Ellie Richardson – The importance of being a Welfare Officer

The role of the committee is pivotal in the smooth running of an England Athletics affiliated club. Throughout November we are celebrating the role of committee members, coaches, officials, and volunteers at our Regional Volunteer Awards. It has been inspiring to hear the stories of dedication and commitment of volunteers to their club communities and to sport as a whole. At the north east awards, we caught up with Ellie Richardson, the female Welfare Officer on the Durham City Harriers committee, to learn more about what drew her to the role.

Becoming the Welfare Officer

Unfortunately for Ellie, it was difficult circumstances in her past which led her to her current position as Welfare Officer:

“I began running at age nine after my brother became involved in the sport and I was very competitive. During Covid, I was running a lot which led to over-training and an eating disorder. I soon realised that a lot of people were in the same situation. I wanted to become the Welfare Officer to open up the space for other female athletes to tell their stories, making people like me realise they were also struggling and not alone.

“My favourite part of the role is speaking to different people and appreciating where they have come from, and their perspectives on things. I have studied Psychology at university, so I am very into the mind and understanding people.”

Helping others at the forefront of the role

In order to gain the magical 7 Club Standards, each affiliated club must have a fully functioning committee in place, including the role of Lead Welfare Officer. For Durham City Harriers, welfare was at the forefront of their planning and therefore created committee spots for two Welfare Officers, male and female.

“Having a Welfare Officer is very important to give people someone to speak to. Often when athletes have problems, they are unsure about where to go, and try to work through these issues alone. The role of Welfare Officer is about making a safe space and giving people a contact to go to whatever they want to speak about.

“Men can understand the mental side of sport but often physically there’s a lot in terms of women’s physiology that they might not fully understand, for example the loss of periods. It is important for us at Durham City to have a female Welfare Officer to give appropriate advice to people, especially women, who may be struggling with anything mentally or physically.”

Learning as a younger committee member

Having representation across your club committee is crucial and something which Ellie celebrates:

“It is important for clubs to have younger voices and especially females on the committee. Not only does it show the point of view of your age group, it also gives you an insight into the workings of your club behind the scenes.

“I have learned a lot from the older members on the committee in terms of their experiences and expertise. I know a lot about the sport itself, but there is always more to be learned. I have personally learned to take other people’s opinions on board and not become wrapped in your own story. It is important to understand why some members may struggle in aspects which you don’t and particularly in the role of Welfare Officer you need to be able to give people empathy, not always sympathy.”

Get involved in your club

Ever thought of volunteering as part of your club’s committee but not sure about how to get involved? Reach out to your local club using our Find a Club tool. If you are a club wanting to recruit volunteers, take a look at our dedicated, helpful collection on Club Hub.

Articles in this series

The Role of a Welfare Officer