THOUSANDS of young people will be able to get into sport, thanks to a lottery grant of almost £½million for an outdoor activity centre beside the River Tone.

The Centre for Outdoor Activity and Community Hub (COACH) could be up and running by the second half of next year in Taunton’s French Weir Park.

The clubhouse, on the site of public toilets, will include changing rooms, boat, cycle and equipment storage, café, educational and community space.

The £453,995 National Lottery Sport England cash announced on Tuesday follows a £200,000 Taunton Deane Council award from the sale of the former Taunton Youth and Community Centre in Tangier to Lidl supermarket and other grants.

But organisers warn they could have to scale back their plans unless they can pull in another £120,000 on top of the £730,000 already raised.

COACH trustee Dave Bullock said: “The lottery award is fantastic news.

“It’s been a hard slog over the last four years as we try to turn a dream into reality.

“There will be facilities for rowing, canoeing, cycling, running and opportunities for schools, college and community groups.

“We’re still £120,000 short of our target because building costs have gone up.

“The building will happen – we’re going out to tender next month and work could start later this year or early next year.

“We would appeal to anyone in the local community to let us know of any possible sources of additional funding, otherwise the plans might have to be scaled back.”

Taunton Deane Council executive member Cllr Norman Cavill welcomed the lottery grant for the “state-of-the art modern clubhouse”.

He said: “The real beneficiaries of this will be the local community with such a diverse range of water and other sports and activities being made available for a wide range of ages and abilities.

“I am pleased the borough council has been able to facilitate this marvellous development by the provision of a suitable site and a promise of funding which was essential in attracting this very welcome grant funding from Sport England.

“When completed it will attract many more members for training and practising and perhaps inspire future world class canoeists or rowers from Taunton.”

Sport England property director Charles Johnston said: “We’re investing in COACH to improve their facilities so they are more appealing to young people, and help us to get them developing a lifelong sporting habit.”

Somerset College will working with COACH and Friends of Longrun Meadow on the project.

A spokeswoman said: “We’ll help put the sporting life at the very centre of Taunton’s identity as a town.

“Somerset College is excited to be a part of this innovative project.

“It promises to bring outdoor educational activities onto the Tone and neighbouring Longrun Meadow, with an environmental and forest school facility.

“This marries perfectly with the college’s strategy around sustainability, educating the local community and promoting healthy lifestyles.”