Celebrating our unsung heroes in the South East

It’s that time of year again, where we shine the spotlight on the unsung heroes of our sport. Our inspirational volunteers, who give their time, commitment and incredible energy week in and out.

With 9 regional awards ceremonies, and 9 awards categories, it’s an amazing celebration of the people across our sport. Last night the ceremony took place in Sussex; a fantastic evening celebrating volunteers across the region who have made outstanding contributions to athletics and running.

Award categories…

  • Coach of the year
  • Official of the year
  • Athletics or Running Club of the year
  • Inclusion
  • Run Together Group
  • Run Together Leader
  • Services to Athletics or Running
  • Volunteer of the year
  • Young volunteer

Drum roll… and the winners are…

Coach of the year

Liz Sissons: Liz began coaching in 1984 and is now a Level 3 Performance Coach in shot, discus, strength & conditioning. She coached two athletes from the age of 10 to gain GB International honours in the shot, and currently coaches’ athletes from the age of 13 to 85+, the youngest is Surrey Schools Champion for hammer and the oldest holds the British Record for his age group (M85) in the discus. She also coaches athletes with visual/hearing impairments and autism. Setting individual programmes for each athlete, incorporating weight training, circuit training and rehabilitation after injury.

Liz spent time with injured military personnel who were attending Hedley Court and rehabilitating after losing limbs. She’s been a captain of both Surrey County and Civil Service Athletics Women’s Teams and was awarded Civil Service Sportswoman of the Year in 1973.

Other roles an accolades include, U20 England Team Manager, Team Manager for E&EH U13/U15/U17 athletes for over 10 years and E&EH Senior Women’s team for over 30 years, during which time the team won the Jubilee Cup, twice! A qualified Timekeeper and Field Judge and regularly helps officiate at meetings, when not competing. She’s been responsible for seeding at the Surrey County Athletics Championships both indoors and outdoors for over 30 years and at the Surrey County Schools Championships for over 10 years. Liaised with Epsom and Ewell Borough Council for over 10 years in their dealings with local schools, for their school sports days and was awarded the ‘Outstanding Services to Sport’ by them in 2014.

Unbeaten in the UK for over 25 years in the shot and javelin in the Masters category, Liz holds the British record in javelin W55 and W70, and also the W70 weight pentathlon. Liz is a fantastic ambassador for coaching and sport in general, an incredible and truly inspirational woman and volunteer who is most definitely deserving of this award.

Official of the year

Jill Wright: Jill holds a Level 4 Field and a Level 2 Track Licence and has been active as an official for over 50 years, at local, regional and for a time national level. Now focussing on local and regional officiating, she supports new and training officials and ensures that sufficient qualified officials are available for County track and field, sportshall and cross country championships, and a wide range of schools meetings too. Jill isn’t attached to a club, but regularly attends athletic meetings in Berkshire and beyond as an official in all disciplines of the sport, and has been an administrator for Berkshire, as the County Officials Secretary for many years.

She arranges Tutors for local officials’ courses and provides attendees with opportunities to put their knowledge into practice; identifying mentors and encouraging development of skills and progression. She spends time with inexperienced officials at meetings, advising on good practice and encouraging the taking on of responsibility.

There is a general shortage of qualified officials in the small county of Berkshire, Jill uses her persuasive skills to ensure that events are properly catered for, and when required seeks officials from adjoining counties to help out. She remembers names and faces; and gets to know athletes, recognising those who could potentially turn their hand to officiating. It is high time that her critical contribution to officiating in Berkshire is recognised and rewarded.

Athletics or Running Club of the year

Hawkinge Hurricanes Running Club: This amazing club has achieved so much since it formed in February 2016. In that time we’ve achieved Clubmark accreditation in the first year, increased membership from 5 to 227, launched a second site to include rural villages, have a four strong team of Mental Health Champions, three qualified Guide Leaders, been awarded Pittman Community Project 2018, runners up at Shepway Sports Trust Club of Year in 2017 and 2018, coach volunteers at two local primary schools weekly providing a free Mini Marathoners club, support local charities annually (2016 Cardiomyopathy, 2017 & 2018 Mind and Mind local), launched a free fun session for Downs Syndrome athletes and support several disabled athletes within the heart of the club (fibromyalgia, deafness, cancer, mental health).

We strive every day to support all our athletes as individuals. It doesn’t matter if you run fast or slow, if you have a disability of not – we have become a family who just love running together. A small dream whilst sitting with my leg in a cast has turned into something that’s amazing and every day we work hard to think of new ideas, fresh routes and introducing fun into the everyday running of this super cool club, with super volunteers and amazing community of runners.

