CEO club visit - Crowborough Runners

England Athletics Chief Executive Chris Jones and Board member Tim Soutar visited Crowborough Runners to meet the athletes and volunteers braving the elements on a wet training night.

The Sussex club was formed back in 1982 and its cinder track facility at Goldsmiths Leisure Centre dates back to a similar time. Initially the club was formed by a group of members of Crowborough Squash Club who had been inspired by the London Marathon.

Chris and Tim met the club’s Development Manager, James Welbury and started talking under shelter of the leisure centre balcony as other runners and coaches gathered for a session on the puddle-strewn track.

James explained that the club has been trying to improve its facilities and upgrade a virtually unusable cinder track and is now looking at a solution with four lanes for a 100m straight and two lanes for the full 400m plus jumps. The July weather (aka English summer) on the evening of the visit highlighted some of the challenges with the facility, but as well as discussing the facility the club also explained their wider activities.

Crowborough Runners compete in the Sussex Grand Prix Series, take part in the South Downs Relay and join with other clubs to contest the East Sussex Cross Country League. They also organise the Crowborough 10K each year.

The club holds sessions on a Thursday night and a Saturday morning for young athletes. These sessions are based on the Athletics 365 Run Jump Throw principles. The coaches and youngsters make the most of not only the cinder track but also the infield and the netball court surface with equipment such as mini-hurdles and foam javelins to deliver a range of activities.

At present the club has 50 young athletes but also a long waiting list. In all the club has around 10 people with coaching assistant or old Level 1 qualifications and half a dozen at Athletics Coach or Level 2 plus two LIRF accredited coaches.

James explained, “We have a beginners group operating on Monday’s which is done by me and Sharon Wheeler. This started with two or three people but has grown to see 30 or 40 participants. Some of these have gone on to join the club for Tuesday training or to do parkruns.”

The club currently has 70 adults and 50 junior members in addition to those who are part of the beginners group. Among the membership are two youngsters from the club, Matt & James McCarthy, who were away competing at the modern biathlon European Championships in Portugal at the time of the visit. Crowborough Runners are used to travelling with a visit to the Porto Marathon and 15K also planned for 12 members following a trip to the Algarve in the spring for a spring training camp organised by former London Marathon winner, Mike Gratton.

But the club is keen to see athletics activities grow closer to home. The leisure centre is supportive of their activities and desire to improve the facilities. James said, “It’s not just about us, it is about the community “

The club enjoys a strong relationship with the Beacon Academy, which is a sports academy in Crowborough, as well as other local primary schools and running clubs. The local triathlon club, Freedom Tri Club, also meets at the leisure centre and there are half a dozen primary schools in the area who could use a proper all-weather track plus the club wants to expand its work with them. Crowborough Runners are currently completing Clubmark for the third time with Swati Patel leading on this activity. Also, other local clubs are keen to use a track from towns like Uckfield, Heathfield, Wadhust and Tunbridge Wells.

Chris commented, “Visiting Crowborough Runners it was clear to see the commitment and enthusiasm that the club members have. The most essential part of any club are the volunteers who make the activity happen and it was good to hear how the club has been supporting members in developing their skills through new qualifications and then seeing these put to good use with newcomers to the sport, young athletes and the more experienced athletes. I was able to talk to some of the members about their experiences of going through coaching qualifications and that feedback is very valuable in ensuring volunteers have the right experiences and support as well as gaining the right skills.
“I know James and the other volunteers at the club have been speaking to staff at England Athletics and others about the ways in which they can look to improve the facilities available to the club and local community. We were able to discuss some of the options available. The appropriate facilities are important for the work of volunteers being effective as possible and enhancing the experiences of people at the club. We’ll continue to support the volunteers at Crowborough in this process.
“It was good to hear about the wide range of volunteers who are putting their skills and time to good use in the running, and we trust growing, of Crowborough Runners.
“The volunteers are the single most important factor in making our sport what it is.”

James commented, “Crowborough Runners were very pleased to see Chris and his colleagues and appreciated their visit so that the Club could show them how local Clubs put such a lot of effort and time into promoting athletics and training juniors and adults from beginners to experienced athletes at grass roots level. The Club is very happy to have support from the top of England Athletics as well as from its regional representatives who have been very supportive over many years with the Club’s attempts to upgrade the old puddle bedecked and clinker covered track. Our volunteers and coaches make the Club a success and the club does its best to get people into athletics despite poor facilities and a lack of funding."