CEO club visit - Harling AC

England Athletics’ chief executive Chris Jones went to the Norfolk club who won the 2016 national Fields in Trust award for Best Athletics Project to find out more about how the club has thrived since being created just over two years ago.

The club is based at East Harling Recreation Ground. Shortly after Chris arrived and met the club chair, Ron Marsh, athletes across a wide range of ages started to arrive ready to train at the village playing fields. While the village of East Harling has a population of around 1500 Ron explained that including the surrounding villages sees that number rise to more like 10,000 with members of the club being drawn from throughout that area.

The club has approximately 170 members with three-quarters of the membership female and a strong junior section which makes up about 70 percent of the total members.

As well as Ron himself, the club has a good group of coaches who hold a range of qualifications from Athletics Coach and Coach in Running fitness to Coaching Assistant and Leadership in Running fitness. Among those on the coaching team are Mike Burton, James Grantham, Sam Brotherhood who acts as Head Coach for the Junior sprints and distance, Sarah Sheeran, Sara Ford, Gary Brotherhood and Nicci Clarke who also work with young athletes as well as Paul Claughton who works with the senior section.

The club has proved very effective at bringing in volunteers in a range of roles including to help with officiating and three of the clubs volunteers were shortly to go on an Athletics Coach course when Chris visited.

It became clear that Ron and the rest of the volunteers don’t miss a trick in terms of recruiting more people to become involved the club and engaging support from the local community. For example, by placing the Fields In Trust Award and cuttings of the associated coverage in the local chemist, butcher’s and other shops they have raised awareness of the club and its successes.

New members are constantly being recruited and whether it is young members bringing in their parents or vice versa it was clear that the club forms a key part of the local community and has its own strong sense of community.

In the early days young athletes came in as a result of their parents. Now it happens as much the other way around. “You see a few parents walking around to keep fit while their children are training,” said Ron. Many of these quickly become involved in the club as beginners or in other roles. But Ron also revealed, “One of our young athletes in the club who is doing very well at long jump, and highly ranked nationally in his age group, came along because his mum comes to the running club. He only did it to start with because his mum was here.”

Ron goes into local schools and this has also brought in new athletes. The enthusiasm quickly becomes contagious. He said, “The young athletes get two weeks for free so they can have a go - but they don’t go away once they get here.” The club is now part of the Eastern Young Athletes League as well as offering competitive opportunities for seniors.

The Saturday morning saw the club house quickly filling up before everyone headed outside to enjoy the training.

Ron invited Chris to say a few words to the club before the session got underway and he took the chance to thank the volunteers for their work and to encourage the young athletes to make the most of the opportunities available to them to fulfil their potential and enjoy the sport.

With the club already making good use of the playing fields they have plans to improve the facilities and are looking at having all-weather facilities put in place. Planning permission has already been granted and the club is working with partners such as the local FA and council as well as being in contact with Sport England as they work to bring the plans to fruition.

Chris was able to sit down with Ron, Martin Gooderham, James Grantham and Mark Dickenson to find out more about the plans, discuss some of the options available to the club and identify additional potential sources of support. The club is working in partnership with other sports.

If the activities of training, competition and looking to improve the facilities sound like a full plate for a club there is plenty more going on besides. Social activities are held including an Easter event, end of season party, trip to the seaside, new cross country race that is to be held using nearby woodland, a car boot sale and an auction. These events once again help to bring people from the community.

Chris commented, “Volunteers across the country do a fantastic job of making athletics available to people in a really wide range of situations. It was great to see all the activity going on at East Harling and to be able to witness the clear enthusiasm that Ron and all the volunteers have for the sport. There was a great sense of community and dynamism in taking athletics to more people and building on what they have already achieved in a very short space of time.

“That enthusiasm is absolutely infectious, it could be seen on so many faces across a range of ages as they were involved in all the activities that were going on.

“It was good to hear about the plans for facilities that the club is working so hard to bring to for club to use. Their approach of also looking to make provision for other sports and community use is very sound. I am sure that the successes and growth on the club will continue to be based on the people who do so much for the club with improved facilities serving to enhance what they are able to do through their expertise and enthusiasm.”