Inclusion

Slough Juniors AC: We are extremely proud that Slough Junior Athletics Club has been recognised as one of the most forward thinking and successful athletics clubs in England. A common misconception about athletics clubs is that they’re all about “running”.  At SJAC it definitely isn’t.  We aim to guide athletes through a broad curriculum that has been developed in conjunction with England Athletics.  This starts with the FUNdamentals of movement and then covers many basic athletic and physical movement skills that will stand all children in good stead across all sports, not just athletics.

We work with athletes from the age of 5 upwards, and have a well-balanced, long-term and common-sense approach to every aspect of athlete, coach and team development.  As our young athletes progress, they move through ability-based training groups, ensuring they are secure and competent in the skills required for the various athletic disciplines they will encounter.  These disciplines include running at speed and over hurdles, running for distance, jumping for height and for distance and throwing.

While older athletes do tend to train in event-specific and appropriate groups depending on their experience and ability, we aim to maintain an all-round, multi-event development programme for as long as possible. ​But more than anything, our over-riding aim is for children to enjoy the sport, to learn, develop and have fun.

We also engage directly with the whole community, including parents, with questionnaires and presentations on physical literacy activity. We’ve launched a lunchtime running club, after-school RJT sessions, teacher education and fitness sessions to educate everyone in a fun, sustainable and engaging way on the importance of active participation.

Run Together Group

So Let’s Go Running: So Let’s Go Running are based in North West Kent. The majority of our run leaders are from under-represented groups and are primarily female, to support our predominantly female group members. We have various groups/runs to cater for all abilities, including 0-5k, beginners and improvers, and weekly time-trials ranging from 2.5k to 10k. All implemented with our ‘running without barriers’ ethos to promote friendly, inclusive and supportive sessions, making runners of all abilities welcome.

Our army of 14 active run leaders deliver 8 fully inclusive sessions weekly for runners of all abilities, who are proactive every year in the #RunAndTalk campaigns and have 10 Mental Health Champions. So Let’s Go running also have their own bespoke Mental Health Champions induction workshop and a Mental Health & Running presentation, which we can deliver to other clubs and groups in the region. Other volunteers in the team have been financed and trained in Mindfulness and Suicide Intervention and have become Mental Health First Aiders. We intend to progress and make raising mental health awareness and promoting our own Mental Health & Running presentation our target in 2020. Other areas we have become active in are training 12-16 year olds in Dartford with #RunAndRevise, raising awareness in hearing loss and deafness in Bexley & Dartford, raising Stroke Awareness in Bexley, and celebrating the Indian Holi Festival through our BAME co-ordinator.

I believe we should win due to our approach and results of our Game Changers project, comprising of 21 volunteers, all working to increase awareness and participation in our five chosen under-represented groups.

Run Together Leader

Sue Bennett: Sue gives so much of her free time to volunteering within the running community. She holds RunTogether sessions on Monday and Wednesday evenings every week, as well as a monthly Sunday morning trail run. In addition to this, she’s a volunteer Run Director at parkrun every Saturday and volunteers at Newbury Runners. If any of us have a run event on, she will train with us and support us on race day. Sue is a RunTogether leader and a Mental Health Ambassador, and attends courses in her own time to build on her already extensive volunteering and coaching skills.

Sue’s positive and enthusiastic approach to supporting her runners is amazing and totally inspirational. She proactively engages and encourages people with mental health issues, weight issues, recovering from illness or accident, people that think they can’t run, and people that just want to run in our groups. There’s such a broad mix of people in our RunTogether groups and this is part of our ethos. Sue loves her RunTogether family and dedicates all her free time to encouraging people to ‘give running a go’. Everyone that has joined Sue’s groups have ended up falling in love with running and making some great new friendships from all walks of life. Most of us would not be running if it were not for Sue’s commitment and dedication. Nothing is too much for her, she puts ‘her everything’ into these groups. Despite suffering from her own illness, Sue is there every week to support and encourage her runners. She goes above and beyond standard volunteering duties and for that we love and respect her so much. Sue says we all inspire her, but it’s her that is our inspiration.

Services to Athletics or Running

John Linfield: John has been a member of his Club, Horsham Blue Star Harriers, for 66 years. Originally a competent club athlete John turned his athletic commitment to more administrative roles when he took over as Club Secretary in 1971, a post he held for 14 years. John also during this time qualified as both a Coach and a Track Judge. He has coached many young athletes in the hurdles and long jump and is still helping out at the club on a regular basis.

In 1981, John in conjunction with George Bunner, held a trial event in Sussex for the then new sportshall athletics. In 1982, John set up a Sussex sportshall league, which he has organised for the past 37 years and seen thousands of youngsters have a taste of this form of the sport and with many going on to compete at the highest level. In the early days John use to ferry the equipment to different venues around the County. In recent years one venue is used but John still helps with the moving of the equipment, as well as the overall organisation.

