YOUNG footballers have been handed the keys to the door of their new £350,000 pavilion and football pitches.

Ripon City Panthers can now start training for next season at the Hell Wath Playing Fields.

The keys were handed over earlier this week after the lease was signed by the Panthers and Harrogate Borough Council.

The project received almost £250,000 from the Football Foundation, as well as £20,000 from Harrogate Borough Council and £30,000 from Communities Against Drugs.

Club members had to raise the £50,000 needed to finish off the facility.

Ripon City Panthers were formed in 1984 and currently have more than 200 playing members, aged between eight and 16, as well as a number of qualified coaches.

Until now, they have had inadequate facilities for such a large club.

Harrogate Borough Council's leisure development manager, Mark Hardcastle, said: "Ripon City Panthers have long sought to improve the football facilities for their members and it was always accepted that this was a much-needed facility for young people in the city.

"We were lucky enough to get nearly a quarter of a million pounds from the Football Foundation, the UK's largest sports charity, which is dedicated to revitalising the grass roots of the game, helping to construct modern facilities and develop the game.

"And it is another visible sign of the council's investment in sporting opportunities. We believe that Ripon City Panthers now have a home pitch they can be proud of."

Club chairman Kenneth Rowe said: "This has been a long time coming, but we are delighted with our new facilities."

The club also faces the challenge of tackling the problem of dog fouling, as Hell Wath playing fields is a popular dog-walking area.

The Panthers will be helping Harrogate district dog wardens stop the fouling of their pitches through a series of high profile and visible campaigns to warn dog walkers of the penalties they will face if they do not clear up after their pets.