Colchester United – A True Community Football Club

The 2015/16 Football League season begins at 3pm tomorrow with Colchester United kicking off their Sky Bet League One campaign at the Weston Homes Community Stadium against Blackpool, and fans will be hoping that this is the season where fortunes on the pitch see the club achieve the kind of success we all dream of. But there is much more to Colchester United than just the activities on the pitch, as the club’s Media Manager, Matt Hudson tells Colchester 101.

Photo by Richard Blaxall, Colchester United Football Club photographer.
Photo by Richard Blaxall, Colchester United Football Club photographer.

The new Football League season gets under way on Saturday – and Colchester United will be hoping that their on pitch record this season can reflect the off pitch successes the club has enjoyed over the past year.

The U’s will begin another campaign in League One after their dramatic late escape from relegation against Preston back in May in front of a national TV audience.

And yet it is the club’s off field activities that are starting to make headlines of their own.

The Weston Homes Community Stadium recently celebrated its 7th birthday following the club’s switch from their former home at Layer Road back in 2008.

At that time, the club was only able to trade on matchdays, had hospitality for about 30 people and no opportunity to make additional revenues.

Photo by Richard Blaxall, Colchester United Football Club photographer

Supported by Colchester Borough Council with funding for the construction of the 10,000 all-seater Weston Homes Community Stadium, the club was charged with making the stadium a true community hub and figures from 2014 show that we have made significant headway in recent years.

Over 260,000 people visited the stadium during the course of 2014, making it one of the most frequently visited venues in the local area, but only 92,925 of those came to watch the U’s in action.

Elton John at Colchester United
Photo by Richard Blaxall, Colchester United Football Club photographer

That leaves some 170,871 having attended for non-football events, with the piece de resistance the Elton John concert in the summer of 2014.

An international music superstar he might be, but the first concert at the Weston Homes Community Stadium had a very local feel on a memorable June evening.

Some 61% of the 16,500 tickets bought were acquired by people in a CO postcode, with a further 14% from CM postcodes as music fans from across the local area came to the stadium to watch Elton in action.

Whilst the real Elton caused waves at the home of Colchester United, we have also enjoyed some fantastic imitators over the last few years at the Weston Homes with our popular tribute nights.

Artists of all musical bents have been given the chance to wow the crowds in the stadium’s Layer Suite and, in 2014, 44,886 people came along to watch tribute nights and comedy clubs at the home of Colchester United.

On top of that, the club’s hospitality facilities saw 3,409 people enjoy their Christmas festivities with the U’s as the stadium continues to be a popular place to hold Christmas functions.

Those activities are just the tip of the iceberg for the wide range of community engagement activities that take place at the stadium. Boxing dinners, darts events, school proms, tattoo conventions, mens’ health events and more have taken place in the last year to continue to bring in a wide range of the local community to the stadium.

And whilst they’re key financial generators for the club – with revenues well into seven figures now, the stadium has also been a key hub for community and charity events, too. Charities of all sizes have been able to use the club’s facilities for fundraising activities, with tens of thousands raised by events held by the U’s in 2014.

“We are hugely proud of what we’ve achieved in our seven years at the Weston Homes Community Stadium,” General Manager Tim Waddington told Colchester 101.

“With every year that passes, we engage with a wider range of people within the local community and continue to establish the stadium as a real hub locally.

“From children attending birthday parties through to our Christmas functions, we attract people of all ages and backgrounds and this grows every year.

“The relaunch of our Football in the Community programme in 2013 has also allowed us to take that message about the stadium out into the local town and beyond, with our coaches working in 60 schools a week and engaging with over 5,000 children a week.”

Photo by Richard Blaxall, Colchester United Football Club photographer

And it is with school age children that the club are continuing to build for the future – with efforts on and off the pitch bearing fruit.

Off the pitch, the club were crowned as the Football League’s Family Club of the Year in 2015, providing the best family experience for supporters out of any of the 72 league clubs.

Nearly 7,000 U11s attended live first team football for free during the course of 2014/15 and crowds overall were up 4% on the season before, despite spending much of the campaign at the wrong end of League One.

Key to that success on the pitch and ultimately survival in League One were players who themselves had watched from the terraces in seasons gone by.

The club have gone to great lengths in recent years to build a strong Academy, with an open pathway to first team football.

Last season, 122 first team appearances were made by Academy graduates with the likes of Alex Gilbey (Gilberd School) and Sammie Szmodics (Stanway School) wearing the kit of their home town team with real pride.

Sammie has been with the U’s since he was seven and exemplifies what the club are trying to achieve with their young players.