John was also Sussex Administrator for a time and organised the Sussex U13 Track & Field Championships and the Sussex Cross Country Championships for many years. He was elected President of Sussex in 1998. While John was Club Secretary, he organised the club’s home fixtures both on the track and over the country, and his expertise as a track judge saw him take on the role of referee at numerous County Championships as well as judging at many cross country events and road races.

John has always carried out all his tasks, whether administrating, meeting organiser, coaching or officiating in a quiet, unassuming but efficient manner, and his contribution to athletics with his club and within Sussex Athletics has been immense, and certainly makes him a worthy recipient of this award.

Volunteer of the year

Diana Norman: Di has done a huge amount for the club over the last 12 months. As a former international and V40 World Record holder for the Pentathlon, she was a highly competitive, driven and successful athlete and she brings this level of commitment to the club.

Form a coaching perspective, she invests substantial time in developing and encouraging all athletes, including recognition of personal best performances and achievements by club athletes. She is the lead coach for a large group of athletes, which includes Surrey and Southern Champs medallists – evidence of both the quality of her coaching and the amount of time she devotes. She’s always positive and encouraging of all athletes, including a number of athletes with learning difficulties who are key members of SAL team. From coaching on a voluntary basis 4 times per week, to volunteering as Club Coaching Secretary, Clubroom Treasurer, Club Awards Secretary (organising the club’s first awards presentation, and arranging for international Rosie Clarke to present the awards), designing and ordering a full range of new kit for the club, managing the clubs social media, website and waiting lists – Di is a formidable woman, the club couldn’t function without her!

Young volunteer

Abbie Jones: Abbie has been with Maidenhead since she was 7, she’s nearly 17 now and has been approached by other local clubs due to her talent and has represented at County level, but she has remained at Maidenhead and is an asset to the club.

The facilities she trains on are not the best, but she really is a remarkable young lady with all she does volunteer wise and competing herself. I’m the Junior Admin for Maidenhead Athletics Club and Abbie has helped out for years with the younger athletes, before her own training sessions, and has inspired many young athletes along her way. Abbie competes in jumps, sprints and mid distance as well as cross country. Last September Abbie decided to do her Gold DofE, which involves 12 months of volunteering every week. She did this most weeks and even took on an additional role of looking after an U11 Boys sportshall team. In which she organised 24 boys, no mean feat, and medalled, seeing one of her athletes be selected for Regionals. Abbie decided even though she was volunteering she wanted to give something back to the club, so she became a Level 1 coach in January.

Abbie is enthusiastic, supportive and encouraging, she ran with a partially sighted girl, coaches’ children with all sorts of additional needs, and wholly supports our inclusive club. She’s passing on all her knowledge and love of athletics.

Abbie coaches whilst working a Saturday evening job, studying for her A levels, doing her DofE and competing herself, and has plans to continue on the coaching pathway and take on another sportshall team. She’s an inspirational young lady, most definitely deserving of this award.

Chris Jones, England Athletics CEO, said:

“Our sport of athletics and running is built on the selfless and invaluable contribution that our amazing volunteers make. Through our Regional Volunteer Awards, we can put our volunteers in the spotlight, and celebrate the fantastic work that they do in their communities’, week in and out. We hope that the stories of our award winners and nominees can also inspire other people to get involved in our great sport.

“Congratulations and well done to all our award winners and finalists; and thank you to all volunteers across our sport. It can’t happen without you.”

Runners up

Congratulations also to the region’s runners up:

Coach: Shireen Higgins
Official: Peter Anthony
Club: Chichester Runners AC
Inclusion: Redway Runners
RT Group: Brighton & Hove Women’s running club
RT Leader: Dawn Annett
Services to Athletics and Running: Mike Miles
Volunteer:
Ray Finch
Young Volunteer: Hollie Cranmer


More about our Volunteer Awards

Throughout September and early October, we’re hosting nine regional awards ceremonies across England. Every winner of a Regional Volunteer Award is then put forward to an external panel who will select the finalists for the prestigious National Volunteer Awards. Finalists are then invited to attend the England Athletics National Volunteer Awards & Hall of Fame Ceremony hosted on Saturday 12 October at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole. An event that honours volunteers from across England and inducts some of the stars of athletics and running into the England Athletics’ Hall of Fame. Since its launch in 2008, Hall of Fame inductees have included Sir Roger Bannister, Lord Sebastian Coe, Paula Radcliffe MBE and Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill.

Volunteering in our sport

Volunteering can be extremely rewarding, sharing your knowledge and passion with others to get more people into and enjoying our sport. There are lots of ways that you can get involved, head over to our website to find out more:

Volunteering in athletics and running