CEO club visit - Ipswich JAFFA

A part of his series of club visits England Athletics Chief Executive Chris Jones recently visited Ipswich JAFFA.

As well as Chris Jones the visit also included elected Board member Neil Costello and England Athletics’ Head of Participation Andy Anstey who spoke to members about a range of subjects and found out more about how the club operates, their successes and the challenges that they face.

Ipswich JAFFA were founded in September 1977 as a result of the Borough Council’s ‘Fitness for All’ initiative. The council had approached qualified coach Terry Gould to run a course for joggers in the town. This grew and attendees were keen to continue running after the course – as a result new club was constituted, Ipswich JAFFA, with JAFFA an acronym for Jogging and Fitness For All.

Based from the Northgate Sports Club, Ipswich, the club has become regular at road and off road events in the area and further afield. But almost 37 years down the line the club has worked at maintaining its ethos of being for ‘all’.

Chris Jones said, “It is always good to see a club in action and to speak to the people involved in the sport on a daily basis. While we hold consultation events, work with our Regional and National Council and hear feedback passed on from our delivery staff nothing beats actually going out to meet people in their clubs.
“It is invigorating to see people enjoying the sport as well as important to hear what it is they value, where they have challenges and gain more insight into what happens week-by-week in our sports clubs.
“Ipswich JAFFA show how it is possible to have athletes performing at international level as well as working to bring new people into the sport. Hearing how they have gone about this and seeing them in action has been an excellent evening and the atmosphere of enthusiasm from the athletes, coaches and volunteers is infectious.”

Chair of Ipswich JAFFA, Kate Wooldridge said, “We at Ipswich Jaffa are very proud of the ‘for all’ philosophy. We are not elitist and we work hard to ensure all members feel part of the Jaffa ‘family’. A growing membership, a successful beginners programme and fact we are seeing more of our members getting involved in the organisation of the club and our events is testament to that. I am so proud of the team we have and the high level of coaching that is provided. To encourage more people into the sport of running is something we are all committed to, whatever their ability, and to see our members succeed in their personal objectives – whether a sub 3 hour marathon or simply to complete their first 5k – is especially rewarding.”

One of those at the centre of the club and Ipswich JAFFA’s ethos is Clive Sparkes. Clive is a coach who works with athletes with a range of abilities including Helen Davies (nee Decker). Helen has represented England and Great Britain at marathon including an 8th place in the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

Clive explained how he got involved in coaching, “The coaching started almost accidentally. I had been doing my own training programmes and then was helping Val Jennings – I have been helping her for 25 years now. One night I came here and was watching a track race. We saw one person and I said ‘She looks like a good runner’.”

The runner was Helen. With Val also wanting to run a sub-three marathon Clive’s role at Ipswich JAFFA and the Monday club nights was about to change, “I had been involved in the club since 1983 but hadn’t had a particular desire to get involved in coaching. I started helping Helen and going through the coaching qualifications. I decided I would help out every Monday evening.

“I enjoy it. There are three of us who take the sessions and they are really good fun. I have got about 15 people I coach one-to-one. It doesn’t bother me how good they are, merely that they have got commitment in return for my time. There is a mix of abilities, they are all keen and want to learn, they want to improve.”

Due the range of abilities training on a Monday Clive often bases sessions on intervals based on time not distance, “On ‘distance’ good runner would get too long for recoveries and the others would get too little. On ‘time’ the effect they get from it is still the same.

“The good thing is also that what we are doing is very much appreciated by the runners. That makes the difference in the middle of winter when you are in the rain and cold, that they are grateful for it.
“The club is a big part of my life. It has been for nearly 31 years.”

Clive said that Helen’s successes have helped to raise the club’s profile. “It showed that someone from a relatively small club could do it if they had the right attitude and commitment, and it is about those as much as ability. She was totally committed from the start. That gave the club a profile and attracted good runners but we also got beginners too. Because the press has been about someone like Helen who is so much a club runner first and foremost it has acted as an inspiration. Beginners have embraced what our philosophy is. The club name is JAFFA and has stayed the same since 1977 and the club still is for ‘all’. Everyone matters to us whether they are fast or slow.”

It is not always obvious who will become the faster runners. Val Jennings who was one of Clive’s first athletes and is now breaking club W50 records was perhaps not top of the list of likely athletes, “I used to say running was boring and ‘why would I want to run?’ I started with the Wednesday night ladies training for a ladies 10K.
“I played hockey and a couple of girls said about doing a bit of running keep fit. I couldn’t get round the block when I started. I went from there.
"I improved my times, I am quite competitive. I know what I can do and like to do it. I still enjoy it and still enjoy the competition.
“The club has never been like it is at the moment with the number of people coming here. Now there are so many people and so many groups, big groups and small groups. All of my friends are in the club or other running clubs. Everyone is very friendly and supportive.”

