"My aspiration for the Riverside is that it becomes an international cricketing and conference centre providing the very best in cricket entertainment and conference facilities."

They are high hopes but fact is that David Harker, chief executive of Durham County Cricket Club, and his team are a long way down the road to achieving such an ambitious vision.

Having achieved county status, staged its first One-Day International and its first England One-Day match, one could have forgiven Durham CCC had it been tempted to sit back and rest on its laurels.

Much as these achievements were satisfying, however, and as much as they helped to raise the profile of Durham CCC, they were ultimately smaller parts of a much bigger picture.

For David, that picture involved the Riverside playing a greater role in regional life, not just in a sporting sense but also in a cultural and educational sense, providing a place for learning, a place where organisations can hold meetings and a venue where people can mix business with pleasure.

Having arrived at Durham CCC in 1991 - he initially worked there on secondment from Price Waterhouse accountants - David was initially financial controller for the club, before becoming director of finance and finally chief executive, a role he took up last year when Mike Candlish stood down.

It has been an interesting journey for both him and the club. He says: "My career here has been a natural progression; the club has grown quite rapidly at times and each stage of that growth has brought with it new challenges."

David admits that he wasn't a massive cricket fan when he first arrived. What he did bring with him, however, was some hard-nosed business acumen - from an early stage he has seen the massive potential of the ground. Hence while some cricket clubs might be happy to be reliant upon the ECB distribution of funds for a large majority of their income, David has other plans. "Our philosophy has always been to try and become self-sufficient and financially independent. The way I see it, if you are not playing the game, you should be working on the commercial side of the business to generate the funds that support cricket activity."

In terms of its development as a place for sporting, business and cultural activity, Durham CCC is currently in Phase Three. David says: "This is where the club begins to come to maturity, playing a major role not just in terms of cricket but in terms of regional life and its contribution to the North East on a sporting, business and cultural level."

David outlines the main strands to achieving such an aim. The first is the ongoing development of the Riverside, which he is in no doubt, is a 'Prize Asset'. To this end there are plans for an indoor cricket school and the ground has also recently been awarded an ECB license to become a national cricket academy.

Linked to this are exciting plans to build an education and media centre. "We have already dipped out toe in the water here having already had school children visiting the ground and having lessons here - we are the only first class cricket ground in the UK to have been granted 100% funding from the DFEE for this," says David.

He adds: "Our experiences in this area so far have really opened our eyes to our potential to make a real contribution to the region on an educational level. It is also a chance to attract children to the Riverside and expose them to the game from an early age."

Looking a little further into the future, there are plans to extend the ground capacity from its current permanent capacity of 5,000 to 10,000. Such a move would appear to make common sense given that the ground can confidently expect to see international cricket on an annual basis. It would require outside funding but if successful it would, as far as David and his team are concerned, make the Riverside the best cricket ground in the country.

With such a broad range of plans in the pipeline, it's often easy to forget that the single thing bringing them all together, the connective tissue, is the game of cricket.
He may not have been a big cricket fan when he arrived at the club but one can sense the excitement in David's voice when he talks about the future plans of the ground on the cricketing front.

Having started out as a relatively weak outfit, the Durham county cricket team has now become a force to be reckoned with in the game; as the ground they play at has grown and flourished, so the team has gone on to surpass many of its initial expectations.

David would like to see this trend continue and believes the Riverside can provide the ideal setting for a leading County Championship club. He says: "We want the Riverside to be the very best that sport has to offer. The people of our region want to see cricket internationals, especially now they have had a taste of it. We want to become an integral part of that international circuit, helping to raise the profile of the game amongst young and old within the local community."


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