Celebrating our unsung heroes in the South West

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 Exeter. 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

Dave Turner: Dave has been a qualified athletics coach in jumps, sprints and hurdles since 1968, regularly attending CPD and training. He is very passionate and committed to athletics and actively promotes the sport across Avon.

He delivers various weekly athletic sessions across Avon, open to children of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, ensuring inclusivity and making sure sessions are fun for all. This includes training sessions for District cross country runners, Quad Kids and Super Six participants on a weekly basis.

He identifies individuals at District events and County Champs, working closely with schools and clubs in Avon to develop each child’s potential, ensuring each talented youngster is identified and targeted. He coached both the sports hall and junior boys CE teams, winning through to the Nationals in both. He’s currently planning a deaf athletic competition and works with the City Academy partnership in low income areas and minority groups to promote inclusion for all.

Dave is truly inspirational! He really cares about each child as an individual and brings out the best in all, both in ability and self-belief. They all really respect him, trust him and his ability to help them improve and reach their full potential. He gives them space, watching quietly from the side and then tells them little tweaks and changes they can make, that have a big impact on their performance. He really connects with the children and instils a great team spirit and sportsmanship. When the children compete, you can see how proud he is of each and every one. He gives up so much of his time ensuring the athletes are ready and confident to compete. His enthusiasm for athletics is infectious and this rubs off on everyone. Without Dave many children would not have the opportunity to experience athletics at grassroot or National level as he organises, trains and leads many school and county athletic competitions.

Official of the year

Martin Fisher: Martin has been one of the NSAC officials for about 10-12 years, starting as a parent helper who identified a need/gap within the club. He soon qualified and now holds a Level 2 Field Officials License.

Martin now officiates around 10-12 meetings a year, having officiated at local and national leagues, South West Championships, as well as helping at the National Indoor Championships. In 2013 he was a volunteer Official at the Special Olympics. Martin has also been a field referee for league meetings and at County Championships. He’s been an active part of our official’s development programme for many years now, encouraging new officials and supporting their development. This includes emailing parents, asking them to be involved, and running workshops for officials, as well as signposting them to opportunities and helping them achieve their licenses.

From a time where the club had no officials, Martin was almost solely responsible for setting up a now successful infrastructure of officiating in NSAC, from qualified officials through to helpful parents supporting the efforts of our young athletes.

Athletics or Running Club of the year

Almost Athletes: Almost Athletes is a 480+ recreational running club. Our membership is open to anyone aged 18-70+, and our numbers increase every year despite a wealth of competitive clubs in our area. We champion every runner’s achievements as evidenced in our runner of the month awards, donate £2000+ each year to local charities, have created our own inclusion fund to financially support our runners who face barriers to participation due to physical impairment, and support mass entries in our local races.

Our committee and volunteer pool are very active, and clubs rely on our volunteers to support their races. We have a strong relationship with our Regional Club Support Manager and regularly call on him. We invest in our volunteer’s development with first aid training and LiRF and CiRF funding. We offer training 5 times per week, have 5 mental health champions, and have 32 good for age marathoners.

Almost Athletes name often brings laughs in races but is usually followed with ‘there’s no almost in your lot’. Almost Athletes deserves to win this award because in doing so would be to recognise our members as they make the club what it is. We are more than a running club, we achieve a lot with regards to running ability, but we are also a positive community, a family. Our mental health champions recently put on a well-being event and over 100 runners took part. The kindness and support within our club is something to experience, our members are keen to make their own donations into our inclusive fund as a way to support fellow members, and whenever a fellow member meets strife members literally move in droves to support each other. Members support each other all of the time, when not running our Facebook and Strava activity is a hive of positive achievement. We champion our members who have physical impairment with vigour and encourage change campaigns. Our club is absolutely awesome, we hope you will really consider us to be the running club of the year.

