South West Volunteer Awards Evening

Saturday saw the South West celebrate their unsung heroes at the Devon Hotel in Exeter.

Volunteers from throughout the region came together at the Devon Hotel in Exeter. The event was hosted by five-time Olympian Jo Pavey, with Paul D'Arcy, Charlotte Phillips, Debbie Brooks, John Deaton and Keith Reed from the South West Regional Council, and England Athletics representatives Sarah Benson, Lynette Smith, Alan Richardson and Rich Ayling.

Before the main awards, a number of South West stalwarts were also thanked for their service. Congratulations to Brian Baker, Richard Bowden, Di Viles, Andy Mullet, Arthur Daley, Bob Purcell, Mike Towner (long standing service); Denise Knott, David Hyde, Jeremy Dale (leadership); Vince Landon, Iain Osbourne (Club development). Below, we reproduce a summary of the Volunteer Award nominations which were read out during the evening, plus the recipients' reactions to their awards.

Newcomer to volunteering

Winner: Moni Brady (SGS College Athletics Academy)

This volunteer coaching assistant always encourages and engages with the young athletes and makes her sessions fun. She is very adaptable and happy to help out with any of the groups and 365 training. She also runs a Year 3 athletics group at the junior academy. She is organised and always takes the time to talk through her plans for the session. She is also very enthusiastic, even after a long day of studying and doing her own training.

This busy volunteer has learning difficulties but does not let this stop her. Despite her concerns at being successful, she has competed the Leading Athletics course, Coach Assistant qualification, and Level 1 Field Official course.

Moni Brady has a great attitude and is a pleasure to have on the team at both SGS College Athletics Academy and Bristol and West AC.

When asked how she makes sessions fun, she said: "We play lots of silly games and I act like a child too!"

Winner: Charlie Milward (Erme Valley Harriers)

Charlie Milward

This young volunteer has been helping to coach the young athletes at the club for over a year. He is very good at coaching the youngsters - demonstrating a mature attitude. He has excellent communication skills, is very enthusiastic and is good as setting tasks which vary the activity.

This volunteer has also joined the club committee as the junior representative. In this role he demonstrates good leadership qualities, is very good at getting his point across and champions the juniors very well. He is polite and not afraid to speak his mind.

He believes that motivation is key to both training and competition and that having the right mind-set leads to greatness. "Varying training keeps the young athletes entertained and locked in for the session."

His club Erme Valley Harriers regard Charlie Milward as an exceptional young volunteer who has been such a help to the club in so many ways. They are very grateful to him for both his time and commitment to the sport.

I am quite touched to hear everything they said [on the video]. It's nice to have a positive impact on people. Thank you to my fellow club committe members - they make you feel welcome and at home and makes for a lovely club atmosphere."

Community Project

Winner: Par Track Ltd

Par Track Ltd was set up by volunteers to save the threat of closure of the athletics track when the local council wanted to off-load their leisure facilities. The group were the Council’s preferred choice over professional providers following the submission of their strategic forward plans.

Since then, the directors have worked tirelessly to not only maintain the quality of the track and playing fields, but have worked alongside the local doctor’s surgery and are part of their Social Prescribing, helping patients both in recovery and to forestall illnesses and injuries. They support free yoga sessions, a volunteer led community library and have a thriving cafe and gym which is well supported by locals. Profits are ploughed back to help the long-term maintenance of the track facility for the community. They are now in the process of supplying storage and equipment for disability cycling on the track.

"The expertise thay came forward to help was amazing. We got a lot of inspiration from what Yate AC did. The doc surgery is right next to the track so it made sense to get them on board."

Runner up: Littledown Harriers

This project came about through the Club Captains and Head Coach suggesting a Food Bank Run to the committee. The club organised a staggered start run from the usual starting location to the food bank to ensure it was accessible for all runners. Every participant was encouraged to bring a food item on the run with them to donate as a group on arrival. About 80 runners were involved and other club members provided transport to take extra items, or items on behalf of those who were injured and couldn't run. Furthermore, the club sold off items of their old design club kit under a 'donations only' process, where all money went straight to the food bank charity – supporting the community and the environment.

