Celebrating our unsung heroes in the North 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 Washington. 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

Michael Donnelly: Mike’s approach to coaching, sprinting and middle distance, is proving highly successful.

Joy Eze, guided by him since she was 10, a Sport Newcastle Rising Star, who won English Schools silver and English Championships bronze in 2018, and national indoor medals in 2019. Several other athletes under his wing have competed at national level.

He works with other coaches to develop his athletes in relays, hurdles and conditioning. Focussing on nutrition, life skills and good preparation for competition.

His volunteering and time commitment exceed the norm. He has won grant funds for athletes and taken them to experience international events. His athletes all sing his praises and thoroughly enjoy training with him.

He manages GHAC’s successful U20 YDL team, which comprises many of his athletes, reflecting his belief in enjoying athletics and all-round long-term development.

Mike’s 100% dedication and passion are paying dividends for his athletes and athletics. He continues to develop his coaching and meets each criterion for the award. Coach of the Year would be a highly fitting reward for the successes of his efforts and commitment.

Official of the year

Christine Courtney: Christine works on the start team schedules for many North East events, making sure they have enough officials assigned to them, and acts as a mentor to new officials starting out.

Although Christine is a Level 4, she helps out at any level of event and supports people no matter what their level and background. In the last year, she has taken on three new starters to mentor, Mark Tallon, Jared Flannery and Bob Webster, and has been a constant source of information, support and advice. Even providing them with some of her excess equipment to make sure they can work towards their next level. Christine maintains the standard of a Level 4 official and is committed to passing on her knowledge and expertise to peers and colleagues.

Athletics or Running Club of the year

Phoenix Flyers AC: The club was started a year ago, by a small group of parents who had a vision to offer an inclusive club for all. Within the year the club has grown significantly from 39 members to 87, and we have formed strong links and partnerships with the secondary school and numerous clubs in the local area.

We have athletes train at Gateshead with one of our coaches and have worked with England Athletics to host and deliver #RunAndTalk runs, appointing 4 mental health champions.

We are a friendly and supportive club who promote families training together. We support our volunteers by developing them through courses and recognise how valuable our volunteers are to our continued growth.

The club is now a well-established part of the local and wider athletics community. Within a year we have attended many events and courses and got to know many coaches and officials in the area. The committee have worked hard and put in so many hours completing funding bids to help us to continue to grow and get off the ground.

Our mission was to deliver fun and safe athletics to the local community, be they 8 or 80. To identify and tease out local talent, supporting members to prosper – these values remain strong and firm. The hard work and achievements seen over the last year are exceptional, much deserving of the award.


NOTAN – Tommy Brannon: NOTAN, have worked in partnership with England Athletics and North Tyneside Council to deliver the Sight Loss Awareness and Guide Running Workshop; the first North of the Tyne.

Following enquires a third sector organisation, NOTAN investigated the current level of local guide runner provision in our area, and identified only four current guide runners in the North East region.

NOTAN subsequently contacted them, each highlighted the significant lack of availability of guide runners in our area; and the barrier that this represented to those of visual impairment who want to get actively involved in our sport.

NOTAN linked with Kerry Nesbitt, North Tyneside Council, and Debbie Beresford at England Athletics, and together arranged to host two courses on 10 July and 25 September 2019, at the Parks Leisure Centre, North Shields.

At the time of writing, we now have 25 more guide runners in our area, with more on the way. NOTAN played a pivotal role in overcoming a significant barrier to engagement for people with visual impairments. Once they became aware of the difficulties faced by an under-represented group, they have been proactive in their approach and tireless in their endeavours to make changes.

Already, the number of guide runners in our area has increased by 500%. On this basis, NOTAN should win and their contribution to overcoming barriers to participation, and inclusivity should be recognised.

Run Together Group

Durham Mums on the Run: Durham Mums on the Run is a running community that has been steadily growing over the past five years. Originally set up as a group for new mums, from our first session with 25 mums, we’ve grown to regularly having 50-70 women of all ages attend our track session, and have put on Thursday night runs for all those who’ve gone back to work (at their insistence).

We have a fabulous team of 13 run leaders and now have three CiRF coaches. We’re delighted that many of our leaders work with other smaller groups around Durham, and offer time as RunTogether Mentors, who love to spread the running love/bug! We’re open to all abilities and offer Couch to 5k groups and accessible track sessions. We love to work hard and play hard, celebrating our successes. A team from our group won the large team category at Endure 24, running a total of 190 miles between 7 of them, in 24 hours, taking the top podium spot!

Nominating your own group might be a little odd, but I think we should win because we are more than a running group, we are a community. We train hard but have a good laugh and lots of fun along the way, and never stop supporting and cheering each other on. We’re so proud of the friendships formed, and the way our runners look after and encourage each other. The little random acts of kindness we observe – a group of women sent a pair of beautiful running leggings to another new mum as she loved them but couldn’t afford them. A group of over 30 went and camped together at Endure 24 and encouraged each other to distance PBs and doing more than they could have believed! Our team of run leaders are committed and work incredibly hard to provide free, inclusive sessions for our runners. Winning this award would be so special and for ALL in our running community.

