England Athletics CEO Chris Jones paid a visit to a club session at their track at Norman Park.
Blackheath and Bromley are one of the best known and oldest clubs in England.
Club chair Tim Soutar said, “We’re a club with a proud history stretching back to 1869, but our focus is very much on the future. All of this has been built on the work of generations of members who have given freely of their time in a multitude of ways. We're fortunate to have so many members, a number of whom seem to live down here at Norman Park, who are maintaining this tradition, but we can always do with more help as there’s so much more we can do.”
At his visit to the club on a Tuesday training evening Chris found out more about what happens behind the scenes on a week-by-week basis.
The track and in-field, as well as the grass on the outside of the track were seeing a range of activities in full swing.
One of those there was club secretary Hanna Cordell. She said, as well as the performances of well-known athletes such has Adam Gemili and Dina Asher-Smith, the club is also making an impact in other ways. Hanna said, “Our young people are currently very successful – with all the leagues we have been successful during the summer.”
The club took second place in both of the YDL age group finals and had also just taken medals at the ERRA Road Relay champs with the Under 15 Girls winning their event and the Under 13 Boys taking bronze.
Hanna said Adam and Dina had contributed to the club through more than their high profile performances. “I think that Dina and Adam have been very generous with their time. Adam made a video message for the athletes before the YDL final.”
Hanna said that the coaching set up at the club was also a key part of the reason for the successes, “At the moment we have got the coaches to cover almost every eventuality. Over the past year things have been falling into place. We have got the coaches across all the event groups.”
The current President, Dick Griffin, took over in the role around six months ago and Hanna said he is one of the volunteers who bring great enthusiasm and energy to their roles. Dick told us about some of what was going on at the club. He said, “The club’s brilliant.” He gestured at all the training groups in action, “You can see what happens with the kids.”
He rattled off a batch of recent successes adding Scott Overall’s recent running of 2:13 in the Berlin Marathon to some of those already mentioned. Dick said these types of successes are used by the club and echoed Hanna’s words about the support of high profile athletes. “Where it helps me is that I have been going around the schools, talking to the youngsters, trying to get them to take up athletics. Dina came with me along with John Blackie [her coach]. We spoke for five minutes then handed over to Dina. She was inspirational – three people joined straight away!”
Away from the youngsters the club has found other ways of getting people involved. Dick said, “We do a ‘Zero to parkrun’ initiative that is held on a Wednesday morning. It tends to be mums with children.
“We’re training them over nine weeks to be able to do a parkrun, we’ve got about 16 to 20 of them. So we have got these young mums doing parkrun but at the same time as the parkrun is when our Bees Academy is held so they drop their kids here for that.”
The Bees Academy acts as a feeder to the club and club with club coach John Blackie (who won England Athletics’ Development Coach of the Year Award in 2011) taking a leading role, although youngsters are free to join other clubs of their choice.
It is held each Monday and Wednesday night as well as from 9am- 10am on Saturday mornings specifically for children up to and including Year 8 at School. The academy has three schemes:
- On Track - Track & Field, covers running, jumping and throwing
- Off Track – Endurance for youngsters who want to do endurance-based events such as cross country
- Mini Bees - for young children in Reception through to Year 2 at school
As well as his role as President, Dick and his wife Sheila have also taken on looking after the club kit and introduced some new initiatives on this front. He explained, “All the kids doing cross country with us get a free hoody. They pay £20 for the whole season and that means we then cover all their entry fees for the cross country season and they get a free hoody.”
One of the other items they have recently been selling are sets of four clips for holding numbers onto the vest – these have the club logo on them.
Sheila said, “Last year we sold around £500 worth of kit. In the past six months we have sold around £6,000 worth. We are always here selling it so people know that its available. We speak to the youngsters and say ‘What would you like?’ The hoodies have been amazing and we only make a pound or so on each item but we want them to have the kit.”
England Athletics Chief Executive Chris Jones said, “Having seen many of the club’s athletes in action at a range of events from the Commonwealth Games to age group championships it was good to get down to see what happens on a normal club evening. It is good to see not only the hard work, but also the innovative thinking, that goes into running a club of 800 members.
“Speaking to coaches and parents it is clear the club is not only successful in terms of competition but also has a very sociable and friendly atmosphere. You could see athletes were enjoying being there for their training as well benefitting from what they were doing in terms of their performances.”