On a frosty January evening we were delighted to visit member club Spenborough and District AC alongside local MP, Kim Leadbeater. We were welcomed to watch over the junior sessions and find out more about the post-COVID recovery of the club from Chair Jake Darby and Membership Secretary, Kevin Aspindle.
Kim’s involvement in the sport, and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Running
Not only is Kim the Member of Parliament for Batley and Spen, but with a lifelong interest and career in sport, Kim Leadbeater MP currently sits as the chair for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Running.
“Before becoming a Member of Parliament, I was a Lecturer in Health, Wellbeing and Fitness as well as running my own business of exercise classes. I have done a little bit of running over the years. My sport was hockey, but as part of that I also did a bit of running.
“What I think we need to do at a Government level is give physical activity and sport a much more prominent place in our policy making. If we can get kids and adults active in running or whatever sport they would like to do, we are saving costs in the future around the NHS. Something like running is brilliant as you can do it for free, but we need to also resource the coaches and facilities.
“Across the country we’re really lucky that we have different levels of running groups and clubs. In my constituency we have local running groups doing Couch To 5k where you can be a complete beginner, and then we have also got fantastic athletics clubs like Spenborough and District AC where you can also mix with high performing runners.”
Video: Spenborough & District AC club visit with Kim Leadbeater MP. Watch on YouTube.
The role of athletics and running in the post-pandemic local community
Despite the cold conditions, it was fantastic to see so many young athletes enjoying athletics supported by volunteer coaches. We last visited Spenborough and District AC in 2018, and it is great to see the resilience of the coaches, Chair Jake, and the club community despite a challenging last couple of years.
“We are doing quite well as a club recovering” said Jake, “but it has been a long process especially as there were a good few months with no sport going on at the track. We’re finding that we’re doing really well with track and field and on the cross-country side, but we have challenges with road runners deciding to stay in small groups and away from the club setting.
“We looked to host more events in 2022 and now into 2023 as part of our recovery. We’re organising more track and field competitions, open events and club runs which we have not been able to do before, with the Spen 20-mile race and the Spring Open coming up. We are looking to reinvest the income from these events to improve the equipment for members to use at the club.”
Placing the community at the heart of the club has not changed because of the pandemic, despite the financial and capacity challenges which they have faced. England Athletics’ CEO Chris Jones comments on the resilience and passion of the club:
“Spenborough & District AC are one of our resilient member clubs that have been at the forefront of bringing our great sport back towards normality after the effects of the pandemic in 2020. When I last visited the club in 2018 it was clear that there was a strong culture amongst members and that the club relied on the selfless efforts and experience of hardworking volunteers, providing varied training, competitive, and social activities for participants of different ages, abilities and backgrounds, as all our member clubs do across England week in week out during a given year.
“It is assuring to know that the club continues to thrive and provide such an important service to its members and the wider community during a time when society arguably needs sport and physical activity as much as it ever did.
“We know that athletics and running are accessible activities that are enjoyed by many, and that our sport is a readymade tool to help combat many of the broader challenges faced in society in this current period, delivering enjoyment, education, knowledge, community cohesion, health, and preventative care, as well as social belonging.
“Clubs such as Spenborough are vitally important in so many more ways than being just a provider of sporting activity. It is important that we continue to work to protect and preserve such work, and the facilities that host them, at all levels as the backbone upon which our sport is enjoyed across England.”
Looking to the future in our sport
As athletics and running recovers from the pandemic, we appreciate the need for volunteers and support within clubs to give athletes and runners the best possible experience. Coaches and club volunteers are at the heart of our club network, and if we can continue to work with clubs and regions to engage and increase their level of volunteers it will be a beneficial to the future to our sport.
“Volunteering is a very rewarding thing to get involved with” said Spenborough Chairman Jake. “I coach and officiate at the club and you find a whole load of new people to be friends with. You learn a lot of new skills which can be transferrable to life. You are constantly learning without realising it and just having fun.”
As well as becoming part of a supportive network within your club as a volunteer, you will also become part of the England Athletics as a whole, as Kim details:
“The really powerful thing about this sport and England Athletics is you are part of a family. You have your own individual identity as part of your club, but you are part of a huge organisation as well which brings with it friendships and a big amount of support.”