Run Together Leader

Simon Lynch: Simon's involvement in running has developed at a rapid pace. Having only started running himself in 2016, as a way of getting fit, he has now run several marathons, including London 2019. After 12 months running with the beginners/intermediate group (known as the Bunny Counters), Simon undertook the LiRF qualification to help out with the growing numbers in his group. This enabled the Bunnies to split into three groups, to suit different needs and to cope with approximately 35 runners each training session. In November 2017, he joined the committee in order represent the views and needs of the beginner/intermediate runners in the club. In June 2018, he undertook the Sight Loss Awareness and Guide Running Workshop, so that he could support visually impaired runners at the club. And in February this year, he began leading a Couch to 5K group with a view to inspiring more complete novices to take up running regularly and potentially join Elswick's beginner/intermediate group as he had done.

Simon is an inspiration to others, his energy and commitment know no bounds, as evidenced by the many achievements and services to the sport that he has given and created in such a short space of time. He joined Elswick with nerves and apprehension, not believing that he was good enough to be part of a running club. We are so glad he took the plunge in his quest to improve his general health and well-being. He’s clearly gained much from his own experiences and is keen to ensure that others can follow in his footsteps and share the benefits that he has gleaned from running. His actions speak so loudly – it’s clear that he believes that everyone can gain enjoyment and improved physical and mental health from running, whether that be a jog around the block or a marathon. Whilst training for his own marathons, he devises training runs to suit everyone, demonstrating his selfless and inclusive nature. He is a fine example to us all at Elswick Harriers.

Services to Athletics or Running

Bernard Johnson: Based on longevity, I cannot think of many more people who have given their services to the sport of athletics, longer and more dedicated than Bernard Johnson. Who later this month will be celebrating his 80th birthday! When I joined The Poly in the late 1970's, Bernard was the club's secretary. Forty years on, one regularly sees Bernard supporting at grassroots, junior and senior events and master’s athletics competitions, acting as a field event official, and is considered Mr dependable.

At the North East Youth Development League fixture at Middlesbrough, back in June, Bernard was one of the first to arrive and one of the last to leave. Without doubt, he has shaped our sport on a local and regional level.

Within the Poly, he is the club's official handicapper for our Junior Grand Prix event, positively encouraging active participation, for all abilities and backgrounds, both in schools and club events.

Never shy to share his wisdom or thoughts, and acts as a mentor to all volunteers. Bernard is held in high regard within our club and the sport. His age and experience are a constant source of advice and support.

Bernard's willingness to mentor much younger volunteers, when others of his generation would dismiss them, is a credit to him and his vision. He understands that without encouraging younger volunteers and officials the sport would struggle. His spirit of inclusivity, humour and wit is infectious.

He does not seek praise. On the contrary, he actively avoids it and finds it an unnecessary fuss. Nonetheless, his stalwart services to athletics should most certainly be recognised and praised. He is the backbone of our sport, the perfect role model!

Volunteer of the year

Susan Mole: this nomination is to recognise the invaluable role that Susan plays within North Sheilds Polytechnic Club, North East athletics and Northern athletics. Not only is she a qualified Track and Field Official, Susan is the club's Membership Secretary, Club Shop Manager and all round cannot do without volunteer.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, Susan is stood at the club shop counter answering questions, queries and making coffees. Every weekend she can be found officiating at a club, local or regional events. When not at the club she’s busy updating the club's Dropbox account with latest membership figures, coaches DBS checks and licences, and answering emails from enquiring and aspiring club members.

Susan has a proactive approach to all she does, constantly recommending new and innovative ways of practice and delivery. She is encouraging to those who wish to become new volunteers and is a guiding influence within the athletics and running community. Every club aspires to have someone who is willing to go beyond their role and deliver excellent practice in whichever discipline they are focussed on. Susan does all of this and more, and that is why she should win! She is an inspiration and role model to us all.

Young volunteer

Rebecca Mooney: over the last 8 years Rebecca regularly shows commitment to volunteering at Billingham Marsh House Harriers (BMHH), as Senior Junior Coach, coaching every Monday and Thursday, week in and out.

Rebecca has completed the CIRF course, which is a big commitment in itself. She is incredibly reliable and engaging with all members and welcomes new members to the club with ease and creates fun and interactive sessions, which has seen the junior section increase steadily over the years.

She also attends other running events on other evenings and weekends, such as Cross Country and Track & Field events. Rebecca encourages and inspires other young members, she coaches the female group which ranges from 11 to 17 years and has encouraged several of the group to train as coaches themselves, and as a result we have 3 members who have decided to study towards a Coaching Assistant qualification.

Rebecca gives her time selflessly and shares her expertise with other less experienced coaches at the club, as well as younger coaches. She has developed many talented Juniors, such as Sophie Quinn, who is a national Schools Cross Country Champion. However, she treats each and every athlete the same, whatever their ability, and drives all of them to be the best of their ability.

Rebecca is a valuable member of our coaching team and we wholly endorse the nomination and the recognition of her achievements – we are proud to nominate her. We would be lost without her as a club and from a Chairman’s point of view, she is worth her weight in gold.

North East 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 region's runners up:

Official: Bernard Johnson
Club: Darlington Harriers & AC
Coach: Neil Ellerby
RT Group: Langley Leggers
RT Leader: Corrina James
Services to Athletics and Running: Mike Bateman
Volunteer: Kevin Cheetham
Young Volunteer: Matthew Fairhurst

North East region volunteer award runners up2019

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