A recent friendly game against Fulham in pre-season saw the U’s finish with seven homegrown players out of the eleven on the pitch, with ten in total having had some match minutes at some stage that afternoon.

The Col U team for the coming campaign is truly one that is ‘made in Colchester’ and the successes of the stadium all told mean that the club are well placed to grow for the future.

Matt Hudson





Matt Hudson
Media Manager, Colchester United

Colchester Classics – Classical Music Picks

Our Classical Music columnist Liz Leatherdale, founder and owner of Colchester Classics, brings you her pick of August’s Classical Music events in, and around, Colchester.

Enrique Granados and Isaac Albeniz

Two of the most well-known composers of Catalan music from the last century are Enrique Granados and Isaac Albeniz.  On Thursday 6 August at 12.30pm, Peter Dollimore presents a concert of this style of piano music in St Peter ad Vincula, Coggeshall. Lunchtime concerts start at 12.30pm.. Light lunches available from 12 noon.

Admission is free – retiring collection


Gilbert and Sullivan’s – Iolanthe

On Sunday 9 August at 2.30pm Illyria Theatre Company returns to the beautiful walled gardens at The Minories, Colchester for Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera, Iolanthe, set half in Fairyland, half in Westminster will be performed. In typical G & S style, its surprisingly topical satire pokes fun at love, class, politics and how those from different backgrounds form uneasy relationships. All llyria productions are performed by a reduced cast with live piano accompaniment. Having seen Mikado at the The Minories a couple of years ago I can highly recommend Illyria Theatre productions of Gilbert and Sullivan. Iolanthe will be staged outside with some unreserved seating, so be prepared for an outdoor performance! Sunday August 9 at 2.30pm.

Tickets: £14 or £36.00 for a family ticket.  The Minories, 74, High Street, Colchester.  (01206) 712437


Organ Fest

Colchester Town Hall’s majestic Edwardian organ in the magnificent setting of the Moot Hall has been recently renovated to its former glory.  The inaugural ‘Organ Fest’ a series of four lunchtime concerts, began with organist Dr Gillian Ward Russell on Tuesday 21 July.  The final concert is on Tuesday 11 August when Andrew Cantrill performs Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on ‘Greensleeves’ and Walton’s Coronation March ‘Orb & Sceptre’. Full details on the restored organ and all the organists involved in this mini-festival can be found at Colchester Town Hall, High Street, Colchester.

Admission is free to the Organ Fest recital with a retiring collection for the Mayor’s Charities.


Summer Lunchtime – St Botolph’s

Summer Lunchtime concerts were recently launched at St Botolph’s, Colchester on 22 July and continue until 23 September. This month there is a Harp recital on Wednesday August 19 with performances by Louise Binks and Maria Creasey.


Roman River Festival – The Glories of the Moot Hall Organ

Tickets are now available for The Glories of the Moot Hall Organ – the Roman River Festival’s first ever organ recital. Young organist Tom Bell presents a varied programme including music by Bliss, Bridge, Duruflé and the winners from the Pipeworks competition (John Furse’s Moot Points and Mark Bellis’ Graduation Toccata). During the concert Tom will accompany the Colchester Chamber Choir in some popular music including Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine. Sunday 27 September, 5pm, Colchester Town Hall. Tickets: £12 (01206 729356). The Roman River Festival (17 September – 4 October) covers a wide range of music and actively encourages anyone under the age of 30 to enjoy concerts.

Tickets priced from £3


BBC Proms

Last but not least, do dip into the greatest Classical Music festival on earth, the BBC Proms: an eight-week summer season of classical music concerts held predominantly in the glorious Royal Albert Hall and available on TV, Radio and the iPlayer.

Yasmin Rowe

Young international pianist Yasmin Rowe presents an eclectic mix of music from Bach to Piazolla in St Botolph’s Church, Colchester, later in August. Yasmin’s family is celebrating various significant birthdays and this free concert will make these events even more memorable.

Yasmin was last heard in Colchester in 2008 as soloist in Grieg’s Piano Concerto.  Since then she has performed at various concert venues worldwide and recovered from surgery to her left hand.   The first half of the concert will be solo piano music and after the interval Yasmin will be joined by the highly regarded international cellist, Yelian He.  Saturday 22 August at 7.30pm, St Botolph’s Church, Colchester.

Admission is free with a retiring collection.


The same venue continues its Summer Lunchtime Concert series with a recital of Harp Music with Louise Binks and Maria Creasey. Wednesday 19 August at 1pm.

Admission is free with a retiring collection.


