Celebrating our unsung heroes in the 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. This afternoon the first of our awards celebrations took place at Bedford International Stadium, as part of the U17 and U15 Age Group Championships. An amazing day of athletics, showcasing and celebrating incredible young talent and truly inspirational volunteers from across the region, who have made outstanding contributions to athletics and running. All 9 East Region winners received their awards in front of their colleagues, athletes, coaches, officials and spectators.

Award categories…

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

Drum roll… and the winners are…

Volunteer of the year

Mick Shortland: Mick began volunteering in 2002 and qualified as a coach in 2005, specialising in HT and DT. His generous allocation of time to all aspects of the sport from National, Regional and Club management and ensuring that all athletes in his squad reach their full potential has been widely applauded. He has athletes medalling at all levels, and members of his squad have reached Schools & National Age Group Championships every year since 2007. His meticulous attention to detail is seen in his work as a Club Coaching Co-ordinator, where he attends monthly committee meetings, making sure that coaching is a regular agenda item and ensues that all coaches’ needs are met (be this equipment, mentoring or courses). He has formalised the club’s coach development programme to ensure all leaders, coaching assistants and newly qualified coaches have the mentoring they need to develop. SNHAC have benefitted from Mick’s desire to learn, develop and aid the sport since 2002, as has athletics nationally.

Coach of the year

Michael Bradley: Mike holds the CiRF and was the first member of our club to do so. In 2018, he developed our beginners 10 week 0 to 5k programme and attracted over 50 new members. He then went on to develop the beginners from 5k runners to 10k runners, not missing a week of the training sessions for 22 weeks! His enthusiasm and commitment inspired 8 other club members to undertake the LiRF course and 1 to complete the CiRF course. This year, the beginner’s course has over 80 new members and a qualified coaching team of 9, a massive growth from 2018. All coaches are now involved in leading and supporting programmes for club members of all abilities.

Mike works tirelessly, always with enthusiasm and good humour, to encourage and develop runners of all abilities to do their best and achieve their goals. Though he works full time, he is ever present at coaching sessions, races and social events, not just in the background but leading and inspiring. In 2018 he was awarded our ‘Strider of the Year’ based on members votes. He always ensures that what we do includes everyone and encourages others to adopt the same attitude.

There are so many incredible and inspirational volunteer coaches, all worthy winners. Mike is most certainly one, having transformed the skills, the overall enjoyment and the attitudes within Saffron Striders, we all think extremely highly of him and believe he is a very worthy winner.

Run Together Leader

Helene Bolton: Helene is a fantastic leader, her enthusiasm and support to help all members complete their couch to 5K is outstanding. Once completed she finds ways to encourage everyone to continue running and to stay involved in the group. Some members of the group have progressed to doing half marathons, full marathons and triathlons, and this is all down to Helene’s encouragement and support. Helene is also a sign language interpreter, she supports deaf people learning to run, encouraging them and giving them the confidence to get involved in the group.

Helene is a positive person who gives so much as a volunteer run leader and has encouraged so many people in our village to take up running; she is most certainly improving the health of the community. She’s organised lots of social events for the group too, including a breakfast run, a Christmas social and a community run in our local village. She’s an inspiration to the whole group and is a wonderful part of our community, most definitely a deserving winner.

Official of the year

Paul Rutter: Paul is a truly inspirational official that is fighting cancer. This incredible man officiates locally and nationally most weekends, supporting officials that he meets at meetings, always encouraging people. Currently undergoing cancer treatment, Paul is doing a lot of fundraising for Cancer Research alongside his officiating role. He’s always so positive at meetings and gets on with job at hand, he is an incredible inspiration to us all.

It would be an honour for Paul to be given this award, all of his officiating colleagues and family would be delighted for him.

Run Together Group

Herts Girls Can: I’m nominating my group of wonderful women, Herts Girls Can. A friendly, inclusive and amazingly supportive group that encourage and uplift each other, both inside and outside of our group runs.

In times when I’ve not been able to lead the group, others step-up and turn up, keeping the wheels turning. Some of the women in our group have gone through real turmoil in their personal lives, and the Tuesday night group has been their outlet and support network. Empowering and uplifting each other, something that is amazing to see and be part of. This is a group that is so much more than just running buddies, we have become great friends.

