The England Athletics Regional Volunteer Awards are underway – celebrating the fantastic contribution that volunteers make to our sport. Broadcast live on our YouTube channel, the second of this year’s virtual awards nights honoured the unsung heroes of our sport from the East region.
Our 2021 Regional Volunteer Award winners and runners-up for the East are:
Club of the year: Leighton Fun Runners
A welcoming atmosphere, a variety of sessions and activities and running groups to suit every speed of distance, these are just some of the reasons why Leighton Fun Runners has won the Club of the Year award in the East region. Alongside this commitment to providing something for everyone, the club takes great care to train and develop its volunteer leaders, so they can continue to offer top quality coaching and advice, whatever the members’ aims, experience or ability. This has led to the club not just retaining members through lockdown, but actually increasing its membership numbers once restrictions were lifted.
As their name suggests, Leighton Fun Runners has making running fun at the heart of everything they do, but they also have their share of more serious runners, with some sub six-minute milers amongst the membership. Clearly being all inclusive, friendly and accessible are the secrets to the club’s success, combined with a commitment to ensuring future growth through encouraging and developing run leaders through its enthusiastic and committed volunteer base.
Coach of the year: David Cripps, West Suffolk AC
The restrictions of lockdown presented many challenges to athletes and coaches used to being able to enjoy the freedom of the great outdoors, but these challenges were more than matched by West Suffolk AC coach Dave Cripps. Dave went above and beyond in finding ways to keep his athletes motivated and training despite the pandemic. As well as sending out sessions tailored to each athlete and including strength conditioning they could do at home, Dave would seek out alternative training venues when tracks were closed and would introduce lots of variety to ward off boredom and ensure improvement.
Steeplechase has been Dave’s particular area of expertise and experience; he set up a nationwide Steeplechase Festival which resulted in one of his athletes qualifying for the English Schools event and gaining an impressive fourth place. Above all, Dave has consistently sought to improve every athlete he coaches, never missing a session, creating personal training plans and going to watch his runners compete.
Runner-up: Richard Park
Newcomer to officiating: Danielle Mainstone, Stevenage and North Herts AC, Hertfordshire
An accomplished Level 2 Field Official, Dani has gone the extra mile during these challenging times for our sport. With many officials shielding, she has led the club’s field teams in all leagues, ensuring competitions and training could continue. She has also led teams of officials at school, club and county championships.
Dani has been quick to turn her hand to any task and is always prepared to give up her time to support at athletics events, often making difficult journeys to get to the venue. This enthusiasm, which has seen her take on a variety of officiating roles, coupled with her commitment to continued professional development has led to her becoming the lead field official at Stevenage & North Herts AC, benefitting countless athletes at the club. She is now well on her way to gaining Level 3 accreditation, and additionally she is set to qualify as a Photo Finish Official.
Unsung hero of the year: Helen Pickard, Committee and Fixture Secretary, Stevenage and North Herts AC, Hertfordshire
As well as presenting physical challenges such as where, when and how to train, lockdown and the pandemic presented management challenges too that often went unseen. At SNHAC Helen Packard made it her business to manage those challenges and did so with great success. As well as writing the risk assessments that would keep members safe once restrictions began to ease, Helen brought in new systems such as cashless payments and online bookings, established a test and trace system and kept the club’s social media platforms up to date so members would know what was happening.
As a result of Helen’s almost full-time commitment the club has managed to grow its membership numbers as well as developing and training more coaches and volunteers. She has also found time to field judge at the club’s away matches and assist with the photo finish at home matches. Despite the effects of Covid and the resignation of some key volunteers, the club looks set to flourish well into the future.
Runner-up: Deborah Keenleyside
Young volunteer of the year (14-21): Claudia Watts, Braintree and District AC, Essex
Despite being just 18 years of age Claudia Watts has shown great confidence and maturity in taking on her own training group and managing them with skill and enthusiasm. She assists with coaching the middle/long distance group twice every week and never misses a session, leading to some of the group going on to achieve personal bests.
Claudia now has her sights set on becoming a fully qualified coach which, given her determination and commitment, should make her even more successful as well as boosting her confidence and building on her great achievements so far.
RunTogether group of the year: Worlingham RoadRunnerz
Although only formed relatively recently, Worlingham Roadrunnerz and its activities has already become a way of life for many of its members. The group survived the challenges of lockdown by keeping members engaged through a variety of virtual activities accessed via social media, and this has been sustained since the easing of restrictions by its members being welcoming, encouraging and friendly to all, with regular runs and training sessions to suit all levels of ability.
The group really came together, however, when one of its founding coaches was diagnosed with breast cancer. The group rallied round with support and encouragement, and also organised a special ‘wear it pink’ with around forty runners running for an hour in various pink costumes and raising £500 for Breast Cancer Now. Fortunately, the lady herself is recovering and, with the support of the Worlingham group, is training for the Liverpool Marathon.
Runner-up: HLB Runners
Leader of the year: Hayley Howard, Rushmere Community Runners, Suffolk
Take something stalling and kick it in to gear! That was Hayley Howard’s approach when she found her group short of leaders and struggling to find a way ahead. As well as stepping up to take Leader training herself, she persuaded others to do so too and between them they developed a wealth of training resources. Some of these have been online, so members could stay engaged during the pandemic, and many have been posted on YouTube with captions, to help the group’s deaf runners stay connected.
Hayley’s passion for running, and her desire to help others join in and keep on improving has led to her group overcoming the trials of lockdown not only in a good state, but actually growing and increasing membership.
Runner-up: Katrina Wilson
Innovation in athletics and running: Helene Bolton, HLB Runners, Bedford
The small village of Maulden in Bedfordshire held its first community 5k run in September 2019 and hoped to make it an annual event. It looked as though lockdown would scupper these plans in 2020, until Helene and the group’s other leaders came up with the idea of making the run an online event. As a result, the group managed to pull everyone together and maintain the community spirit the group is renowned for.
The group has thirty runners running together on various occasions, and holds group runs several times a week. No runner is ever left behind and the hoped-for tradition of an annual 5k is in good shape.
Services to athletics or running: John Barwick, Club Official and Timekeeper, Great Yarmouth and District AC (GYDAC), Norfolk
John’s commitment to GYDAC dates back to 1973 when he was a founder member of the club, completing regularly as a sprinter in league and regional fixtures. He soon qualified as a coach and has led a sprinting squad ever since, meeting two or three times a week. Alongside this John finds time to be Chairman of GYDAC for the last nine years and also officiates on competition days.
John’s officiating career started around 25 years ago when he became a timekeeper and a timekeeping tutor. He has moved steadily up the ladder, adding Photo Finish Judge to his list of qualifications and is now a Level 4 Timekeeper, regularly officiating at the English Schools Championships as well as many other top-level events including the Anniversary Games and the Indoor European Championships.
Runner-up: Mark Vile
We are incredibly proud of the heritage of volunteering within our sport; from coaches to officials, run leaders to volunteer coordinators, tuck shop organisers to club secretaries. Our sport simply wouldn’t happen without volunteers. Click here to see how you can get involved.