Boxer Bradley Welsh has slammed the city council’s “absolutely ridiculous” decision to block hundreds of children from taking part in free football sessions in a public park.
Edinburgh Helping Hands is an initiative that offers structured workshops in football and boxing fitness run by trained coaches to children aged eight to 16.
The popular sessions, which are partly funded by Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh, attract thousands of children from deprived areas of the city over a six-week period during the summer holidays.
But the city council has said the community group cannot host events at Cairtows Park in Craigmillar, stating organisers need to apply for permission before hosting such events.
The times of the advertised sessions at the park clashed with prearranged sessions on the same land with Castlevale Youth Development Club.
Mr Welsh said Helping Hands should not have to request permission to host any event in a public park.
He also claimed the council was “colluding” with the club to stop children from accessing free events, which have included guest appearances from football stars Christophe Berra, John McGinn, Scott Brown and Kenny Miller.
Mr Welsh said: “We’re not against other groups, but we are against the exclusion of the public. In Edinburgh last week we held sessions across Edinburgh with 1000 kids. These are vital to help galvanise kids into participating in sport.
“We have dozens of volunteers offering coaching in marginalised areas of the city. We’re on the frontline wanting to make a difference and the council is getting in the way of that.
“This is ultimately affecting the kids in that area. It is absolutely ridiculous. We are a community group wanting access to community land. We’ve never requested to host events before and we won’t be now.”
Helping Hands hosts football sessions in Leith, Moredun, Muirhouse and Wester Hailes, while boxing classes run in areas such as Portobello, Gorgie, Sighthill and Gilmerton. Castlevale YDC has access to the pitches at Cairtows Park on Monday to Thursday from 5pm-8pm and Friday from 1pm-8pm with matches being played 9.30am-4pm on weekends.
Helping Hands was told by the council in a letter to stop advertising events at Cairtows Park for Monday to Thursday between 6pm and 7pm due to the clash.
The group has rearranged those sessions, but not the Friday event.
Mr Welsh claimed Castlevale did not use the site on a Friday, despite agreeing to lease the land from 1pm-8pm.
A Castlevale YDC spokesman said: “The club leases three pitches as well as a clubhouse from the city council. Castlevale is responsible for lining the pitches and takes pride in maintaining them to a high standard to allow our players to produce their best football.
“Castlevale YDC is simply the council tenant and the club has no influence over the use of the rest of the park or indeed any decision made by the council.”
A council spokesman said: “Edinburgh Helping Hands is a positive scheme, which the council is very supportive of.
However, on this occasion, the organisers have not approached us for permission to host these summer football sessions. This has resulted in a clash with an existing lease arrangement we have with a football club.
“We ask Helping Hands to formally apply for permission, so that we can monitor exactly what activities are taking place where, when, and with who. It’s important that we have an overview of events taking place.”