Paper's stadium campaign brings double celebration

How the Dartford Times proclaimed victory in its two-year campaign

A two-and-a-half-year campaign by the Dartford Times paid off this week with the promise of a £2m stadium for the town’s football club.

The campaign, which kicked off in 2001, culminated in Dartford borough councillors taking to the pitch to announce their plans before a Dartford Town match.

Kentish Times group editor Melody Ryall said she was delighted with the decision and added: “It’s a coup for the paper and its readers and a huge bonus for the people of Dartford.”

The club had been homeless since its Watling Street ground was sold to property developers in 1993.

The paid-for weekly newspaper launched the campaign shortly after Ryall took charge in August 2001.

Thousands of readers responded to the “Bring the Darts Back to Dartford” crusade by sending in coupons of support printed in the paper and signing petitions.

And a brand new 5,000-seat stadium is not the campaign’s only result. It has also been a winner for the Dartford Times’s sales figures.

Latest ABC figures show the Archant-owned paper achieved a 12.5 per cent year-on-year rise in circulation to 3,320.

Ryall explained: “We started with coupons for people to fill in to gauge how the public felt. We got a really good response and it went from there.

“The campaign certainly didn’t do the sales figures any harm. It was good for the public to know that we were in touch with a local issue and that we were waving the flag for them.”

During their 11 years without a home, Dartford Town have had ground-share deals with Erith and Belvedere, Purfleet and, for the past three seasons, Gravesend and Northfleet.

Ryall added: “When I joined we looked at the teams in the area and realised Dartford didn’t have a ground here, so we decided to do something about it.”

Deputy leader of the council, Jeremy Kite, said: “It is sensible for any council to take account of how local people are feeling and the local paper helps us do this.

“When we took the decision to build the football ground, the Dartford Times was the first to know simply because it has been instrumental in raising the issue.”

Dartford Town director Steve Irving said: “The Dartford Times started the campaign some time ago and they’ve always been there for the club.

They’ve been very supportive and helped us in terms of raising the profile of the issue.”

By Gareth Bethell

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