Young volunteer of the year

Abigail Pickard: Abbie is a credit and highly valued volunteer at Stevenage & North Herts AC. At just 18 years old she has been a committed club member for 9 years, taking on many roles; as an athlete, a coach, team manager, committee member and field and photo finish official. For 3 years she has been a valued team manager and coach of young athletes, coaching at the club twice a week and always making everyone feel welcome and supported. She also became a leading member of the Young Leaders Academy, taking part in workshops, development events, first aid and safeguarding courses. As well as helping to run team building and athletic events, such as satellite clubs in the Herts community.

Multi-tasking at competitions, Abbie is found team managing, competing, officiating and sharing her photo finish knowledge; where she has become something of an expert with expertise beyond her years! She also officiates at community events and district schools’ competitions. A willing volunteer, Abbie is always keen to help and does so whilst competing herself and studying for her A levels. These qualifications and roles are so much more than CV building, as she uses all her experience to support the club and community. Her capacity for volunteering seems boundless, how she fits it all in whilst staying on top of her A level studies is beyond comprehension. Abbie has a cheerful ‘can do’ approach to any problem which is valued by athletes, the club, parents and the wider athletics fraternity. She is a much deserving nominee and winner of this award.

Athletics or Running Club of the year

North Herts Road Runners: North Herts Road Runners (NHRR) is a friendly club based in Letchworth Garden City with 170 members. Known as ‘The Squirrels’, the club’s membership is fully representative of the local area and includes the full range of running abilities from beginners to athletes representing England & Great Britain. The current depth of the team and the spirit in the club is second to none. In 2019, for the first time NHRR won both the Herts/Beds/Bucks Cross Country League and the Herts Midweek League, beating bigger, more established clubs.

The club organises many running events in the local community, including a monthly free 5k race, the ‘Greenway challenge’, a self-guided half marathon that for many is their debut HM and the always over-subscribed Standalone 10k. On club nights, NHRR offers 4 coached sessions for different abilities and personal goals. NHRR also host regular #RunAndTalk runs, which encourages people to improve their mental health & wellbeing through running.

There is a palpable sense that this club is on the rise. Team and individual performances have improved significantly over the last couple of years, largely thanks to the quality of our coaches. NHRR was selected for Clubrun in 2018, which further accelerated our coaching and performances. Our standings in the local leagues have gone up, so more and more runners are choosing to join us. The club also plays an important role in promoting fitness in the local community. Our couch to 5k scheme introduced 40 people to running, many of whom joined the club as a result and now regularly take part in races and other local running events.

The events that the club organises (including the extremely successful Standalone 10k) are staffed entirely by volunteers from the club. This is a club where everyone pitches in and gets involved.

Inclusion Award

Justin Smith: Justin is a lead volunteer coach for the beginner’s couch to 5k course in Ely, associated with Ely Runners. He ensures the course is as welcoming and inclusive as possible. My husband wears hearing aids following a brain tumour, and when he did the course Justin made sure he was fully supported, and the coaches helped him to hear and follow all instructions. He also helped me return to running after an injury.

Justin is also passionate about making our local Parkrun inclusive, especially to individuals with learning difficulties, as he works for a charity that supports adults with learning difficulties. He’s contacted the local GPs surgeries to raise awareness of Parkrun and to show that we are a supportive and inclusive running club too. Justin always goes the extra mile and is so committed to making running as inclusive and accessible as possible. I believe he deserves credit and recognition for all his hard work.

Services to Athletics or Running

Diane Ratcliffe: Diane has been a member since the club began in 1976 and has taken on many roles over the years. She’s held positions as social and official’s secretary, fundraiser, Masters & Senior Team Manager, has been a long-standing member of the clubs committee and she still managed to find the time to collect training subs and run the club tuck shop two nights per week. Her enthusiasm for athletics and the club has been the driving force behind our success, and her contacts within the local and wider communities have ensured that we have continued to attract members, volunteers and officials (regardless of ethnicity, gender or disability) required for D&T to thrive and for athletics to be at the forefront of sporting opportunities throughout Hertfordshire.

Diane was the keystone to everyone connected to the club and these relationships formed the foundations on which D&T have been built. As a result of her stepping down from many of her responsibilities (not all), we feel it only right that we show our appreciation for her incredible efforts and commitments over the years by nominating her for this much deserving 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.”

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