A tribute to Bob Welfare

It’s with great sadness and heavy hearts that we share news of the passing of Bob Welfare, much-loved club coach and secretary at Preston Harriers. An exceptional contributor to our sport, and truly passionate and dedicated club member for decades; Bob will be sorely missed and so dearly remembered by all. Dear friend and fellow Preston Harrier, Pete Hancock, wrote this tribute piece.

‘Bob Welfare and Preston Harriers have for many years been interchangeable terms.

‘Bob first joined Preston Harriers as an athlete in November 1981, age 35. At that time he competed in a wide variety of races across the North West, including completing two London Marathons.

‘He attended a club AGM and asked why the club had no junior section, and promptly volunteered to establish one; giving his absolute all to the task as Bob always did. He held medal meetings at London road track and invited all Preston schools to send pupils down to take part and recruited other members of the club to become involved as coaches.

‘By the end of the 80’s Bob had established two weekly groups for youngsters, a sprint and a middle-distance group. By the mid-90’s the club had grown to twice the size and had around 150 members, half of whom were youngsters.

‘During this period Bob retrained as a teacher and was less involved for a couple of years, however, he remained heavily involved with Cross Country, and never missed a mid-Lancs event. When Bob completed his training, he got back into club life, more so than ever before, and started running Lancashire Schools Combined Events competition to select teams for the new English Schools Combined Events Championships, and together with his wife Angela managed the teams at Regional and National Finals.

‘Bob’s strengths were getting people involved and engaging with them. He encouraged and supported people to become qualified coaches and officials, and inspired youngsters to give all events a go, to believe in themselves and their potential. He was a great believer in and motivator to all.

‘Under his management the Northern ladies team gained promotion annually for about 9 years, until the league changed its structure and moved away from a linear progression. In those days women and men had separate Athletics Associations, but at Preston Bob had created an even playing field.

‘By the time the millennium came around, and a new track came into being at Cottam, the Club had grown to a membership of around 300. Bob was still recruiting more coaches, and with the new facility the club grew faster than ever. Finally, the young athletes’ team – now combined boys and girls for the first time – made it to the Premier Division. But Bob wasn’t satisfied, having coached jumps and track, he identified weaknesses in the throws events, and promptly became a javelin coach. The club still growing, to now over 500 members and some 280 juniors, Bob once again saw a gap with no athletes competing in hammer, and once again promptly filled that gap by becoming a hammer coach, and in that role finally coached athletes to a series of English Schools medals, with Gold achieved in his final season.

‘In later years, Bob had also finally discovered Sportshall, and his enthusiasm for that form of athletics introduction for youngsters was such that when the Lancashire League looked to have come to an end, Bob got other clubs involved, and campaigned to save the league and encourage others to take it forward. The first event of this seasons Lancashire County Sportshall would not have took place if not for Bob’s efforts.

‘Bob was well-known throughout the athletics community and held in such high regard and affection. He gave so much to our beloved sport and club, and most certainly made his mark. His memory and legacy will live on as the club continues to grow and thrive.’

Thank you to Pete for this tribute piece, a celebration of Bob’s life and athletic achievements. Our thoughts go out to all of Bob’s family, close friends and Preston Harriers family.