The England Athletics Regional Volunteer Awards are off and running – celebrating the fantastic contribution that volunteers make to our sport. For our 2021 awards, the North West had the honour of being the first of our virtual awards evenings to take place. Broadcast live on our YouTube channel, we were delighted to be able to reward the dedication, inspiration and hard work that volunteers in the North West have brought to athletics and running.
Our 2021 Regional Volunteer Award winners and runners-up for the North West are:
Club of the year: Wirral Athletic Club
Wirral AC puts its success in winning North West Region’s Club of the Year 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.
Runner-up: Southport Strollers Running Club
Coach of the year: Alison Dale, Bury Athletic Club, Greater Manchester
Alison is a great role model for diversity within the sport and has inspired both athletes and volunteers to improve the training and coaching of field events within the club. As well as putting a great deal of time and energy into developing a thriving youth section, Alison has mentored a team of mums to become Coach Assistants, some soon to be qualified coaches, and runs sessions at a variety of times to ensure they are accessible to all.
During lockdown Alison organised small, socially distanced training groups and also found ways for the club’s athletes to access training facilities while Bury’s own were being refurbished. She offers training to all comers to support athletes achieve their goals, gives her time and experience generously and freely, and is encouraging and inclusive, all of which is leading to success and membership retention.
Runner-up: Andrew Mihranian
Newcomer to officiating: Kamil Winogrodzki, Bolton United Harriers AC
By making himself available to officiate at as many events as possible, Kamil Winogrodzki has risen quickly from being a Level 1 Official just a few years ago to now being at Level 3 and able to take on demanding roles such as Meeting Manager at Premier Division National Athletics League matches. Kamil has made sure to attend all kinds of events – schools, local league matches and open meetings, thus gaining himself a great variety of experience whilst also being mentored by Maryon O’Donell. This flexibility, which sees him taking on a variety of officiating roles, combined with a commitment to learning and a dedication to ensuring events run smoothly for all involved, is all a key part of his success. Above all he is a team player, both keen and willing to learn, as well as happy to share and develop his experience.
Runner-up: Lindsey Farrelly
Unsung hero of the year: Mike Aisbitt, Skelmersdale Boundary Harriers, Lancashire
“He was the glue keeping the club together while it had no choice but to stay apart”. That’s how Unsung Hero Mike Aisbitt is viewed at Skelmersdale Boundary Harriers following his tremendous work to keep everyone in touch during lockdown. Alongside his job as a busy A&E doctor Mike made good use of social media to post updates, weekly challenges and training reminders, and organised virtual races that included a pyjama run and a backyard ultra-marathon.
A keen and experienced ultra-runner himself, Mike helps newcomers prepare for their events by sometimes doing a recce of the route, advising on kit and sharing his wealth of knowledge. All this has helped the club keep its members happy and healthy, both mentally and physically. Mike has provided leadership, guidance, support and encouragement, keeping people motivated and running, and most importantly, still feeling like part of a club.
Runner-up: Amanda Fuller
Young volunteer of the year (14-21): Sophia Rowlinson
Sophia Rowlinson’s contribution at Warrington AC has not only inspired her fellow athletes to return to competition, but has also made her sprints and jumps training group able to offer more places to not only club members, but also those new to athletics. Her role in the group is to assist with coaching, something she initially undertook to help her achieve her Gold Duke of Edinburgh award, and she has now gone on to complete a virtual Leading Athletics course, enabling her to lead sessions and provide feedback. Sophia has also drawn on her own knowledge and experience to assist and inspire those around her, making her feedback easy to understand and usually leading to noticeable improvement. She has led the way in returning to competition, representing the club on a regular basis and setting a new personal best in the 100m.
RunTogether group of the year: Run Fit Chorley
By reaching out to the community via social media, RunFit Chorley has not only made a difference to people’s physical fitness, but it has also made a big impact on its members’ mental health during lockdown. Members have supported each other through online chat groups as well as having fun via online quizzes, bingo and challenges, so there were always plenty of opportunities to meet up and stay in touch.
And no one is left on their own during runs either: the leaders are always checking to see if new groups are needed to cater for a different level of ability, new challenges are set for those who need them, and stragglers are soon picked up – no one gets left behind. The group’s hash tag #Runningtobewitheachother says it all!
Runner-up: Recovery Runners North West
Leader of the year: Stuart Isherwood, Lions Running, Lancashire
As well as being a supportive presence on social media during lockdown, encouraging members to post about their runs and the challenges they were facing whilst trying to run during a pandemic, Stuart then managed the group’s Monday training sessions and set up longer runs once these were allowed, playing a key role in helping members get back to fitness and ready for competition.
As well as working with runners, Stuart has taken time to help build a team of leaders within the group who can share the ethos of making running accessible to all. Furthermore, Stuart has inspired those around him by taking on the challenge to run two marathons this autumn, with the races being just one week apart. Stuart’s approach is one of quiet encouragement, realising people’s needs and sharing his wealth of experience.
Innovation in athletics and running: Alan Brady
Alan Brady is the webmaster for Spectrum Striders Running Club in Cheshire. As soon as the pandemic started to affect the club activities, Alan began creating online virtual challenges that all members could get involved in. Initially he set up a virtual run from Warrington to Warrington’s sister town, Hilden in Germany and runners were all able to enter mileage which was automatically added up and shown on a map which tracks everyone’s progress. This progressed to a virtual Cheshire Canal ring relay, a tour of European Christmas Markets, and a run to visit Santa in Lapland – we ‘arrived’ just in time on Christmas eve.
When things began to open up Alan created an online booking system where club members could sign up in groups of six to train or go on runs together. Alan has constantly adapted this as opening up has progressed. In 2021 he created software to support a virtual John ‘O Groats to Lands End run, and a three peaks ascent challenge.
Services to athletics or running: Eddie Gore, Club Facilities Manager, West Cheshire AC, Cheshire
Eddie has long been a dedicated volunteer at grass roots level, carrying out a variety of roles including throws coach, committee member and also officiating, but his input as Facilities Manager at West Cheshire AC has seen his commitment to athletics go above and beyond any previous level of commitment. As well as regular maintenance of the track and equipment, Eddie also cuts the grass, dries the pole vault and high jump beds, and checks every inch of the facilities.
This dedication has meant the facilities can continue to be used and enjoyed not only by club members but also by visiting athletes including as part of the two-day Cheshire County Amateur Athletics championships in August. Eddie not only works hard, but he does so with enthusiasm and knowledge.
Runner-up: Lucy Evans
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.