Stand at Twickenham were drawn up there was always going to be some sort of sculpture at the front. A South Stand Development Project (SSDP) Steering Group was established to oversee all aspects of the Development taking all the decisions about design and quality and price. Over the past six years they have met monthly and produced minutes that have been available to Council Members although few, if any, took up the offer.
So when we were told four days before a Council meeting that the cost of the sculpture would be £425k many of us were quite taken aback. The RFU has recently announced a pay and recruitment freeze and budgets are being cut. Questions were asked:
• Why is it costing so much?
• Why didn’t Council Members know about it?
• Can’t the money be used to help with other budgets?
• Should we delay the project in a climate where Rugby clubs are struggling?
I was one of those asking the questions and wondering what the press would make of the decision if we went ahead with the sculpture. Would we be seen to have changed little from the Will Carling days of Old Farts? We were prepared to ask awkward questions of Francis Baron at the Council meeting!
As the date of the meeting loomed more information was made available to us:
• The sculpture proposed is one depicting a line-out, with five figures at 1.75 times life-size cast in bronze with Rugby’s five core values marked out in five granite blocks around it. The sculpture of five forwards will complement those of four backs on the ‘Lion Gate’ in front of the West Stand erected in 2003. The cost of these at the time was about £200k, about £350k at today’s prices. The same sculptor has been engaged.
• Council Members were always able to find out details about the sculpture, but this was one of over 100 projects being dealt with by the SSDP Steering Group, very few of them costing less than £500K. The Steering Group, which has five Council Members on it, was set up to deal with the day to day management of the project without having to refer to the Management Board or Council.
• Should other ongoing projects also be questioned, such as replacement of the broadcasting facilities and rewiring with fibreoptic cable (£500k), installation of smoke extractors in stairwells (£450k), or landscaping the West Car Park and a new pedestrian bridge (£150k)?
• The £70m cost of the SSDP was ring-fenced so it would not interfere with normal running costs of the RFU. Money saved from the project being cancelled would not see increased revenues for the RFU nor prevent any pay freeze.
• Delaying the project would mean greater costs in the long run, with a life-size clay model already created needing storage and security at a cost of over £50k for a year.
• When granting planning permission for the SSDP Richmond Borough Council waived (after negotiation) its usual requirement for between 1% and 2% of the cost to be spent on ‘art projects’. This could have meant spending between £700k and £1.4m. However there is an expectation from the Borough Council that there will be some sort of sculpture. This is potentially a sensitive issue as the RFU has a planning application for housing in the North Car Park which could generate profits running into several millions of pounds, and has an application for five concerts at the stadium in 2010 which also will also generate healthy revenue.
The night before the Council meeting I was staying at the new Marriott Hotel as I had meetings at Twickenham the day before. I read through the papers and went to sleep thinking about the SSDP as a whole and about 8 o’clock next morning I thought I would go for a walk around the stadium. I went down to the impressive lobby remembering that the RFU derives an income from every night stayed by guests at the hotel. I turned right and went past the conference centre which is regularly booked for corporate events and past the Live Room, providing a venue for local theatre and civic groups and recently used for a car launch. I carried on past the new Rugby Store on the corner of the development before walking past the West Car Park with proper hardstanding instead of the grass of the past. I looked up at the Lion Gate with its iconic bronze statues of players running, passing, catching and kicking before continuing along the Walk of Legends with the thousands of plaques donated by England Rugby Fans. I went around the North Stand to the East Stand where I looked across the road at the current RFU offices which, when the staff move into the new South Stand offices, will no longer incur lease costs to the organisation. Then as I went round the corner of the South Stand I looked in to the brand new Virgin Active Fitness club which had 1100 memberships confirmed before it had even opened, also providing regular revenue for the RFU.
Finally I crossed Whitton Road and looked back at the South Stand with an enormous sense of pride and tried to imagine how people coming to Twickenham for the first time would see it. It is a magnificent stadium, the biggest Rugby stadium in the world, and the South Stand Development is outstanding. The Piazza in front is such an obvious place for a sculpture depicting the Core Values of our game and if there is going to be one there is no point skimping. It is likely to be in place for 100 years or more and will be the first thing that supporters will see and the design will allow people to walk through the figures making it truly memorable. And when you have spent £70m on creating such a fantastic facade should we really worry about a comparatively tiny amount to top it off?
The discussion about the sculpture has been deferred to the November Council meeting and I am now not so sure about which way we should go. Although the arguments about being kept in the dark and the timing are valid, surely we are talking about establishing a piece of history?
Now that more information is available I welcome your views.
(Originally posted on Facebook)
- Ian ‘Spike’ Milligan
Firstly Andrew thanks for keeping us informed on this. Your briefing newsletter set this out very clearly, for me at least. The piece of art is something which needs to happen to discharge the planning permission points.
That said £400K is s…till one hell of a price in the current climate, but only a very small percentage of the overall spend of that building project (south stand).
However and this I think is the very big however, I’m sure it is not outside the skill set of the RFU and their contacts, sponsors etc to think out side of the box and come up with a way in which such a piece of art could be installed which does embody the game but the funding for it comes from another source.
Clubs will no doubt shortly be encouraged to purchase “This is rugby” marketing material in order to get the ethos of the game out there to the wider market and I think this is one of the things which has been missed. Yes you describe a brilliant stadium, which it is, and some fantastic facilities, which no doubt they are, but how many of the young players who run out on a saturday or sunday morning will really get to see the statue? Tickets for international are pricing them out and therefore if the RFU wants to make a £400K statement of the spirit of the game it might need to make it on a more grassroots level.
Just my opinion – thanks again for keeping us informed.
- Alex Murphy I dont think there is any issue about the statue and that long term it will provide a welcome to the stadium. My feelings are that the timing is poor and the statue would have been a more fitting part of 2015 when income streams would be improved.
- Andrew Sarek Rfu Spike – Although tickets for the top international games at Twickenham are very expensive young players can see the Middlesex 7s or the London IRB 7s for as little as £10. If and when the sculpture is up perhaps there could be a coach trip from Swaffham?