The Rimrose Valley Chaffers Running track: A History
Updated: Aug 15
By Sarah Edey
In the early 1900s, the field belonged to Carrfield Farm with the farmhouse itself being in the adjacent field which we now know as Chaffers. In the early 1970s it was used as part of the old Whabb’s Tip.
The then Mayor of Crosby, Alderman Samuel Chaffers, gifted the land to Crosby Council in the 1950s under the premise that it should remain under the total control of the Local Authority.
The track dates back to the 1960s when it was first installed for the community after, ‘an offer of £500 from the National Playing Fields Association was accepted by Crosby Council’. (Quote from the Liverpool Echo: December 1959)
Southport Waterloo Athletics Club, which was formed in 1978 when Waterloo Harriers and Southport AC merged, first used the traditional cinder track in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, training hundreds of adults and children. Some of whom went onto compete at national and international level.
In November 1996, the Echo reported that, ‘budding Merseyside athletes were being kept in the dark’ as the original 24 bulbs in the floodlights installed in the early 70s had dwindled to just 6. Children had to run along dark streets and it was reported that parents would use their car head lamps to illuminate the track. Dennis and Ann Gill recall having to use a generator, at times, to provide much needed light.
‘With no toilets or changing rooms and training on a half-lit muddy track, the situation was desperate’ said Dennis.
As a young athlete training at Chaffers, I vaguely remember the many issues the run down track faced at the time. Although like many other children using the track all I wanted to do was run. The idea of potential new facilities meant the excitement was felt by everyone involved.
For many years through the 90s, the club - led at that time by Dennis Gill, Brian Murrow and Ray Bishop - campaigned with others tirelessly for an all weather, synthetic track under the scheme name of ‘Bakatrak’. Lottery funding of more than £300,000 was granted and money poured in from the community to support the cause of having a much-needed sports facility in the borough.
It was suggested by council officers that the track be built in Victoria Park. Understandably, people local to the park and Southport Waterloo AC were not happy with this proposal! Why build on an existing park when there was a perfectly good location already there at Chaffers?
St Mary’s playing field and Chesterfield High School were other suggestions for the new build but, again, this was just more hurdles of frustration in the determined efforts of ‘Bakatrak’ who already had the ideal location.
Disappointment from the community was compounded when a letter from the head of leisure services at the time to Dennis Gill requested that he, ‘persuade his members to support the scheme at Victoria Park to help it to succeed’ so he didn’t have to ‘deal with, negative comments in the press’.
After facing many obstacles and many delays, the scheme eventually failed due to rising costs which made the scheme impossible. The money that had been raised was used towards a new facility in Litherland. Unfortunately many runners - myself included – simply weren’t to travel this far afield and, with no local facilities, gave up on their dreams.
Sadly, Chaffers running track became overgrown and unusable.
Thanks to the Jamie Carragher 23 Foundation and a team of local volunteers, new life was breathed into the track. Restoration began in May 2020 to reveal the old cinder track which meant many more people in the community could reap the benefits of having a running track on their doorstep.
Dennis Gill was recently surprised by many of his former athletes via Zoom, when he completed a marathon in his garden during ‘lockdown’ over 37 days, raising more than £12,000 for Parkinson’s UK.
This fantastic achievement is even more astonishing as Dennis is himself living with Parkinson’s. Although naturally Dennis had been sad to see the deterioration of the track over the years, he is excited to see it used for its rightful purpose once again.
I’m sure many hundreds of previous athletes would join me in saying thank you to all the fantastic volunteers who gave up their time and campaigned relentlessly in the 90s in an attempt to bring this much needed facility to the community.
Sarah Edey: August 2020