Celebrating our unsung heroes of 2021 in the East Midlands

On the third leg of our virtual Regional Volunteer of the Year awards tour of England, we headed to the East Midlands! Broadcast live on our YouTube channel, we honoured the dedication and passion shown by volunteers across the region who give their time and commitment to athletics and running.

Our England Athletics Regional Volunteer Award winners and runners-up for the East Midlands are:

Club of the year: Hinckley Running Club, Leicestershire

Pulling together as a club with creativity and innovation has kept Hinckley Running Club members engaged and training during lockdown. As well as setting up daily and weekly challenges, such as Strava art, the club found ways for members to keep in touch using social media, not just sharing run times, but also jokes, pet photos, race stories and more, to make sure the everyday aspect of life kept going despite the unusual events going on elsewhere.

This determination to carry on running didn’t stop once restrictions started easing. The club invented a socially distance version of parkrun, published weekly speed sessions on social media, and set up street sign scavenger hunts. Alongside this, accurately measured routes of various distances were created so members could set their standard times for the year. Last but not least, the Club President provided a socially distanced trophy delivery service to all winners at the club’s annual prize giving.

Runner-up: Dronfield Running Club

Coach of the year: Gary Smith, Ivanhoe Robins Junior Athletic Club, Leicestershire

A passion for athletics and a dedication to providing young people with an opportunity to share his enthusiasm is part of what makes Gary Smith a worthy winner of the Coach of the Year award. As well as being fully involved with coaching across a range of age groups and disciplines, Gary has encouraged parents and older club members to take the Coaching Assistant course and start taking on small coaching groups or sections of coaching activities. At the same time, he has taken care to keep developing his own knowledge, so is always able to introduce new ideas for his athletes to improve themselves.

During lockdown Gary set up circuit training sessions via Zoom, and now restrictions have lifted he has resumed leading three sessions per week including a Sports Hall Athletics session for all age groups. Last but not least, Gary has recently taken on the role of Club Chair demonstrating both excellent leadership skills and a desire to ensure the club continues to develop well into the future.

Runner-up: Rob Beers

Newcomer to Officiating: Charlie Narejko, Buxton AC/Macclesfield Harriers & AC, Derbyshire

Charlie’s progress as an official has seen her try many roles, gaining qualifications and experience as she goes, enabling her to take on a variety of tasks. As well as officiating for her own club she also volunteers elsewhere, travelling around the area to help others and build on her knowledge. During lockdown she put her time to good use by studying to improve her skills, moving herself further up the officiating ladder.

Not only has she worked hard to improve her own ability, but Charlie is a team player, always happy to work with others to spread her knowledge and enjoyment. Her commitment to improvement has seen her shadow officials at national level events and she is well on her pathway to future success.

Unsung Hero of the year: Emma Jessop, Newark AC, Nottinghamshire

An inspirational coach with a passion for developing the young athletes she works with, Emma has led the Newark AC Notts Mini League team for U15s, U13s and U11s throughout the summer of 2021. Despite this following on from a year when competition wasn’t possible, she has kept her young team confident and positive, with improved ability even after lockdown.

Emma liaises with all the coaches in the club, across every discipline, to ensure her programme is both balanced and structured, including a variety of techniques. Also keen to develop her own skills, Emma has worked with the England Athletics regional representative to be able to run specific sessions on a regular basis and has also drawn in specialist knowledge from coaches in neighbouring clubs.

Runner-up: Sharon Smith

RunTogether Group of the Year: Woodhall Spa Steamers, Lincolnshire

Maintaining community spirit and working to keep the environment green and clean has been the key aim of Woodhall Spa Steamers. During lockdown the ‘Solo Steamers’ as they had to become, helped inspire other local runners by leaving positive messages of hope and encouragement chalked on pavements around their running routes – an initiative that won them praise from their local Police force. In addition, many took up ‘plogging’ – litter picking whilst jogging, and others committed to run green by ‘doorstep running’ i.e. simply running from your own front door rather than driving to a running route.

All this is very much reflected in the group’s tag line of ‘support, socialise, succeed’, a motto which shines through in everything they do.

Leader of the Year: Tom Shaw, Worksop Harriers, Nottinghamshire

Through true dedication to his running and an interest in runners of all levels, Tom has managed to preserve and develop the community spirit of his club, despite the restrictions imposed by lockdown. As well as leading track and training sessions throughout spring and summer, Tom played a major part in setting up a virtual time trial series of 5k runs which people could tackle either individually or in pairs (once allowed) and then record their times thus providing a form of friendly competition they were all missing.

Tom makes himself available to all runners within the club, whether new or experienced, and is always ready to motivate and inspire, both in person and via social media. His training sessions are going from strength to strength, resulting in many of those taking part seeing their performances improve beyond expectation.

Runner-up: Trudi Pike

Services to athletics or running: Kate Else, Newark AC, Nottinghamshire

Kate’s loyalty to her club, county and the sport of athletics has been exemplary. She has been involved in the sport for nearly fifty years as a competitor, administrator and official and has always committed 100% to every role that she has undertaken. She is highly respected in everything that she does and by all those with whom she works with in the sport, whether that is young athletes just beginning their involvement or seasoned officials at national level. Her election as President of Notts AAA two years ago is a mark of the respect in which she is held within the area.

With a background as a successful and talented athlete herself, Kate now helps ensure that events always run smoothly, doing whatever is needed to make them a success, not matter how big or small the task. Although MS now prevents her from competing, Kate is as actively involved as ever.

Runner-up: Stuart Colledge


Volunteering

We are incredibly proud of the heritage of volunteering within our sport; from coaches to officials, run leaders to volunteer coordinators, tuck shop organisers to club secretaries. Our sport simply wouldn’t happen without volunteers. Click here to see how you can get involved.