National Volunteer Award winners announced

Volunteers from across the country were rewarded for their outstanding contribution to athletics and running as we announced the winners of our England Athletics National Volunteer Awards.

Winners and runners-up across nine awards categories were announced in an online broadcast, presented by Katharine Merry and which also featured a host of special guest appearances including Kelly Sotherton MBE, England Athletics CEO Chris Jones and Regional Council Chairs Lorna Boothe and Julian Starkey.

The England Athletics National Volunteer Awards follow on from the Regional Volunteer Awards which were held in November and December last year – shining a spotlight on the remarkable contribution of volunteers who have worked tirelessly to help navigate our sport through such a challenging year.

We are delighted to announce the winners of the England Athletics National Volunteer Awards:

Club of the Year: Wirral Athletic Club

Recognising both the achievements of a club, as well as demonstrating ongoing commitment and passion through the opportunities they have given to everyone involved in the club over the last 12 months.

Wirral AC put its success in winning North West Region’s Club of the Year and now the National Award, down to its ability to foster talent across all areas of the club, despite being unable to access a track for most of last year. Proof of this is shown in the fact they were able to send athletes to the England Athletics Age Group Championships. Also, on the Power of 10, Wirral athletes have 40 top 25 rankings. So what is the secret of their success? Thanks to an all-inclusive and innovative coaching programme designed to lessen pressure on its volunteers, the club is able to offer coaching seven days a week to suit athletes’ needs. They are also developing a coaching pathway amongst younger athletes to ensure it has coaches for future generations. Alongside this, Wirral AC ensures it keeps membership fees low, thus making it accessible to the whole community.

Coach of the Year: Jonathan Tilt (Southampton AC)

Recognising an individual who has demonstrated their ongoing passion and commitment for coaching within athletics and running over the last 12 months.

Using his considerable experience and resources, Jon Tilt helped his athletes and club members keep motivated and active through the restrictions imposed by lockdown. As well as advising members on how to tailor their home training to meet their specific needs, he set up sessions via Zoom and on his YouTube channel, and then later, socially distanced in person sessions. When it wasn’t possible to access the track, Jon measured a 400m circuit on grass, helping people feel as though real training was possible and making it feel both fun and enjoyable. Jon’s attitude is welcoming and inclusive and as a result his training group is flourishing, with PBs being celebrated on a regular basis, not just by the individuals themselves, but by the group as a whole.

Newcomer to Officiating: Luke Finch (Woodford Green AC)

Recognising an enthusiastic official who makes a brilliant contribution to athletics in their local area, club or region (who has qualified within the last 5 years).

Luke became interested in photo finish when aged just twelve and despite being too young to gain any qualifications he persevered as a helper until gaining his Level 2 qualification when he turned 16 in 2021. Luke has continued to develop his expertise in photo finish and now operates the photo finish system at club and county level, also offering his services at other venues including Lee Valley. Alongside this, Luke’s passion for innovation has led him to develop his own software which enables results to be posted directly to the internet from various photo finish systems. Despite his success Luke remains both modest and humble; he is happy to be mentored by those around him, and also takes time to encourage his peers to develop an interest in officiating.

Young Volunteer of the Year: Ashley Watson

Recognising the efforts and achievement of a young volunteer (14-21) who is making significant contributions to their local club, area or region over the last 12 months.

Very much a role model to the young athletes under her care, Ashley has taken charge of two junior training groups and has qualified as a Coaching Assistant. Following this she set up an U13 hurdles group which has gone on to achieve regional medals and put themselves at the top of the power of 10 rankings. Alongside this she also supports three U9 sessions every Monday, stepping in to fill the shoes of a coach who could no longer be available, thus ensuring the regular training of over sixty children. Ashley’s ambition is to become a fully qualified coach and also to work within disability athletics as a guide runner. Her dedication to athletics shows she has every chance of success.