The project between Littledown Harriers and In Touch meant runners of all abilities and ages could come together as their own community to support the wider one. The donations enabled In Touch to continue to provide hot meals to local homeless and disadvantaged people in Bournemouth. It also showed everyone they ran past and everyone at In Touch the fun, friendly and inclusive nature of running clubs!

Club Leader

Winner: Sarah Swift (Poole Runners)

This club leader has been key in unprecedented levels of inter-club cooperation throughout her tenure, establishing communities and support across a spectrum of athletic areas and pursuits. This volunteer was the club chair for three years, and previously the Ladies' Captain, Club Secretary and Competitions Secretary, as well as being involved as race director and run leader. In a non-leadership capacity this individual has also volunteered for just about every other role in athletics.

She has overseen continuous growth of the club, steering the club through Covid, then setting up new practices to enable a safe return to running. The club has become more inclusive, and her encouragement has enabled other initiatives like participation-based awards. She helped the juniors committee with a process which saw them expand from less than 30 athletes in 2021, to 230 this year. She is supportive and signposts people to how they can further their own development.

The impact of Sarah Swift’s legacy can be seen at Poole Runners and throughout athletics in Dorset. She makes athletes across the spectrum of abilities feel valued, supported and like they’re entirely part of this community.

Team mate Charlotte Phillips collected the award on behalf of Sarah who is receiving another award for swimming the channel for charity!

Charlotte told us, "I am super proud to be part of a club with Sarah in it."

Runner up: Tom Hutchison (Team Bath AC)

This club leader works tirelessly to support the other club volunteers, particularly coaches, but also trustees, members and the other leaders. He is able to engage and enthuse members of the executive committee and other volunteers to ensure all athletes and coaches have a positive experience. He has voluntarily taken on most of the club management this year.

While the club's usual paid manager is on maternity leave, he has - along with the Club Administrator and Treasurer - managed the majority of the day to day club business, driven forward the 5-year Strategic Development Plan, written club policies in line with England Athletics guidelines, enabled comprehensive safeguarding principles to be disseminated and adopted, and ensured sufficient number of coaches have been recruited and trained to support the club's successful 365 Academy.

Tom Hutchison is also a race director and has made improvements to Team Bath AC's flagship race - a 100 mile trail relay along the Cotswold Way. The event is now more organised, safer and generates funds for charity. 

Iain Osbourne collected the award on behalf of Tom who couldn't come because he is in Glasgow racing for the England Masters team.

Club of the Year

Winner: Somer AC

Jason Nash

A fully inclusive club that celebrates achievements of elite runners through to those less experienced, with performances promoted via social media and a Tuesday session roll call. The club now has all seven club standards. It has an excellent committee and governance, is financially stable, has qualified coaches and is always looking at ways to create opportunities for others.

The coaches set the tone; they are encouraging, positive and welcoming and training sessions allow everyone to participate regardless of speed, age or fitness level.  Training has been a focus for this club with guest England Athletics coaches leading sessions alongside the dedicated coaching team.  Annual beginner course attendees are integrated via a Tuesday Club, and other new joiners are allocated to similar ability running groups to regularly meet familiar faces.

Youth athletes are welcomed and communication with parents is excellent, with a regular newsletter, as well as individual messages to check on wellbeing. There is a sense of flow from the junior to youth to senior sections, with youth athletes welcomed to join senior sessions and parents encouraged to get involved too. This means everyone feels a sense of belonging to the Somer Athletics Club family. This is cemented with the Somer Sizzlers – a set of local running events with senior and junior races so all club sections can come together and race.

Club Chair Jason Nash collected the award for Somer AC.

"We've made a real effort the past few years to promote the club which is quite new in the area and it's been nice to chat to people this evening who know who we are. This is showing the effort of all the coaches and club members - I'm just representing them tonight."

