Q+A: The rise of Verwood Runners

Verwood Runners (VR) may already be on your radar having won our South West RunTogether Group of the Year award in 2020. Based in Dorset, they’ve gone from strength to strength and have since become an England Athletics affiliated club, with over 200 registered members. VR’s Julie Pegoraro was recently awarded the runner-up prize in our 2021 Regional Volunteer Awards Run Leader category.

Club Support Manager Richard Ayling spoke to Tracey Smith to find out more about the friendly and inclusive running club:

Tell us about the origins of Verwood Runners.

Verwood Runners originates from a group previously known as Verwood Running Buddies (VRB) which was formed in 2014. This consisted of a small group of runners who would meet up on a couple of evenings during the week, as well as a Sunday run. With a growing member base and 2 successful C25K programmes in the Spring and Summer of 2017, it was decided that VRB would form its first official Core Team and change the name of the club to Verwood Runners. As the group of runners grew in size the core team decided to adopt some key principles such as a Club Constitution, Welfare Framework and Qualified Run Leaders. Run nights on Tuesdays and Thursdays were well attended and after a couple of years and following a vote on our Facebook page, VR asked the question “would you like the club to be affiliated?” with the answer being a resounding YES – an AGM was held to discuss this further with an open floor for questions about what this meant for the runners and us as a club. A vote was held, where again the answer was a yes to affiliation and we then started the process with England Athletics.

How many members do you currently have and how many trained leaders does your club have?

VR has over 900 members on its Facebook group – some are regular runners with the club and others use it as a fountain of knowledge to share amongst the friendly VR running community. VR started with 3 Run Leaders in the beginning, quickly adding more as runners numbers increased. We now have a total of 19 Run Leaders who lead 5k and 10k runs, skills sessions and even a mindfulness saunter on a Sunday. VR pretty much has a 50/50 split between social and competitive members.

What do you do to ensure that club members are well supported?

VR uses RunTogether to allow its members to book onto organised runs and enable us to check them in when they attend a session. This allows our team of 19 Run Leaders (all qualified with Leadership in Running Fitness qualifications) to know estimated numbers of runners likely to turn up for a run, ensuring we have enough Run Leaders to cover the runs safely. Three quarters of Run Leaders are first aid qualified in modules such as CPR, Emergency first aid and Defib training. VR is fortunate to have one Coach In Running Fitness (CIRF) who advises on structured sessions for our Run Leaders to conduct. VR will continue to invest in both Run Leaders and Running Coaches to maintain the safety of our runners and enhance their experience of club running.

VR enjoys the use of Forestry Commission and local council land to the north and south of Verwood, producing a trail running community. Given the variable nature of the terrain, our running routes are regularly risk assessed.

We have many tools in place to help keep our runners safe, including a dedicated Run Leader for each run group. The Run Leader of the group that night will carry out a briefing to their runners telling them the route and any risks they need to be aware of. The Run Leader will also have a number of Run Leaders accompanying them, taking the position of marshalls, with one of them being a tail runner, ensuring that the group stays together. Run Leaders use walkie talkies and mobile phones to keep in contact with other run leaders.

Outside of club nights we have two welfare officers – one male and one female with dedicated confidential emails. VR also has its very own UKA Mental Health Champion who was the first in the Dorset area to qualify. They run a number of mental health initiatives over the year as well as mindfulness workshops. All of our Run Leaders continue to develop their knowledge by renewal of first aid qualifications and any other qualifications that might benefit the club and its runners.

Can you give us an overview of the club offer for runners?

We offer structured speed and hill sessions designed over a 16-week progressive rotation on Tuesday evenings. On a Thursday evening, we do a 5k and 10k group run which involves a number of Run Leaders, catering for runners of all ability levels. Throughout the year we also organise fun runs, as well as various parkrun tourism events.

Why did you decide to affiliate with England Athletics, and how has the club changed since affiliation?

We decided to affiliate with England Athletics as the club members were entering more and more events, and we were also looking for a more formal membership structure and support system. Affiliation with England Athletics has given us lots of benefits such as insurance, access to welfare and advice.

Since affiliation, the club has attracted a many new runners of differing abilities including some faster-paced runners. This, combined with a unified look and our fun and community spirit, has provided cross-county recognition.

What plans do Verwood Runners have for the future?

To continue providing the community with a running club that is all inclusive, offering:

  • A platform for people to start out on their running journey through our C25K programme
  • Opportunities for runners of all ability levels to develop and improve
  • 5k and 10k group runs for those who just want to run
  • An ethos of being a fun and friendly running group with the option of representing Verwood Runners as an affiliated runner