Unsung Hero of the Year: Helen Pickard (Committee and Fixture Secretary, Stevenage and North Herts AC, Hertfordshire)

Recognising the efforts of a volunteer who is seen as invaluable within their club, local area or region over the last 12 months.

As well as presenting physical challenges such as where, when and how to train, lockdown and the pandemic presented management challenges too that often went unseen. At SNHAC Helen Packard made it her business to manage those challenges and did so with great success. As well as writing the risk assessments that would keep members safe once restrictions began to ease, Helen brought in new systems such as cashless payments and online bookings, established a test and trace system and kept the club’s social media platforms up to date so members would know what was happening. As a result of Helen’s almost full-time commitment the club has managed to grow its membership numbers as well as developing and training more coaches and volunteers. She has also found time to field judge at the club’s away matches and assist with the photo finish at home matches. Despite the effects of Covid and the resignation of some key volunteers, the club looks set to flourish well into the future.

Run Together Group of the Year: Run Scarborough (North Yorkshire)

Recognising a RunTogether Group that provides friendly, supportive and welcoming group running opportunities in their community over the last 12 months.

As well as keeping its members connected and motivated during lockdown, Run Scarborough has also managed to organise a series of challenges for its members. One of the challenges included running a lap of Yorkshire, with a distance versus elevation challenge, and another saw runners tackle the top seven summits. A key event included setting up a relay and endurance run that raised over £6,000 for Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue, despite taking place on the hottest weekend of the year. The group prides itself on its community feel, with everyone happy to share knowledge and support each other. There is a broad span of abilities, so everyone has someone to run with, including visually impaired runners who have a plentiful supply of guides happy to run with them.

Leader of the Year: Josh Taylor (Bridlington Road Runners, North Yorkshire)

Recognising an individual who has demonstrated their passion and commitment for leading within athletics and running over the last 12 months. This includes individuals who are qualified in Leading Athletics and Leadership in Running Fitness.

Despite suffering serious injuries in a car crash, Josh’s commitment to his junior section has remained as firm as ever as he turns out to coach and inspire them twice a week come rain or shine, using a variety of techniques and running environments. Already a LiRF, Josh has worked hard to increase his coaching knowledge by doing more courses, and his own recovery, exemplifying grit and determination, serves as an inspiration to all around him. During lockdown the juniors worked in virtual teams with the seniors, and this in turn has led to them becoming a full part of the club family. Seniors in the club have been encouraged to develop coaching skills and as a result, junior membership is growing rapidly as Josh encourages them to focus on teamwork as well as individual excellence.

Innovation in Athletics and Running at Home: Mark Smith (North Shields Polytechnic Club)

Recognising an individual, club or group who helped support their local community to stay active during the last 12 months.

During lockdown Mark noticed via social media that some of his fellow members were struggling with their mental health, missing the companionship of their fellow runners and feeling less connected with the club. Mark’s response was to set up ‘Up the Poly’ a series of podcasts featuring a different member every week, forging a connection between club members and giving them something to listen to on their solitary long runs. To date Mark has recorded 19 podcasts featuring members of all ages and disciplines, researching what members wanted to hear about, and interviewing coaches to gain tips on staying motivated and returning to racing. The content has appeal to members of all ages and so far has been downloaded 2,500 times.

Services to Athletics or Running: Les Barnett (Leamington Cycling and Athletic Club, Warwickshire)

Recognising short term impactful work and /or long-term outstanding service to the sport from an individual or group of individuals.

A member of Leamington C&AC since the late 1960s, and a committee member in various roles for over 25 years, Les has excelled in almost all areas of athletics – as an athlete right up to masters level, a coach producing athletes who have won English Schools titles, and an official at referee grade. Les has the ability to lead from the front, but also to delegate and supervise. He is always happy to share his extensive knowledge. Perhaps Les’ biggest achievement has been helping to establish an eight lane all weather, floodlit track, and club room which he worked closely with the Local Authority to set up. Moreover, under his leadership athletes have won medals from club to world level.