CEO club visit - Thames Valley Harriers

England Athletics Chief Executive Chris Jones visited the club with Board member and co-chair of London Region Council Peter Crawshaw.

Over the course of the evening Chris and Peter were able to discuss the club’s current activities, developments in recent years and plans for the future. So it was appropriate that among those they met were the incoming Chair Tim Dye, outgoing Chair Michael Parker and former Chair John Husbands.

Thames Valley Harriers has certainly been in operation far longer than any of those present on the Tuesday training night have been involved and the club’s history also goes back well beyond its current base at the Linford Christie Stadium.

TVH was founded as East Twickenham Harriers in 1887 before becoming Thames Valley Harriers in 1890. Early club successes included Steve Cottrell winning the English Cross Country Championships in 1895.

In that context it is relatively recently in TVH’s history that the women’s team was founded – in 1993 – but it has been on the women’s side that the club has seen much of its recent growth in membership as well as its success.

Last year TVH’s Women’s Athletic League team, in only their second season in the top flight of UK athletics, dominated the Premier Division by winning all their matches. They will represent GB in the European Club Champions Cup in May. It was a good year for the senior men’s team too, clinching the British Athletics League Division 2 title and gaining promotion back to Division 1.

As a result of these successes – as well as the club’s thriving younger sections, and strong links with the local community - England Athletics voted Thames Valley Harriers the top London Club for 2015.

In an Olympic year it’s fitting to reflect on TVH’s rich association with the Games. The 1908 Olympics were held at nearby White City, club President Linford Christie won 100m gold in Barcelona in 1992 and the club made good use of London 2012 to build its membership.

TVH mounted a campaign following the 2012 Games with posters, leaflets and other materials carrying the slogan “The Heartbeat of Athletics.” The council distributed 10,000 leaflets into the local schools for the club. As Michael explained, the campaign succeeded in building the sense of identity and purpose among the existing members and volunteers.

Attracting new youngsters achieved valuable knock-on effects, including far more women coming into the club. John explained, “With the youngsters someone joins from a school and then their friends join. We have worked to make connections with the schools. We were an all-male athletics club until the 90s. Now we have more women than men.”

Club membership is now up to around 700 having grown by around 100 in the past two years. Michael who previously worked for Saatchi & Saatchi said he believed that campaigns such as Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ have helped encourage more women to become involved. He’s a fan of the campaign. “There are not many campaigns I like – very rarely do you get an effective behavioural change campaign.”

TVH has also worked to get their offering and messaging right with young athletes. They have created ‘Kids on Track’ for eight to 12-year-olds, which is held each Saturday and led by Martina Skruzna,  Amber Simukonda and Sarada Nag. These sessions feature activities based on the Athletics 365 resources and principles. In the summer the club has up to  70 youngsters attending with numbers running at up to  50 through the winter months.

he summer months also see some of the sessions turned into competitions, such as based on the QuadKids format. As well as these times being an opportunity for youngsters to test themselves in a competitive situation the club also looks to use them as an opportunity to get parents involved in helping out.

Amber, who was one of the coaches Chris and Peter saw with her group on the club night, works at transitioning the youngsters on to Tuesday night sessions when they are ready for this move. Youngsters are moved across on the young athlete’s stage of development and ability rather than age. Amber also has a small group on Thursdays which she runs with some of her athletes who are ready to receive some more focused coaching.

TVH has a track record of pioneering new activity. Connie Henry’s Track Academy over at Willesden was set up with the support of the club. Before heading off to coach his own group, John said that the club now sees the benefit of this as athletes join the club to compete in TVH teams. The club has connections with the birth and on-going development of the British Milers Club through the work of both Frank Horwill and Pat Fitzgerald.

TVH has tied in with initiatives such as parkrun. There is one run on the Scrubs next to the club and following the 5km events each Saturday the club house is open. They have other links with the local community. One stage at which people drift away from the sport is when they go to University. Manuel Da Silva, who had been part of the club since he was 10 and now manages the women’s team as well as competing, explained that the club has worked to address this in two ways – both for people coming to university near the club, and for the club members going away to university.

The club has established strong links with Imperial College whereby students at the university join the club to train and also as competing members. Manuel said that a high percentage of current women’s and men’s teams are made up of past and present Imperial College students. They have also been invited to be represented on the club’s committee. “They are very much part of the club.”

Manuel explained the club is also doing more to support athletes from the club when go away to university in terms of helping them to find them a club to train with and staying in touch with them. He said it is important to make sure they continue to feel part of the club and their team even when they are away, so they can easily pick up their involvement when they come back.

There are a number of training groups in regular action at the club. These include the middle distance squad of Dave Wilkinson. John works with endurances athletes. Younger distance runners are coached by Geoff Hawes and Roy Clarridge. Artur Domingos coaches distance athletes including walks.

Rez Cameron, Mike Comissiong and Jenni Slader coach sprinters, with Rez also working with some jumpers and Ron Roddan still having involvement in the club, coaching at the weekend. Samantha Brewer is a javelin coach, and Mick Lyons is pole vault who was also putting athletes through their paces over hurdles when Peter and Chris visited.

One of the facilities Chris and Peter saw in action was ‘The Shed’ the indoor straight that was renovated with London Marathon Charitable Trust money. Another was the gym that has been created in the club house and was being put to use by different groups over the course of the evening of the visit, under the guidance of the gym supervisor, Ygor Santos. Ygor is also involved in coaching young athletes at the club and local schools.

As well as continuing to innovate around its activities, the club also has ambitions regarding its facilities. They have begun planning for, and importantly securing raised funds for, development at the facility that will see the club able to further improve its offering to existing and new members.

As incoming Chair Tim Dye said, “It’s an exciting time for TVH.  We want to build on our base of athletics heritage and excellence by creating a modern multi-sports facility for the local community which will allow us to continue to produce top-level athletes who can serve as role models for young local people.”

Chris commented, “Fundamental to the success of any club is the work of its volunteers. We saw a wide range of activities in progress throughout the evening when we visited and heard about the club’s wider work.

“The heritage of Thames Valley Harriers is understandably something that the club can be very proud of. But combined with that rich history the club is clearly forward thinking and creative.

“To hear about the club’s plans regarding the future developments of the facility was very exciting. The improved facilities they are seeking to create would mean that the efforts and innovations made by the club’s volunteers could be all the more effective.”