Chris Jones and Chair of the East Region Council, Mick Shortland recently visited West Suffolk AC in Bury St Edmunds.
The club was created when Bury St Edmunds Athletics Club and the club in nearby Haverhill merged in the early 1970s. Some of those involved in those two clubs from when they were founded are still involved at West Suffolk.
Ron and Margaret Muttock were involved in the creation of Bury St Edmunds Athletics Club in the late 1960s. At around the same time Ray Radley was involved in starting the athletics club at Haverhill. Ron and Margaret are still involved at West Suffolk and were among those who met Chris, Ray is also still involved and coaches javelin for young athletes.
Ron explained how he and Margaret have held various roles over the years including him serving as club secretary. They have also both been active field judges and it was they and fellow officials, starter Phil Tomkins and field referee, Brian Musgrove, who were among those who were involved when the club moved to its current facility.
The club initially had a cinder track just beyond the current location of the all-weather facility. The new track was opened in September 1997. And while the transition between the two when the club did not have a track was not easy Ron said the move was well worth it, “Kept the club going when that track was out of use and this track was being built. Now the club is flourishing.”
The clubs has seen many athletes progressing to compete at a high level. One of these who came through the ranks while Ron and Margaret have been involved was high jumper Jo Summers (Jennings) who became an international high jumper aged just 15.
The club continues to enjoy success. Gordon Palmer and David Cripps coach distance runners at the club and West Suffolk’s steeplechasers have has a successful summer. Michael Bartram won the English Schools 2000m steeplechase title and Emily Moyes took silver at the English Schools over 1500m steeplechase. Another of the athletes coming through the ranks at the moment is Katrina Kemp who was fourth at the combined events championships.
While a number of athletes were enjoying an end of season break there were still a good number of javelin throwers present. Mike McNeill and Ray Radley both coach the event, most of their athletes compete for the club but Mike’s group also includes a number from other clubs as well. The West Suffolk athletes include the current England Athletics Under 20 champion at the event, Harry Hughes, who also represented Great Britain at the European Junior Championships.
Chairman of the club, Fraser Watts explained that the club current has around 120 athletes. The club has its focus on track and field through the summer with athletes also involved in cross country in the winter. The Saint Edmund Pacers are also based in Bury St Edmunds and caters for road running and the two clubs are happy to point new comers in each other’s direction if an athlete who wants to take part in track and field approaches the road running club or vice versa.
Fraser said, “At the moment we have had a couple of years of good numbers of younger athletes, we have still got a lot of these as they have reached Under 17 and Under 20, but not so many coming in the younger age groups as we had. We have had a group of athletes that have bonded together and I think that is a big part of why they have continued to train.”
Fraser spoke to Chris and Mick about this. He said that a number of this wave of athletes are now at, or approaching, university age and going to university. Fraser said, as is common with a number of other clubs, that this can pose a challenge in terms of how many of the athletes then return to the town and club after completing their studies at university.
In terms of volunteering he explained that the clubs main challenge lies with coaches, “We have recruited a number of officials and general volunteers over the past couple of years but coaching capacity is still a challenge for us.”
While the club helps to fund people through the courses the club has still found getting qualified coaches a challenge and this is one area that Fraser and others wanted to discuss with Chris. Another challenge they face is that athletes who train with the club are not always as inclined to compete as was the case in the past, this is something they are looking for ways to address.
One trend the club has seen with new members is that people are coming along wanting to be athletes throughout the year. Even after the track and field season has finished they have still had people coming along wanting to take up track and field athletics.
Chris commented, “It is important to see a range of different clubs to understand their different situations, as well as what the common challenges and opportunities are that the volunteers in our clubs face.
“It was good to be able to talk to the volunteers at the club about a range of subjects. The club is clearly doing very well on a number of fronts and it was important to hear about areas such as getting qualified coaches where we need to be aware of the issues faced by our member clubs. Having the time to hear more about these issues and for the volunteers to be able to talk us through their experiences is very important as we need to understand how we should best channel our efforts. Being able to see the work done by volunteers and speak to them about what they do is essential.
“As always the club is based on the work of its volunteers. It is great to see that West Suffolk AC has volunteers involved who have been with the club since it was formed who are as committed as ever, as well as newer faces who have come into the club more recently. They are working well together to make some very good provision for athletes in their community and others who travel from further afield.”