HE admits that it may not have been the easiest of summers, but Braintree Town Academy manager Mark Sansom is confident that things are very much back on an upward path for the Community Iron project once again.

Sansom felt that the senior team’s relegation from the Vanarama National League last season did the Academy few favours when it came to student recruitment this year, but they have moved forward from that now and he is seeing strength in the talented local players they are attracting.

So much so, that Sansom has revealed that a new Academy centre is being opened up in Thurrock next year to run alongside the existing one that operates out of Witham Town’s Village Glass Stadium.

Sansom said: “I’m very pleased with how things are going now, but I have to be honest and say that it was a difficult summer for us.

“It wasn’t what we’d hoped for and if I’m being honest, the relegation hurt us because we were not the draw that we had been.

“About a third of the students come from East London, but the interest just wasn’t there this year.

“Those boys have Dagenham and Leyton Orient on their doorsteps and they were going there rather than to us as they had been.

“So it made it a difficult summer, but we have got through it and we are building again.

“We had a trial in the October half-term for students looking to join next year and we had 30 from the Braintree, Witham and Halstead areas who look very good indeed and have us in a strong position going forward.

“We are now a well-established programme that is getting stronger and stronger and we’ve confirmed this week that we will be opening a second centre in Thurrock next September.

“We will run both centres as we do at Witham, with the elite players playing in the (Bostik League) Development League and it will allow us to get eyes on even more talented local players and help them develop.

“The goal is still to produce players who are strong enough for Braintree’s first team and it was great that Matt Baxter came on on Saturday (against Bognor) and we have Jacob Lay, who is only 16 and one of our first years at the moment and has signed on for the first team this year.

“What the new centre in Thurrock will do is give us the opportunity to bring students in from further afield so it’s a really positive move for us.”

As well as the Academy side of the Community Iron programme growing, there is also increasing demand for what Sansom’s coaches are delivering to schools and young footballers.

“The community side of the project is massive for us now,” he added.

“We have football coaching sessions being run in schools as part of their curricula activities and as after-school clubs, with schools including John Ray, Lyons Hall, Rivenhall, Elm Hall and St Michaels, with others joining in the next month or so.

“They are sessions run by the Academy staff that includes (Braintree first team players) Christian Frimpong and Ben Wyatt, who are also running Development Centre coaching at the Notley Discovery Centre on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“It’s all run under the Braintree Town umbrella and we’ll also be running the local round of the National League Under-11s Cup again this year.

“Lyons Hall won at Wembley last year and the beauty of it is that it could be anyone getting there and doing the same this year so if any schools want to enter then they can drop us a line.”