Inclusion

Judy Cuckston: Judy has broken down barriers to fitness, so that adults who can’t manage mainstream beginner groups now have a place to run. Participants range from 16 to 85 with a range of disabilities, including loss of hearing, autism, movement disorders, physical and mental health issues and weight-related barriers. Using a track, she creates a safe, secure and welcoming environment that encourages everyone and anyone with vulnerabilities to get involved.

Judy recruits’ other volunteers and encourages lots of chat and social interaction, leading to long-term participation. She creates innovative team activities, where everyone runs to their own ability and no one gets left behind. She engages extensively with the community to encourage adults who wouldn’t normally consider running, using social media to chat to current and potential runners, and is a voluntary ambassador for Active Devon. Our little pocket rocket is an inspiration to everyone! Judy believes in everyone and has the ability to make everyone believe in themselves too. She takes the time to listen and understand your particular circumstances, what is important to you and helps you set achievable goals. She understands and recognises we all have personal barriers to fitness and life in general, and she embraces you as an individual.

Judy is a true inspiration to all. Those that have the pleasure to meet her believe they can achieve anything and go on to do so. Those of us who now have the privilege to call her a friend, truly appreciate the enrichments she brings to our lives.

Run Together Group

Highbridge Ladies Running Club: I don’t know how to put into words the group that we have. It’s a group filled with love, respect, support and friendship, a group that is far from just a running group. We meet socially for food and drinks, dog walks, bike rides, and family runs occasionally too!

We try to support local charities by doing various things, for example at Christmas we organised a run and charged for entry the money raised was split between Burnham-on-Sea food bank and a local cancer charity. This Easter we presented the food bank with a massive food hamper. Our next local effort is supporting period poverty at a local senior school, who require support and sanitary items.

Our group is not just about single people, it’s about us all helping each other and giving back. Not down to one person or one leader, our achievements are down to every member, the team. We are extremely lucky that our run leaders put in hours of time planning routes and new ideas.

I believe we are outstanding in our achievements; the group as a whole deserve to be nominated because it’s all the members that make us what we are – I’m extremely grateful to be a part of this family.

Run Together Leader

Hannah Lees: I approached Hannah for advice on returning to running after brain surgery I had to remove a Brain tumour. Hannah spent a lot of time and effort communicating with me and making me feel included and able to participate. She signed me on to a Couch to 5k, which helped build my confidence back. Her belief in me led to me doing 5k confidence runs and now I have signed up for a 5-10k.

Hannah believes in inclusivity, no matter what age, gender, experience level or ability, there is a place for you on her running courses. She makes sure all her run leaders have the same ethos as her and shares the positivity and community of running across social media.

Hannah is very supportive of local community and national issues, recently helping a meningitis amputee and her family cross the finish line of the Bath half marathon. Also focusing on mental health, leading free weekly mental health walks, and my recent brain tumour fund raiser – she’s awesome!

Services to Athletics or Running

Peter Clarke: Pete has volunteered as a coach for Weymouth St Paul’s Athletics’ Club for 52 years! During this time, he has coached children, teenagers and adults from eager beginners to trophy winning champions. He has given his time unconditionally, progressing individuals to achieve their goals – whether running marathons, attaining good for age qualifiers, 10ks or completing parkrun. He also supports adjudicating and time keeping at meets, to ensure that children get a chance to participate.

Over the last few years WSPH has introduced the Couch to 5k course and Pete has been actively involved with the development of both the course and run leaders to support it. He’s acted as a mentor to trainees undertaking the Coach in Running Fitness qualification and supports the Dorset Road Runner’s League and collaboration with other local clubs. He sets a brilliant example by representing the club, still running 10k to marathons, including over 20 London marathons!

The following testimonial is yet another reason why Pete should win:

Tracy Moore, Weymouth St Paul’s Coaching Coordinator:

‘In the 1980s, Pete (or Speedy as we affectionately called him) was a teacher at my school. He used to give up his lunchtimes, after school and Saturday’s to coach and organise the school cross country team. He organised the National Cross Country Championships, held at our school on a number of occasions. One such winner of those championships, was a certain ‘Mo Farah’.

