Chris Jones visited the South Gloucestershire club to find out more about their set-up and how they have taken on management of their facility at Yate Outdoor Sports Complex.
Visiting with Chris was local Club Support Manager (CSM) Richard Ayling, and they were met by Yate and District’s Club Chair, Jeremy Dale. While Rich’s has been in regular contact with the club in his role as CSM, Jeremy was able to explain more of the club’s background to Chris and introduce him to many of those involved.
Jeremy said, “Around four years ago South Gloucestershire council notified the club of their intentions to cease funding the Sports Complex, as part of wider cost cutting activity. This resulted in the withdrawal of the organisation running the complex, so the club stepped forward to take it on and safeguard the facilities for the local community.
“On 1 November 2015 we went and picked up the keys.”
Aside from the athletics track and club house, the facility also includes 8 football pitches, the car park and, more recently, rugby pitches. The club formed a charity to run the overall complex and a community interest company to manage the bar and catering.
Among the others involved in running the complex aside from the club is Lodge Sports, run by Mark Lodge. His athletics groups also train at the track in addition to the 200 or so members of Yate & District. Jeremy said, we started with no money in the bank so the first week “I bought £2,000 worth of alcohol on my credit card and put it behind the bar. Mark put £1000 into food and that went in the freezers and we started off with that.
“Initially it was ‘Wow! We’re running our own complex, but the last 18 months has been pretty hard.
“We employ Mark two days a week and he volunteers for the rest of the time, his partner does the accounts two days a week for the CIC and my wife, as well as being a throws coach, volunteers in the office doing the invoices and paper work for the Charity.”
Jeremy himself is retired, and has 13 and 15-year-old daughters involved in Yate & District AC.
With the electricity bill alone for the complex standing at around £25,000 per year, bringing in new revenue was essential. Jeremy said, “We have increased the volume of people coming to the complex. At the start it was about getting people used to it being open. People were used to it being closed, and not serving food. We got the bar installed and refurbished the kitchen. Initially it was slow but as people got used to it the sales increased and now its thriving
“We had 1400 people here for a firework display. It raised money for a local charity and we took the money behind the bar.”
A new rugby club has been set up, and following a last-minute frenzy of activity, lit by car headlights, to get posts in place, after a delay in their delivery, their first match was played the following day. The club had its first 12 matches last year and, having shown its viability, has now started playing in a league. It has now started a junior section and a ladies rugby section which, again, has increased the number of people using the facility. A cross country course has been cleared and is now used by local schools and air cadets, Jeremy commented, “They paid £50 for the course hire and we took £400 at the bar/cafe, which shows the way sports facilities have to survive.
“The existing football clubs have maintained their support and used the club house for their managers meetings etc and we also have a season long arrangement with Bristol Rovers Academy which is an added bonus.”
A new 10m 22-point shooting range was built at the facility with Jeremy and Mark turning an enquiry into a new facility that is now used for regional and national target sprint events where competitors alternate running three 400m laps with shooting. Jeremy said, “If there is a proven need we can build it. We bought the materials ourselves and built it in-house.”
And the benefits extend to bringing new opportunities for the athletes. Katie Robbins from Yate & District won gold national Target Sprint title having taken it up in the March with Josh Snook taking a bronze.
Moving forwards, the club will continue to work with both Yate Town Council, South Gloucestershire Council and other funding partners to maintain the quality of the track and facilities.
But there are still plenty of energies focussed on developing the track and field activities of the club. Each April it holds a sprints and hurdles open meeting which is organised by Graham Howell and on the day 10 – 15 help out. The facility has its own electronic timing, wind gauge and EDM for the holding of fixtures and was used for a BAL event earlier in the year, as well as upper and lower age group YDLs and local Avon track and field league meets, not to mention schools events.
Tony Jefferies, one of the first volunteers introduced to Chris, is one of the long serving members of the club and recently won the England Athletics South West Award for Services to Athletics.
One of those involved in the coaching set up is hammer coach Matt Spicer who in his younger days set an age group record for the event. He now coaches athletes including Toby Conibear (who medalled at both the England Athletics and English Schools’ AA championships this year) and Owen Merrett. After training the two put their hands to the task of some clearance work on the throws circle – the club’s approach of taking care of, and improving, its own facilities cascades throughout the membership.
The club is working to support its athletes and keep them in the sport through some of the transitions in life they have to make. Ellen Taylor, the club’s membership secretary explained that the club is one of those that faces challenges with keeping athletes involved when they go to university. She said, “The challenge is to retain our athletes. We have a discounted rate for students. We try to get them to join the club where they are at University second claim and keep their England Athletics registration with Yate going.”
One of the local Yate & District AC athletes that Chris met was T37 athlete Bethany Tucker, among her other achievements Bethany competed in the T37/38 100m event at the Birmingham Diamond League this summer. Bethany is coached by Mark Lodge. She told Chris she had recently received a SportsAid grant, “It’s really helped me. Athletics is my life, it’s what I dream about.”
She also spoke to Chris about the importance of a good coach and how she knew her successes were something that those around her are also able to celebrate and enjoy, “I want to achieve my goals for myself but also the support network is key to any athlete accessing their own ability.
“If you have a strong coach they shape your career on the track but also encourage you to transfer the skills – a holistic approach.”
With a range of Yate & District groups in action on the track, another coach Chris and Richard spoke to was Pat Gallagher, from sister club Westbury Harriers who had a group of endurance athletes including Abdifatagh Hasan in action.
One of those being coached by Jeremy, as he transitioned from showing Chris and Richard around to his normal coaching activities, was Luke Ball. Luke set a YDL LAG record at high jump this year. He told Chris that having been running well at school sprint races he came along to the track. At this point he found that his greater potential at high jump was picked up and he quickly started enjoying more success at that, now being ranked number 1 in the country.
Taking over from Jeremy in doing the introductions for Chris and Richard was now Matt Viner, the Vice Chair, and among the other volunteers he and Ellen introduced were Sam Hillier-Smith who acts as YDL team manager as well as coaching pole vault and other jumps events, and Matt Muggeridge. Matt manages the team in the Midlands League (where Yate compete as a composite team with Bristol & West) which this year won Division 1.
Chris said, “It was very interesting to see and hear how the club have adapted to some fairly major challenges relating to the facilities. Facilities remain an issue for many clubs and seeing how the club have taken on the challenge and created some very strong opportunities to grow revenue and improve the sustainability of the facility was very encouraging.
“What was also then superb to also see was how they have managed to combine this with providing a good experience for athletes and volunteers. The enthusiasm of both was clear to see and the way the club has used the club house and bar area to develop the sense of community was reflected in various conversations we had with different people around the track through the course of the evening.”