England Athletics Chief Executive Chris Jones, London Regional Council Chair and Board Member Peter Crawshaw, and Club Support Manager Neil Deans went along to see a training night at the winner of the 2016 England Athletics London Club of the Year Award.
As Chris, Peter and Neil arrived to meet club chair Tony Benton many of the athletes were already heading through the turnstiles and across to start their sessions and the six-lane track and in-field quickly became busy with athletes and coaches.
Havering Athletic Club was formed in 1968 through the merger of the former Romford AC (formed 1951) and the Hornchurch Harriers Club (formed 1953). At that time it adopted Hornchurch Stadium as the club's training base. In 1992 the club also established a training base at the Mayesbrook Park, Barking, and added the name "Mayesbrook" to its title. The club vacated Mayesbrook Park in March 2011 to allow further refurbishment for its use as an 2012 Olympic training venue. A decision was then made in 2013 to concentrate the club's operations at Hornchurch Stadium and at the club's AGM in 2014 it was decided that the club name would revert to Havering AC.
Tony explained that some of the groups start at 6pm with others beginning later in the evening, including that some of the young athletes start their evening with training for a field event such as a throw before then doing track training. As the night went on it was clear that squads and coaching across a full spectrum of events take place throughout the training nights.
In addition to the action on the track and field there were also athletes heading to a gym that the club equipped with equipment donated to the club by a parent. The club shares its facility with AFC Hornchurch and Tony and one of the club vice presidents, Trevor Wells, meet regularly with his opposite number at the football club to discuss smooth running of the facility., Trevor, a former England long jump international, who was also in action coaching his jumps and sprints group, plays a key role in keeping the facilities fully functional for the club.
Tony told Chris, Peter and Neil there is an ambition to turn an unused and overgrown piece of land behind one of the stands into a short covered straight that can be used for training to add capacity.
Walking around the track it was clear why this would be beneficial. In addition to the track being well utilised there were plenty of jumps and throws groups also in action.
Tony explained that although the club has successes at getting more parents involved in the club a development plan priority includes volunteer recruitment, with a new Volunteer Coordinator due to start. He said that the club has a place on the back of the membership forms where people, including parents, can tick a box to say what type of volunteering role they can do and how often, and it is looking to follow up on what people have indicated there.
The plan also prioritises developing an improved coaching structure and looking at the coaching going on it was clear the club is already doing some effective work in these areas. Among the throws coaches is John Duncan who also has a role as one of the YDL team managers. The club has enjoyed success at developing the throwers in the younger age groups and it has athletes such as Rosie Brown, who won England Athletics Under15 discus bronze, her younger sister Alice, last year’s Under 13 discus number 1 and Robyn Moody ranked number 2 in the U15 age group and others who also compete on the track at sprints and middle distances as well as in the throws. Other throws coaches include Sam Harrison whose squad includes Max Law, the England Athletics and ESAA javelin champion.
Darren Priestley, who has a daughter who is one of the club’s throwers as well as previously being a successful junior distance runner and English Schools medallist himself, now coaches with Havering. He explained to Chris, Peter and Neil that he has a background as a PE teacher and is enjoying being involved in the coaching of the young athletes. He said the group was not specialising but rather looking at working well at sprints and jumping, as well as improving fundamental movements and conditioning. Darren has recently qualified as an Event Coach and has made good links with other coaches and gets support from other coaches including Mike Leonard from Milton Keynes. He said as the athletes in his group progress through the age groups he anticipated they would not all go on to become sprinters but that he believed the approach would give them a good grounding for whatever event they went on to.
The opportunity for the young athletes to be involved in a range of events at Havering was clear.
Not far from where Darren was with his group Brian Kiernan was coaching the shot. Brian’s daughter, Lesley, (now Foley) was 1973 European Junior silver at 800 and ran the European Championships the following year while still in the junior ranks. There are several generations of the family now involved in the club. Dave Naylor who was Lesley’s coach, and his wife Eileen, are also still actively involved in coaching a large middle distance group at the club. Tony commented, “The club values its focus on family and friends, many people have been here for years. We have people who were members themselves who then come back bringing their sons and daughters along. We have that atmosphere.”
Another example of how the club sees family involvement is that middle distance senior coach Pat Gahagan is supported by his sister, Claire Richards, who coaches the 11-14 aged group, with another sister Liz (Laughlin) and his wife Lesley, also supporting the group. The group of coaches focus on the long-term development of athletes as they progress through the age groups with Pat commenting on how positive the situation with the group is at this time.
On the back-straight was another Havering coach who has had a long-term involvement in the club, Ruth O’Sullivan, who now coaches sprints at the club. But to emphasise it is not just those who have had a long service who are actively involved Rachel Kerr was working with a group of athletes nearby. Rachel competes for the club and also serves as an official. She explained that she heard that the club needed more officials decided to get involved. She now officiates as well as coaching a group of young athletes with Derek Earney.
Walking around Tony told Chris, Peter and Neil that the club was looking to use the 2017 IAAF and Para Athletics World Championships to recruit more volunteers. In 2012 they saw interest in volunteering as a result of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and one of their coaches, Martin Price, became involved as a result of contact with a volunteer agency due to London 2012.
Tony introduced the visitors to a number of other people involved at the club including Jo Day who coaches at the satellite club at a local school, club President Kevin White and vice chair Claire Brennan who was arriving for her own training session.
Tony told Chris, Peter and Neil more about some of the clubs plans, “We have a satellite club at one of the local schools – Campion School - and we are looking to developing further links with local schools.”
The club’s development plan also states its aims to work to improve communication with members and parents, ensure athlete development and retention, and maintaining successful teams.
Despite all that is already being done around volunteering the demand for places at the club exceeds available places, and the waiting list for places can exceed 150 at times. As well as the volunteering capacity the space available on the six-lane track is also a consideration.
The club has well over 350 members with a coaching team of more than 30. In terms of competition the club’s Youth Development League U13-U15 squad has just been promoted to the highest Southern Premier Division, while the YDL U17-U20s achieved promotion to Southern Premier 2 Division. The club’s senior teams compete in Southern Athletics League, BAL & UKWAL, and there are also competitive opportunities including the club hosting an annual open meeting and club championship.
Chris commented, “Athletics and running include many sports within one. It was tremendous to see so many of the different events being coached together at Hornchurch and the sense of community that existed across all of these. It was a real demonstration of how they all come together in one sport to be enjoyed by so many different people. The number of coaches and range of backgrounds they have was also great to see.
“It is clear that the club is already working hard and in well-considered ways to meet the priorities it has worked with its members to identify. It came as little surprise to see that the volunteers lie at the heart of these priorities as the service and expertise volunteers bring is absolutely fundamental to the sport.
“I enjoyed meeting those at the club who have such a rich history with the club as well as those who have come in more recently and are clearly enjoying their involvement so much. I look forward to seeing and hearing how the club continues to develop over the coming months and years.”