With Speedy’s input, thousands of children have been inspired to have a go at a sport that is not always considered trendy or cool. I myself, became a coach at my childhood club in 2010, as my children became interested in the sport that I had loved all those years ago. I think that is one of Pete’s greatest achievements, he has not only increased participation, but he has inspired new coaches, that in turn can inspire new generations.

Volunteer of the year

Jeremy Dale: Jeremy is the current Chairman of Yate AC and despite several challenges has been instrumental in securing the future of the outdoor sports complex, the athletics track and its facilities. His volunteering goes far beyond that expected of either Chairman and Athletics Coach in both time and commitment to the club.

In 2015, the council removed funding for the outdoor sports facility threatening closure. It was Jeremy who had the vision to set up the outdoor complex as a charitable non-profit business, and without this Yate AC would no longer exist. Partly due to the success of the club and Jeremy’s vision, in 2018 the council invested funding to refurbish the track, and throughout the nine month track upgrade, Jeremy was the main person liaising with contractors daily, arranging alternative training facilities for athletes and moving equipment to allow training to continue as normal. He also secured funding for a new storage and indoor training area.

Jeremy coaches four days a week and is often at the club seven days a week, spending many hours doing various day to day tasks, from ground keeping, administration, coaching and kit/equipment maintenance. His passion, enthusiasm and commitment for athletics and Yate AC is an inspiration to all athletes and club members. He’s always the first to arrive and the last to leave and has the athletes and clubs’ best interest at heart. He is an exceptional and talented coach, who always has time to talk to athletes and equally to the parents. He is always there with an encouraging word where needed, supporting all athletes, coaches and volunteers.

Young volunteer

Sophie Millard: Level 3 Speed Coach, Sophie, has supported the club for 10 years. Sophie stepped up weeks after her 14th Birthday, as the club was growing and in serious need of support. Her warm and caring demeanour has yielded positive results across athletes of all ages and abilities for a decade, inspiring athletes and budding coaches. One of her strengths is the way she works to develop the people around her as more than athletes or coaches; she develops and builds their self-belief and confidence. The committee feels that we should have submitted this nomination years ago, as this club could not have evolved without her.

Keen to grow her knowledge, she studied BSc Sports Science (Bath) and MSc Sports Biomechanics (Loughborough), backing her soft skills up with a deep understanding of all the events she coaches, including hurdles, sprints, long jump and endurance. She regularly attends coach development workshops too. Sophie is always keen to take on opportunities, spotting a gap in the club and developing herself to fill it. She wears many hats: Event Planner/Manager, Results Collator, Officiating Support, Volunteer Co-Ord, DJ, techie and helper. She also sits on the NSAC Committee as Social Media and Website Content Manager.

Sophie is one of three mentors committing to the ongoing development of club coaches. Keen to share her passion and knowledge with other young people, she commits to this on a weekly basis, helping new coaches grow their abilities and confidence. Her training group is growing and developing every year, with her fielding competitive athletes across age groups and some older athletes inspired to join her coaching team.

Her one-to-one work with club disability athletes, including athletes with cerebral palsy, learning disabilities and visual impairments, allows the club to support their development alongside the rest of the groups. Her soft skills show here as she strikes up strong relationships with these athletes, thinks on her feet to adapt training sessions to their abilities, consistently demonstrating maturity beyond her years.

South West region volunteer award winners 2019

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 regions runners up:

Coach: Bryan Clinton
Official: Ines Braun
Club: Avon Valley Runners
Inclusion: Sophie Millard
Run Together Group: Verwood Runners
Run Together Leader: Emma Wood
Volunteer: Sharron Kington
Young volunteer: Tom Samuel
Services to Athletics: Paul Ross


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