Runner up: Exeter Harriers

SW Club runner up Exeter Harriers

This club gives an excellent first impression to those making their initial contact, and the structure is in place for this support to continue throughout their involvement with the club. In the clubhouse there's a welcome desk manned by an experienced volunteer, reception desk, and a highly successful honesty café which encourages parents to stay and watch or work on laptops. The welcome desk has leaflets, competition timetables and entry details, and a stock of seconds hand spikes and kit.

The volunteer coaching team work hard with their respective event-specific groups but also continually liaise with each other for the benefit of the athletes. Juniors work on a five-week rotation of events covering sprints, hurdles, jumps, throws and endurance. The club has embraced the England Athletics PB Awards Scheme and the ESAA Awards Scheme. Senior athletes train in event-specific groups but are encouraged and supported to try other disciplines.

The club is fully inclusive, with athletes of varying levels of disability supported within the normal training groups. There has been a Down's Syndrome training group for a number of years. The club is expanding this group to include athletes whose disabilities make it difficult for them to be supported in the standard training groups. Team spirit is currently high due to team managers who encourage and nurture participation, with an emphasis on taking part rather than results. Exeter Harriers has also recently had a high success level with athlete representation at GB, European and World level for cross country and combined events, plus a win at the National Road Relays for the U17 women.

Dave Philips and Dave Robinson collected the award for their club. This is Jo Pavey's home club and describes it as so welcoming with a great group of people who work together to make it a happy place.

"We are representing a lot of people who came before us and set things in place. To be inclusive we try to give juniors a taste of everything although the seniors pick and choose themselves. People volunteered for us in the past and now we can give back."

Contribution to Running

Winner: Simon and Suzanne Spiller (Honiton RC)

Simon and Suzanne Spiller

The winners are the main volunteers in charge of the junior section of their welcoming and inclusive club which is also very affordable. They have worked tirelessly to ensure that juniors have structured sessions with planning, safety and fun at the forefront. A weekly term programme includes inter club competitions, events, progressive sessions and a variety of on and off road running. Transport and support are provided to juniors competing in the Run Exe 5km.

Both attained their LiRF qualification to take over the running of the juniors when the role became available. Managing, organising, planning and prepping the session are jobs which on a volunteering stage are paramount and time consuming. Both winners of this category ensure the smooth running and planning of the group using now newer technology and other helpers on a weekly basis. The junior section has gone from strength to strength and continues to do so. Congratulations to Simon and Suzanne Spiller from Honiton RC.

After receiving their award they told us their secret of keeping youngsters motivated...

"We pretend it is just for fun and not for keeping fit - so we'll do an adventure race or a treasure hunt run around town."

Runner up: Plymouth Falconers / Neil Williams

A small club which encourages people to run for fun, their health as well as competitively. Sessions are four days a week with a club training run, strength and circuits, Couch to 5k group and another weekly club run split into different ability groups and with a variety of routes. New runners are welcomed and there is encouragement at every level with no one left behind. Many members have gained such confidence that they've gone on to become run leaders supporting newer members on their journey. 

The nominator of Plymouth Falconers says "this club rocks because of the endless energy and passion that Neil Williams and his team have. I have never belonged to such a happy club - I have made some excellent friends through the Falconer and have been kept running at times when I just felt like giving up."

Neil told us the route to success lies in treating others as you'd like to be treated.

"You need to understand that joining a club can be daunting, so you have to make people feel like they belong. Everyone in the club has a role and it wouldn't function wiuthout them."

Coach of the Year

Winner: Mark Thomas (Team Bath AC)

Mark Thomas

This man is described by his nominator as "the most wonderful, helpful and supportive coach." His coaching group is a large team of athletes aged 12-18 and currently has a waiting list. The group counts numerous County Champions, seven athletes at ESAA and a British record holder. 

His pre-planning, excellent time management and clear and consistent communication to athletes creates a safe and fun environment. His knowledge of stats is second to none and he always relays successes to the team. He has attended a number of training weekends with one of his athletes who is on the Talent Pathway. He has also created extra sessions such as steeplechase and hurdles as well as additional speed sessions to help runners who aim to improve. He researches competitive opportunities for athletes and encourages them to compete.  His weekly emails celebrate the achievements of his group, both within athletics and beyond. 

