CEO club visit - Exeter Harriers

Following on from a summer season during which long time member Jo Pavey took European 10000m gold and Commonwealth 5000m bronze, Exeter Harriers were the latest club to receive a visit from Chris Jones, England Athletics CEO, when he made the journey to Devon to find out more about what goes on at the newly refurbished Exeter Arena.

Club Chair Irene Brown writes…

“Before training commenced, George Eccles, the club President and head throws coach, walked Chris around the newly laid track. This is a marvellous new facility with improvements beyond the track, with a new pole vault area, increased facilities for disabled throws and a permanent photofinish facility alongside.

The new surface is excellent for training and is a welcome return for many of the club members who have had to train on the rugby pitches and lit paths around the arena for most of the year, while the juniors used an indoor sports hall during the winter months.

George talked to Chris about the severe financial impact that not having the track has had on the club this year, with the club unable to charge normal fees for training nights nor run the popular BMC events and Exeter Open meeting in the summer months, which usually help to raise funds.

However, the time has been used effectively by the club to renovate the clubhouse both inside and out in preparation for a great 2015! August saw the opening of the track with the first meeting being the South West Championships and at the end of the month the Exeter Open and BMC. The latter date was Jo Pavey's first use of the track and the club was pleased that she stayed on to talk to athletes and sign their race numbers!

By 6.30 on the night of the visit, Chris was engulfed in the club house by over 60 under 13 athletes ready for training and he made a bursary presentation to two of the older junior athletes. The bursaries were from the club and will enable them to attend the Leading Athletics course and are a “thank you” for helping with club U13 sessions. The juniors were reminded that the previous weekend saw the Exeter Combined Events meeting, where 170 athletes from all over the country attended.

George went on to explain to Chris some of the difficulties of being located in the deep South West of the country, particularly for the coaches attending the NCDP, as there is always a significant travelling time and cost. It was also noted that the same is true for those officials wanting to qualify to national level, with requirements to travel significantly at their own expense.

Exeter have, however, been very fortunate that, following a parents’ meeting earlier this year, a number of parents attended the Assistant Coach and Officials courses to help with running the club.

Chris asked how the club is faring in encouraging these people and others to coach. Dawn Skinner, Athlete Development Director, commented that a number of the more senior athletes who have now been on the Coach course are stumbling at the final hurdle to become qualified and have not completed their final assessment day, which is a disappointment as they are very able coaches. The club does, however, support the cost of coach and officials development, as the need for more coaches and officials is paramount if we are to continue to establish a thriving club.

The club has an active competitive scene, with a number of junior athletes competing at national level, as well as seniors and veterans also ranked in the national top 10 for their events. The most notable is, of course, Jo Pavey, and what a year she has had! The Exeter men compete in the BAL, the women in the UK Women’s League, while the club also competes in the South West League, the Westward League for cross country and the Devon League. The club also joins with other Devon and Cornwall clubs in the YDL as there are insufficient juniors to justify travelling across the country, another disadvantage of being so far down in the South West!

Later in the evening, Chris walked around watching the training in progress and, by 7.30 and with the seniors by that time on the track, over 110 athletes had been training.”

England Athletics’ local Club and Coach Support Officer, Anneliese Heard, said of Exeter Harriers: “The club’s coaches and volunteers are keen to develop, so are always represented at LCDP and club support workshops. They also have a good relationship with the CSP and take advantage of coach bursary schemes as well as attending Active Devon club and coach support events. They are a great example of a club who invest in everything that England Athletics offers.”

Following his visit, Chris Jones commented: “It is important to see a range of clubs in action on a ‘normal’ club night and to be able to talk to the members and volunteers of those clubs in a more informal environment. Over recent years we have been working hard to ensure our strategy and delivery are more closely aligned to the needs of clubs and that we can respond as these evolve. Our National and Regional Councils, as well as club representatives on the England Athletics Board do a very important job. We meet many clubs through our consultation events, and can, for example, catch up with coaches and officials at conferences that are specific to them."

He continued, "Our Club and Coach Support Officers also work closely with clubs. Many of us are also members of our local clubs and know about their day-to-day activities. But these less formal opportunities with clubs give us a chance to take time to see how different clubs work, discuss the issues they face and also show that we are receptive to hearing their views and comments.”