Last week the BBC launched a brand new campaign aimed at encouraging people to volunteer at local sports clubs. Anything that helps develop sports at grassroots level can only be a good thing, but we reckon sometimes local club members could pitch in, first!
#BigHelpOut is a nationwide drive, and it’s being supported by Eddie Izzard, and Paralympic athlete Tanni Grey-Thompson. The campaign is underpinned by a busy database of clubs and events where volunteers are needed.
The BBC want to find over 10,000 volunteers, and the site is already teaming with local interests in need of marshals, coaches, time keepers, fundraisers and first aiders. Potential helpers need only tap in their postcode, to find an array of events and clubs where they can #HelpOut.
Most of the UK’s most successful athletes began their careers in the oft bright and brash kit of a local club – the Welwyn Wheelers brought up Laura Trott, Katie Archibald hailed from the City of Edinburgh AC. None of these local cycling clubs could exist without support and hard work from volunteers.
Local cycling clubs are the roots that feed leisure cycling in the UK – on a social level and on a racing level. For those roots to keep on feeding, we need to maintain them.
There are already 3.2 million people giving their time to local sports clubs in the UK – but apparently 7 out of 10 clubs have said they still need help.
Redhill CC’s chairman, Adrian Webb told me: “A lot of sports events simply can’t happen without volunteers. Just being there to help gives people a warm glow of purpose and value and extra help is also needed to ensure events run safely. Safety is always the primary concern and particularly in cycling it takes people who aren’t cycling to keep those who are safe.”
Eugene Kertzman, a Level 2 Bikeability Instructor who coaches at Sulis Scorpians Youth Cycling Alliance told me: “I volunteer as head coach about 4 hours a week for a Youth Cycle Club and also organise events where I use volunteers, races such as Go-Ride Racing, Cycle Series, Duathlon. I struggle to get volunteers for some, parents are always a good source of volunteers and they are around for a while so don’t mind helping.”
A local cycling club usually has a management structure, with a chairman, treasurer, and secretaries in charge of each interest – sportives, road racing, time trialling, and as of late, often women’s rides.
These people, plus ride leaders, will go about organising weekly rides and sessions, such as Saturday club runs. They’ll also look after “open events”. These are sportives and races hosted by the club, for anyone to enter.
Nearly all local cycling clubs are affiliated to one or more organisations that require them to host a few annual “open events” to bulk out the regional event calendar.
To make these happen, the local authorities and police must be informed, a venue be sought, sponsors hunted out, then the riders need to be recruited via every channel possible before start lists can be compiled and courses recc-ed and marked out. The person looking after the event then needs to find marshalls for the day, to ensure the route is well marked, and hopefully someone to bake enough cake to keep the riders satiated after their efforts.
None of this is a chore – supporting a local club is worth every second, but it’s worrying that clubs need to look outside the membership to seek support, such as marshalls, for the individuals doing the bulk of the work.
Without contributions, the grassroots of cycling would be uprooted and the foundations of the sport we love would crumble.
The #BigHelpOut has been welcomed by clubs and organisations who have promptly added their events to the database.
Mr Kertzman told me: “The database will be good to get volunteers from the university, DofE and other community groups who want to volunteer but don’t have an event to do it for.”
Redhill’s Webb also saw the database as a great asset – saying: “It’s a dream to get other people who perhaps don’t cycle yet involved because just that involvement will help build bridges and understanding in the community.”
Of course, any outside help via #BigHelpOut will be a great asset to all local clubs – and we can only welcome this. However, it’s worth remembering that the key source of volunteers for every club is, and always should be, its members.
Many cycling clubs have well over a hundred members – and they will always welcome more with open arms and beaming smiles. But a large membership should mean more than enough people to gather round and help out at various events throughout the year.
The beauty of cycling clubs is that they are made up of such a diverse crowd – mechanics ride with nurses, who ride with painters and engineers and journalists and somewhere in every club there always nestles a champion baker.
By all means, spread the word about the #BigHelpOut – but don’t forget to look out at your own club. Because, honestly, it’s the little things like standing on a corner at 9am on a Saturday morning in a yellow tabbard, that make a community happen.