If you have a forthcoming concert of classical music, you would like previewed, contact Liz Leatherdale on 0800 999 6994.


Start your love affair with Classical Music at and take a minute to watch their company video:


Liz Leatherdale

Liz Leatherdale


Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation

Mission Impossible

In many ways this latest instalment of the Tom Cruise starring, all-action, espionage franchise feels very much like a throwback: it’s an “analog” movie in a digital age. You can’t have helped seeing that footage of Cruise hanging onto the side of a plane, it’s been everywhere, what’s really remarkable about it though is that it’s really real. Other movies would probably gone the route of using a cgi actor pasted onto a cgi plane. Mission: Impossible has gone the route that must give insurance brokers nightmares and gone for a real movie star hanging onto a real plane (yes, they’ve probably used cgi to take out the wires and harnesses post production, but that’s not really the point, is it?). Whether it’s Cruise hanging onto a plane, riding a motorcycle at breakneck speed, fighting on precarious hanging platforms or diving into a ridiculously dangerous looking desalination pool (probably a stunt man in this case, but you get the point) it is all real, it’s all “analog”; it’s not computer generated; it’s not digital. And the point of all this? It makes for one of the best, most viscerally exciting and entertaining movies of the year.

Following on from the events of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (or M:I 4, if you prefer), where the Impossible Mission Force’s actions led to the destruction of The Kremlin, the American government decide to close down the activities of Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and the IMF, integrating them into the CIA. Close to exposing the rogue nation of the title, an evil anti-IMF known as The Syndicate, Hunt goes rogue in an attempt to finish his mission, so begins an exciting and twisting three-way game of cat and mouse.  Staying one step ahead of the CIA with the help of his former team mates Benji (Simon Pegg), Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Luther (Ving Rhames) and “Is she goodie/Is she baddie?” femme fatale, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), Hunt is closing in on The Syndicate. But will he catch up to the bad guys before either he’s brought in or they enact their nefarious plan to enact a new world order via an escalating series of terrorist attacks?


To tell you any more of the plot would be spoiling the movie for you and, to be honest, I’m not sure I even could. If you’ve seen any of the other Mission: Impossible movies you’ll know what to expect plot-wise: twists, turns, double-agents, triple-bluffs and really great action set-pieces.

It’s difficult not to like Cruise in this kind of role and, in general, it’s difficult not to like Cruise. Sure, some of his off-screen shenanigans make him easy to scoff at, but he genuinely loves making this kind of movie and he genuinely loves it when audiences love seeing, and more importantly enjoying, this kind of movie. Cruise obviously enjoys playing Ethan Hunt and it shows, he throws himself wholeheartedly into playing him and keeps Hunt from straying over into cartoonish hero territory. But, while Cruise is the star of the franchise, Rebecca Ferguson is the star of this movie. Ferguson, as Ilsa Faust, is remarkable in this, she’s gorgeous and lethal and, above all, she’s human, she’s more human than Ethan Hunt has ever been. She stays not only one step ahead of Ethan but one step ahead of the film’s bad guy, the mysterious and almost omnipotent head of The Syndicate, Lane, played by Sean Harris with restraint and cool evil.

Mission Impossible

There’s plenty of able support by Renner, Rhames and Alec Baldwin, but the majority of side-kick screen-time goes to Simon Pegg’s Benji. Pegg is such a likeable screen presence and it’s all up there in Rogue Nation, every time Benji outsmarts the bad guys or the slimy bureaucracy of the CIA you feel like punching the air, score one for the little guy! Ethan and Benji’s “Bromance” is such a beautiful and realised thing, I would be crushed to discover that Pegg and Cruise hated each other off-screen (they don’t, phew)

Director Christopher McQuarrie, best known as a screen-writer (The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie, Edge Of Tomorrow), has come of age with Rogue Nation. There’s an old fashioned feel of craftsmanship to his direction and everything feels like it was worked by an artisan, with time, care and, if not affection, a love for great action cinema. There’s so many great action sequences and it would be hard to pick a favourite, but each sequence has its own story, its own beginning, middle and end, they’re not just thrown in there to keep the film ticking along, they’re there to move the story along, they are there because they need to be there.

You might feel like going to see Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation because there’s nothing else on that you fancy, but you’d be doing it a great disservice. This film deserves to be seen on its own merits, not viewed as just another Summer blockbuster. It’s great. It’s really great (and it’s still got the most exciting theme music ever to come from a tv show).

If it weren’t for Mad Max: Fury Road, Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation would easily be the best action movie of the year. “Damn You, George Miller” – Tom Cruise*

*Not an actual quote, but he probably thought it

For show times and booking visit Odeon Colchester.