The team spirit that Mark Thomas has created at Team Bath AC has been lovely to see. 

Mark said:" It's important to take an interest in your athletes, not just athletics but how they are doing at school, what they want to achieve in life. You need to work with the whole person."

Runner up: Julian Emery (North Somerset AC)

This coach is passionate about helping athletes achieve their full potential. He loves discovering new talent and nurturing special individuals into exceptional athletes. He is always available for his athletes, committed to providing them with all the support they need, and nothing is too much trouble. His own success as an athlete means he has vast experience to share. Changing locations, routes and emphases are just some of the ways he provides consistent challenge. Creating the perfect environment for maximum benefit and enjoyment is vital to his philosophy, so he carefully curates the blend of characters in the coaching staff to ensure athletes leave sessions smiling, becoming their very best selves.

The last 12 months have been a particularly fruitful period with four of his athletes selected for English Schools' and the current senior women's 5k champion representing England and progressing at international level since making her debut last year.

Julian Emery from North Somerset AC continues to grow his knowledge by attending workshops run by high profile coaches, including top athletes as guest speakers. Athletes have also attended these sessions, providing extra inspiration.

"We just try to have fun in the groups, make things interesting. We don't really have a facility so we run around the local roads. When they compete I get more nervous for them than I do for myself!!

Inspiring Official of the Year

Winner: Stuart Nunn (Yate & District AC)

This official first began volunteering as a track judge whilst attending competitions with his daughter in the 1980s. From there he became a qualified starter and he is now a Level 3 official who regularly volunteers at club, county and regional matches. He takes time in his role as a starter to teach young athletes on the start line as well as encouraging new volunteers to get involved as a starter and the club had one other starter qualify this year. He has recently been instrumental in setting up the club with a new electronic start system which he has competently mastered.

In addition to his long service as an official, Stuart Nunn has also held a vast variety of other roles including chairman of the Avon Athletics Association where he helped to set up the Avon Network. He's been on the Yate and District AC committee since 1987 - that’s a whole lot of time encouraging and supporting other volunteers.

Fellow club member Jeremy Dale collected the award on Stuart's behalf and will get it to him.

Winner: Pete Davenport (Bristol and West AC)

Pete Davenport

This official is a Level 3 track judge. During the track and field season he officiates at a number of leagues and at the South West Track and Field Championships plus many more open meetings and local events. The rest of the season he volunteers at cross country events! He's one of his club's biggest supporters but he helps with many other clubs around the South West.  Pete Davenport gives great support for the new officials and is happy to take a step back and encourage new officials to progress, constantly helping them by passing on his knowledge of officiating.

Pete's main advice to new officials is to be firm with the athletes and other officials!

And does he prefer Track and field or cross crountry? I've just done a Primary School XC with 500 kids which I loved. But I enjoy both really!

Winner: Mandy Sinden (Cornwall AC)

Mandy Sinden

A friendly, helpful and popular Level 3 track judge who has supported all types of events in the county and region for over 20 years. She is also very active as a tutor - ensuring course attendees are supported in their development as officials. A multitude of officials have benefited from her expert mentoring and tutoring, something which has enabled them to progress to Levels 1 and 2. This official has fantastic inter-personal, communication and presenting skills that maximise people's learning journey as an official. At events she is very attentive, observant and can identify areas where improvements can have a positive impact on all participants and officials.

Mandy Sinden is also Cornwall's County Officials' Secretary and has this year enhanced awareness of rewarding and recognising officials via the new England Athletics service achievement badges.

I love the camaraderie, we're like a family and we make people welcome. I love mentoring the people I have tutored - I find it rewarding seeing their happiness. And I like to champion the new service badges, I mena, over 20 years to this sport is quite outstanding and should be celebrated.

