Late in 2003 came the shock news that cricket could end at the ground. Changes to the funding of cricket meant that the leaseholders were no longer able to cover the costs of the Jesmond Ground. They told the Trust which owns the ground that they were giving notice to hand back the lease.
A campaign group called savingcricket@jesmond was formed and a high profile public campaign was launched in March 2004.
The solution was found in a new partnership. The Royal Grammar School took on the lease and moved their cricket matches to the ground. And they rented out the pitch and pavilion to the newly-formed Newcastle Cricket Club to ensure the community facilities continued. There has been considerable refurbishment over the last few years thanks to the new arrangements, to generous donations, to fundraising and to grant support.
Northumberland County Cricket Club, which had given up the lease, continues to use the pavilion as a base and plays several of its matches at the Jesmond Ground every season, continuing a link which goes back more than a century.
The deep roots linking the Jesmond ground and the community were made very clear during the campaign to save the ground.
Stories poured in of why the ground was special to individuals and organizations.
One lady in her 90s remembered that the wicket roller used to be pulled by large horses wearing rubber boots over their hooves. Others spoke of their memories of christenings, weddings and wakes – ashes are often scattered at the ground.
Many community organizations meet at the club, for annual meetings or for socials. All parts of the community criss cross from Tumble Tots to young musicians to wine tasters and the Hockey Club. Different cultural occasions are marked with song, dance, poetry and performance.
Ray Eden, who sadly passed in January 2014 remained a member of the committee aged in his 90s, first visited the ground aged 14. In those days it had tennis courts which had to be taken down for the cricket. He saw some of the tall trees first planted. The club brings him together with five generations – the youngest member was brought in less than a week after birth. It is these shared experiences which help create a powerful community spirit. Ray’s lasting legacy is testament to the spirit honed in tandem with the club.
The dozens of memorial benches around the ground are a fascinating link to the people who have dedicated their skills and time over more than a century to support the Jesmond ground and its activities.