Andy Oliver





Andy Oliver

Winter Wonderland is coming to Colchester!

Winter Wonderland & Ice Skating LogoAfter months of hard work behind the scenes by the organisers to meet the long list of requirements to put on a major public event in the grounds of an historic monument, last Thursday Colchester Council finally gave the green light for Colchester’s first ever Winter Wonderland in Castle Park, complete with an ice skating rink. Ben Payne of Illuminate Design, the man with the vision to create this amazing event, and who was also behind the giant television screen in the park during the Wimbledon fortnight, tells us about what we can expect at Winter Wonderland & Ice Skating.

So the day that we have been working to finally arrived on Thursday 30th July when we gained planning permission for the Winter Wonderland & Ice Rink. This was a day that, at times, we never thought would come, but after what seemed like months and months of hard work it did!!

So what can you expect when you come to Winter Wonderland & Ice Rink? Well quality, and we hope a fantastic few hours on the site.

It’s important to us that everyone has a good time and feels that everything is great value for money. Every year somewhere there is a story about of some park or event where the entry is £20, the Santa’s just out of school and the paint’s still wet. This won’t be the case in Colchester.

The people behind this project have worked in the theatre and entertainment market for years, we know what’s needed, how to deliver it on time, and ensure that you have the best time possible.

We’re not in to make a “quick buck” we’re here to put on an event that does Colchester proud and is something that is firstly talked about as THE event to do, and secondly one that can grow from year to year.

Winter Wonderland

Putting on this sort of event isn’t cheap at all. By the time the last person leaves the site at the end of January after everything’s been packed up it’s likely to have cost in excess of ¼ million pounds just to run the event. We have to provide the ice rink, the staff, 24/7 day a week security, huts and outlets for all the food, catering and winter market, provide protective matting for the ground around the castle, diesel for the generators – the list goes on.

There are many revenue streams to the site, but sadly one of these has to be the tickets! We would love to provide the skating for £3 a time but by the time you have taken VAT of 20% off the ticket, then additional things like credit card fees and ticketing charges, we would need to get about 90,000 people skating – that’s nearly ¾ of Colchester’s population which just isn’t going to happen!!

We’ve tried to strike that difficult balance that we know it’s an expensive time of the year, but we’re needing to cover the cost’s to put on the event!

So what is going to be on the site?

Well the main feature is the 20m x 25m real ice, ice rink. We’ve been asked on lots of occasions if it’s plastic – no! It’s the proper thing!

There will be a building for you to change your skates and also cloakroom facilities to drop your bags. Next door will be a café serving teas, coffees, sandwiches, cakes.

Winter Wonderland Colchester

Behind the castle there will be a selection of other catering outlets offering a mix of hot food and drinks throughout the day to cater for all your needs. Also behind the castle will be the fun fair. These won’t be fast moving “thrill rides” but more your traditional fun fair carousel, helta skelta, and other small rides.


Winter Wonderland

On the other side of the site will be 25 winter market huts selling a mix of local produce, toys and other quality items.

There are also a couple of other items we still have to announce – but rest assured it’s all going to add to the environment and enjoyment of the Christmas period.

Entrance to the site is totally free. So you can come in, watch people skate (or slide) around the rink, look at the produce in the market and walk away not having spent a single penny. We of course hope that you’ll join in the fun by skating or going on a ride – but if not just enjoy the atmosphere!

We’re expecting the event to cater for all ages. Be it the primary school that wants to do something for an end of term treat, or the office party that wants to come and enjoy skating before heading off for a meal in town, through to the family taking the kids skating. It’s there for all the people of Colchester and the surrounding area to enjoy!

There are still plenty of ways you could be involved (apart from buying tickets!) We still have some fantastic commercial sponsorship opportunities available, you have until the 31st August to apply for a market stall, and in October we’ll be looking for choirs and musicians to come and sing on our stage at weekends and some selected evenings. We want this event to bring together all aspects and walks of Colchester life to one big Christmas celebration.

ice rink

We hope that you’ve enjoyed this insight into the Winter Wonderland & Ice Rink. You can find out more about things like opening times, and prices, on our website which also contains a booking link for tickets. If you would rather pick up your tickets in person you can do this by contacting the Mercury Theatre direct.

The whole event opens on the morning of 27th November at 10am. We hope between then and 9pm on the 3rd January we’ll be able to give you a warm welcome at the Winter Wonderland & Ice Rink.

Ben Payne





Ben Payne