The University Academy Keighley campus is a special place. Home to not one, but two secondary schools (Beechcliffe Special School is also on site), the academy in West Yorkshire may well be one of the only schools in England to be built around an athletics track.
That track is the main training venue of Keighley and Craven AC as well as the many clubs that make up the Bradford Athletics Network, and it is where England Athletics CEO Chris Jones recently visited as part of his series of trips to clubs around the country.
Chris was met by John Dennis of Keighley and Craven AC and Simon Forde of the Bradford Athletics Network, who showed him around the facility on a busy Tuesday evening. John outlined how the Keighley set-up works.
“The academy was rebuilt around the athletics track in a sense,” he explained. “The former Greenhead High School was on Greenhead Lane and, by quirk of fate, the athletics track was put in here as a result of a loss of a track elsewhere in Keighley. It had fallen into a fairly poor state given the fact that it was jointly owned by the school and the council and neither were really sure about who was responsible. So when the Building Schools for the Future initiative came to Bradford and the school was completely re-built, between us all (including a UKA CARP scheme grant) we worked out a scheme to have it upgraded.”
The result is a superb facility that hosts Keighley and Craven’s club nights and much, much more. On the night of Chris’s visit, the community area within the Academy was bustling with juniors and seniors preparing themselves for a track session and more than a hundred hardy souls getting ready to pound the pavements of the surrounding streets as part of the club’s “Ready to Run” scheme.
The infield of the track houses synthetic pitches where youngsters play rugby and football, which makes hosting Northern League matches a challenge for the club (“We aim to have the track fully competition-ready. We’ve got all the throws and cages up on the adjacent top field and we’ve got space for more run ups, but we’re taking a strategic approach and are also keen on open format competition in the meantime”, said John), but there are no shortage of other users, as the facility is a hub for all of the clubs in the network, including Ilkley Harriers, Bingley Harriers, Saltaire Striders and others.
“Before the network started, everyone wanted a track,” John commented. “Now there is a general feeling that everyone is looking at investing here, so that we can move that standard up and all use it.”
Simon agreed: “Tuesday and Thursday is primarily Keighley and Craven, although the facility is open for everybody. On Wednesdays we have a special BAN session from 7-9 with top coach Brian Scobie, which is drills and a track session. We have about 35 registered to be part of it. Some unattached, but mainly club runners and we’re developing a really good top end. Everyone is training together, regardless of clubs. There’s at least 12 clubs and there’s 6 or 7 really good runners who are at 33 mins for 10ks looking to get to 31 mins.”
Next door to the track is Cliffe Castle, where there’s a fixed cross country course that 400-500 youngsters from all over Bradford and Craven use for schools’ competition on a regular basis, making University Academy Keighley a fantastic running venue.
“We’ve got many, many new runners running from here,” said Simon. “We have a big database of local runners who’ve taken part in races locally and we pass them on to local clubs based on postcode.”
Many of those runners were in attendance on the night of Chris’s visit and were eager to reveal just how much they valued being part of the club.
Jill Bell and Franki Coulthread are two of the leaders tasked with co-ordinating the newcomers to running.
“I’m part of the beginners’ group,” Jill explained. “It can vary wildly between about 20 and 50 complete beginners – they come here with no experience. We call the group ready to run and we have the complete beginners group, the middle group and the higher group and then we have another group that is like a bridge between us and the main club.”
“We found that when people come to us, they liked having clear groupings. Because we have four levels of run, there is something for everyone and we use looping back so that everyone gets a good workout.”
Franki’s passion for the club and for running shone through. “I used to run as a junior, but I gave up when I had my exams and life kind of got in the way,” She grinned. “But about two years ago I decided to start running again. So I thought I’d join Keighley again and come back. Everything had changed. It had gone from jumping in the back of a van and being driven up a mountain somewhere to coming here where’s there’s a track and all the groups. During winter we stick to where there’re streetlights, but during the summer we go anywhere we can on paths and off-road.”
“I started with Ready to Run with Jill’s group originally and I got such a high from running again I thought I’d try to be a leader. So I did my LiRF course and then between us we thought I’d get more involved, so for the last year I’ve organised all of the groups and promoted running as much as I could.”
One of the beneficiaries was Julie, who, having started out as a complete beginner, had progressed to the higher group. “I come to both sessions,” she beamed. “Me and my husband used to park up outside and go running along the Skipton Road and when we saw them all coming in here, my husband joined, but I’d had an injury, so I didn’t at first. Then I came down and started off in Franki’s group. I didn’t want to come because I thought that you had to be good to be part of a running group. On the first night I was right at the back and I thought “this isn’t for me!”, but then Franki came and gave me the hard word!”
Franki chuckled: "There was a corner and we just kept saying “you can do this!”.”
“I wouldn’t have progressed to where I am now if I’d been coming on my own,” Julie said. “Only through coming down have I improved. I was that unfit Franki asked if I was asthmatic or if I smoked!”
Julie’s story summed up Keighley and Craven AC and the Bradford Athletics Network: a passion for the sport and a desire to work hard to make it even better for the people of West Yorkshire.
Following the visit, Chris Jones commented, “Keighley and Craven AC, the University Academy Keighley and Bradford Athletics Network are all superb examples of how by working together and co-operating, clubs and other local organisations can achieve things that working alone cannot. The hard working volunteers in Keighley and Bradford are showing the way forward for the sport and it was a real pleasure to see a facility being used so effectively.”