England Athletics Chief Executive Chris Jones and National Council member Mick Shortland headed to Suffolk’s Framlingham Flyers to find out more about their growth over recent years and how the club’s volunteers operate.
Despite the rain coming down when Chris and Mick arrived the junior section were training on the playing fields at Framlingham Sports Club where Framlingham Flyers are based – a number of coaches were putting different groups of athletes through their paces.
Jan Green, the club’s President, explained the set up to Chris and Mick, “We have a Junior Section of around 75-80 athletes with a waiting list of around half that.”
The club has worked on getting more people qualified as coaches and besides bringing in new runners the club’s annual beginners’ course has been a source of new volunteers. One of the coaches working with the young athletes, Ali Chambers, came into the club through the beginners running courses and then went on to become a coach. Her daughters are among the young athletes at the club. Jan explained, “The girls got into it after she started. She spoke to Ricky [Peacher, club secretary] about helping and almost before we knew it she had done her first coaching course.”
There are other sources of volunteers for the club. One of the coaches in action has been supported by a number of teenagers doing their Duke of Edinburgh Awards who have helped out as part of the volunteering element of that. Parents of course also provide another channel, “Paul Evans [the double-Olympian and former Chicago Marathon winner who is now an athletics development officer] did an evening here and asked for parents to come forward.”
The club’s beginners’ course and other activities over the past few years have had a big impact on the club. While it was founded back in 1986 Jan told us, “The club has changed beyond recognition. Six and a half years ago we had about 35 members in total.”
Some of the changes came after Ricky became club secretary. “I said after 21 years I am going to let someone younger come in and Ricky stepped up.”
Ricky has been in the club since he was 13. He moved away from the area and then came back and re-joined the club. His two sons now run too.
“He came in with so many ideas. We had two other Level 3 coaches in Bill and Jean Cox. The three of them decided we would have beginners’ courses.
"On the very first one we had 40 people turn up. We had 20 plus who finished that course.”
On that first course they also had three youngsters come along who have stayed with the club and now progressed to the senior section of the club. The course which now runs every year from mid-May to July had more youngsters coming along so the club decided they should set up a junior section.
Bill and Jean coached the juniors and the section has grown from there with athletes from the age of seven coming along. The young athletes are transitioned to the senior section around the age of 15 – but when it happens is based on when they are at an ability level that means they are ready for the move.
The beginners kept coming along to the course and the creation of a junior section led to a new set of people who start to want to come along - the parents of young athletes in the junior section.
The club is based in a rural area with most of the members drawn from a relatively small geographical area. Word of mouth gets around and means that new people come along to the club year round.
While the club has a wide range of ages the word of mouth does mean that its membership does cluster in certain groups. It has some women in the 20-30 age band and a lot more in the 30 to 40 band. With the men many are over 40 men. But, as shown by the junior section and those who have recently moved from the junior to senior section, there are also plenty outside of these groups. One of the athletes in action was a woman who had never done running before but at 70 decided to take it up and came along to beginners group. She is now a club member.
Jan said, “People get friends in the club – it is good from that perspective. The club is all about friendship. It is a means of getting and keeping fit. That is what is at the heart of a very active club. We do have a hard core of racers bit we also have a lot of people who have never run a race.”
Jan said a number of people who started off vowing they would never run a race after a while did get involved and from there haven’t looked back – they have seen that taking part in races can be a great experience for people like them. As part of the club briefing on the night Chris and Mick attended the club final details of the preparation for the Round Norfolk Relay were announced – including volunteers helping out at the event as well as those who would make up the Framlingham Flyers team.
The club also puts on a 10K event and a cross country which makes use of grounds of the local castle meadow - including the moat. “It’s the shortest course in league we are part of, but probably the toughest.”
Chris commented, “Seeing a club that has introduced new ideas to grow and has such enthusiasm for the sport is always very inspiring. In meeting Jan, the Chairman Mark Sargeantson and Ricky it was clear to Mick and I that they have a lot of ideas for taking the club forward. We were also both able to meet other people who make a range of important contributions to the club, and therefore our sport.
“It was good that they were also able to flag a few of the issues they currently face, or have faced, as knowing these insights is essential as we work to refine the work of England Athletics.”
Mark Sargeantson, said: “"Framlingham Flyers Running Club are pleased to have had the opportunity to welcome a visit from representatives of England Athletics. We are very proud of our Club and particularly with what has been achieved in recent years, with a significant increase in membership of all ages and abilities and a great willingness to participate not only as a runner but also as volunteer, supporter and ambassador for the Club. Inclusiveness is fundamental to our Club culture and I hope this was evident to Chris and his colleagues when they visited us."
Ricky Peacher, the club’s secretary added. “My relationship with the Flyers has evolved greatly over the years. Firstly, as a junior I received great support and encouragement as a county standard runner and then when I returned (older and slower!) it offered a friendly, relaxed environment where a bit of gentle competiveness was enjoyed in the right spirit by it's members.
“This is certainly something that we've tried to keep hold of and it's definitely something that I try to get across to my athletes (junior and senior) when I'm coaching nowadays.
“I've put a few hours in to the club over the years but this has been more than outweighed by the enjoyment I've received in return. I've made some lifelong friends through Framlingham Flyers.”