The club take a systematic approach to bringing new people into the sport and into the club. David Smith, club President, explained that the club runs a beginners’ course which is now on its 10th cycle. “We work with Suffolk Sport and Paul Evans from Norfolk. He’s very supportive. Over the course of the 10 courses we have probably had 40-50 people join JAFFA. Two have done a marathon, they have been running about two-and-a-half years now.
“Some people have done more than one of the courses. People repeating a course run through the walking breaks. They come along and enjoy the fact there is no pressure, it is all controlled. We have had more than 250 people go through the course. Because it is so popular we take a two week break between courses. We give a certificate to everyone who has completed a 10 week course. We advertise it and Suffolk Sport help us advertise it.”

With recruits from the beginners group now taking to marathon running Dave himself can relate to this, “I ran 2hr 51min for London and ran London twelve times. That was all down to JAFFA. When I first came down here there could be a dozen people and you might do a 20 mile run. We used to have a beer there… it’s a gym now! I’ve run in places all over England and Europe and at the New York Marathon.”

But it is not just the running that Dave has done. His voluntary work with the club was recognised this year when we was awarded an MBE for services to Building Control and voluntary service in Suffolk.

One of those taking part in a mass track session while England Athletics were at Ipswich was cross country secretary Brian Rogers. He got his breath back enough to explain his role in the club and how it has developed in his time with Ipswich JAFFA, “I have been a member for about 30 years and have been on the committee for most of this time. I suppose when I joined the ethos was very similar and that always has been the same the ‘all’ has always been there. We have stayed true to the original philosophy – that everyone is important and it is not just about fast people or young people. It is about all of the age range and the ability range.
“In the past there would have been more groups of people, little pockets within the club. Now we are more inclusive from the five minute milers to the 10min milers. There are no barriers.
“We used to just be adults. We have become a junior club as well and that was a big step change. We have now got as many juniors as we can cope with.
“The coaching side has developed too – we didn’t use to have much science behind the training. We have now become a lot more professional on that. Not everyone wants to go on the track and some will just go out on the roads but a lot do want to run on the track and want to use it to help them improve. Having the track is a wonderful facility.”

One of those now enjoying both the track training and running cross country is Alison Beech – although the idea of running around fields was not one that immediately appealed to her even when she had joined the club. She explained how her views changed and how the club has worked to make people more likely to get involved in cross country, “I joined about four or five years ago when I was training for the Berlin Marathon as a charity runner.
“I just went on the group runs and didn’t do anything on the track as I thought it’s not for me. Two years ago I thought I wanted to take it a bit more seriously and then I have plucked up the courage to go on the track for the first time.
“Then at the AGM they were asking for volunteers. Clive was saying no one did cross country and I said it wouldn’t occur to me to do it as it is scary and not for people like me. Then I thought, ‘I can’t just moan about things I should volunteer for the committee’. So I did. We did taster sessions for cross country and this past year we have had our biggest team at cross country. We went to the park and people were shown what they might experience in a cross country – the different types of terrain. It gave people the confidence to see it was no more scary than running in the park. It just gave people the confidence and talking about it with people who did it made them made them see it was fun.
“Facebook also helped as people said they had done it on there and when people see it is fun they get involved.”

Finally, we spoke to Tim Newton who proves that even if people have run outside of the club structure for many years that they can still find something for them within a club.
“I joined two and a half years ago. I’d not been with a club before and did my London Marathons on my own. I lived on the edge of Blackheath for the first one. I almost got out of bed and went across and did it.
“I thought if I don’t start getting my fitness back it won’t happen.
“Being a member has been great. I have got motivation and the track sessions are very good. Sometimes it doesn’t fit in with the training I am doing but for my pre-marathon programme and sharpening it is good. Also doing the races is good."

Tim ran a ‘Good For Age’ time for the Virgin Money London Marathon in Edinburgh. “The aim was to get into the London 2015 race because my son is running it on a deferred place from this year.
“I really just wanted to prove to myself that I could still do it. I did the first two London Marathons in 1981 and 1982. I did 3hr 06min in my early 30s.
“I did lots of training for Edinburgh. My target was 3hr 45min and I ran 3hr 43min which was really satisfying.”
Chief Executive’s Club Visits
Chris Jones explains why he does the club visits
“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.
"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.”