THE future of a Henley-based wheelchair basketball team looks to have been secured after they were offered a new home in Leamington.
But club founder and head coach Tom Masterson says site owners WCG must commit to a “major revamp” of the facilities before considering their offer.
Warwickshire Bears have been training and playing from Henley-in-Arden Sports Centre since 2008.
But their future was put in jeopardy after WCG (formerly Warwickshire College Group) sold the 13-acre Stratford Road site to Premiership rugby club Wasps.
Contracts have been exchanged between WCG and Wasps, but the move is subject to planning approval.
This news left Bears founder and head coach Tom Masterson scrambling around to find a new home for the club, but he was thwarted in his efforts due to courts at schools and leisure centres across the county being fully booked.
Tom, who formed the club as Stratford Players in 2002 before rebranding them to Warwickshire Bears in 2008, told the Herald there’s more to finding a new home than just looking for a court to play on.
“We are one of WCG’s biggest customers as we train on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and then play games on Sundays,” he said.
“So we have to find somewhere where those days are regularly available.
“Not only that, we have a container full of wheelchairs which would need moving across as well.”
Tom had expressed deep concerns that if no suitable venue could be found, he might have to fold the club, which boasts three men’s sides as well as a women’s and junior team.
Those fears have now been eased somewhat after WCG stepped in and offered the Bears the chance to move to Leamington College.
However, Tom admitted he had huge concerns over the state of the facilities at Leamington College, comparing the switch in sites to “moving from a three-bedroom house to a stingy little flat”.
But with league fixtures resuming after Christmas, Tom told the Herald he would rather move into the site anyway and pressurise WCG to undertake the necessary work rather than fold the club and leave his juniors with “nothing left in their lives”.
“What hurts me and upsets me the most is what this situation has done to the kids,” he said.
“For some youngsters, our club is the only thing they have got in their life.
“It’s not like we’re a football club where you can just go and find a new club.
“Warwickshire Bears is the only thing those juniors have and although I appreciate the offer of a new home, there needs to be a major revamp of the facilities.
“There’s a lot of painting which needs doing, the floor needs relaying and there has to be wheelchair access to the toilets and showers in the changing rooms.
“We also have to carry across the container full of wheelchairs as well as the scoring systems and hoops because the Leamington site can’t host league games as it currently is.
“It’s not like we’re moving to somewhere comparable. It’s like moving from a three-bedroom house into a stingy little flat.
“It’s not a move we wanted, but it’s one we’ve been forced into after the sale of our home to Wasps.”
WCG said they understood the concerns raised by Tom and would now be finding out when such work could be done to ensure the Bears have a viable home to move into.
A WCG spokesman said: “We met with Bears head coach and founder Tom Masterson and treasurer Dan Smith last week and have offered alternate venues at a couple of our sites.
“They have opted for our Leamington site with some conditions that were confirmed by email and that we are in agreement with, so we are delighted to be able to support the Bears going forward.
“We now have to undertake some work on the venue to accommodate them – including changing rooms and storage – and are just working out exact timings for this and when they will move across.”