Services to Athletics and Running

Nick and Sally Higman (Yeovil Olympiads)

Nick and Sally Higman

This pairing have been on the officiating scene for 30 years.  It is largely thanks to these officials that the level of officiating in the sport is so high in the South West, as their continued teaching and support to officials has been the bedrock of building a strong officiating cohort in the region. As mentors, they have encouraged many officials over the years to reach the highest levels. They are precise in their teaching and implementation of the regulations and ensure that the standards required are met at every level, be that a local schools' athletics meeting or the Olympic Games, with nothing going un-noticed. 

Having exerted such influence over so many athletes and officials in the sport, Nick and Sally Higman are wholly deserving of the Services to Athletics and Running award.

Nick said: "We like to instil the simple things like the circle is the athlete's domain so officials shouldn't step into it. It's got to be practrical learning, you have to demonstrate it.

"It's not just watching atletes like KJT grow but the officials who have grown and benfitted from our support."

Sally added: "We want to pass on what we've learnt from long experience, to pass it on to the next generation of officials."

Dave Turner (Avon Athletics Association)

Dave Turner

This individual has been involved with athletics since 1967. He has worked in all levels of school athletics and across the disciplines of cross country, track and field, sports hall and combined events. Throughout his time, he has encouraged and supported athletes in the South West, no matter what their background or ability. He works with schools, local authorities and athletics associations to promote the sport and encourage participation from all. He would see young athletes at school sports events, coach some of them either at school or during club sessions, and then be their team manager at competitions! He runs sports days at local schools, talks to the children about their potential and guides them to join local clubs.

In addition to coaching children throughout the country, this volunteer is also a qualified starter, and liking to keep busy, is also a qualified field official. He always develops a positive team spirit, promoting sportsmanship. He goes the extra mile and is very caring, understanding of needs and differences and is fair.

Avon and athletics in the South West would not be the same without Dave Turner and all that he does.

It goes back to when I was at school. I loved athletcs and I want youngsters to enjoy it as I did. We need to tap into the talent in schools and give them opportunities to participate and guide them into clubs. For me it's about showing an interest in them and making them believe in themselves.

Paul Ross (Erme Valley Harriers)

Paul Ross

This long serving volunteer joined his club in 1984 as a good runner with excellent marathon times. He joined the committee in the early 1990s and became Club Chair. He was also on the County Committee, Regional Council, Chair for the Armada Athletics Network at its inception, and a member of the first South West Council – representing road running, and championing the South West region at a national level. As an endurance official he officiated the Marathon and Race Walks at the 2012 Olympics, and his expertise has been invaluable to race organisers and clubs.

Unfortunately, recent health issues have meant that Paul Ross needs to take more of a back seat - and his expertise is already being missed.

"This is more of a surprise than anything else."

commented Paul as he came to receive his award. The 2012 Olympics was made by the volunteers said Jo. He replied,

"Yes I had a terrific time there and I enjoyed every minute of it. I still have all the kit."

Pat Gallagher (Westbury Harriers)

Pat Gallagher

This volunteer has been involved in athletics and running for at least the last 56 years. She was a very successful athlete and holds a number of age group World Best and British records. She started to coach in 1982, initially to help her daughters and their friends. In more recent times, and now in her late 70s, she dedicates her time to coaching young female athletes for two clubs which involves an hour of travel each way to training sessions. She is an inspiration to many younger athletes who until a few years ago would see her completing her own training before starting her coached session. She is encouraging and willing to help and guide all young athletes to reach their potential. She utilises the years of knowledge and experience she has gained from competing and provides a structured training programme for her athletes.

Pat Gallagher has made a huge contribution to running at Westbury Harriers, Yate and District AC, county, regional and national level.

Her tips on coaching female athletes?

"Their moods and self belief are the hardest things. But I love caoching tthem. Even the ones who doubt themselves, I see them improve."

And how to keep going as you get older?

"Be stubborn and argue with yourself."

Live streaming - watch again!

You can watch the evening online via youtube and we have set chapter markers so that you don't have to watch the whole event but just your favourite volunteer being awarded!

Go to South West streaming watch again

Volunteer Awards evenings in other regions