Larkhall YMCA setting examples for clubs (all sizes) across Scotland . . .

Saturday 4th May 2024

Larkhall YMCA Harriers club website

By Katy Barden

The theory of marginal gains was made famous by Dave Brailsford in his role as performance director of British Cycling.

A similar principle has been adopted by Larkhall YMCA Harriers in their bid to make the club more accessible and to reduce some of the barriers to taking part in sport.

Larkhall YMCA Harriers was founded in 1930. David Gracie – one of only two members to win a Scottish national senior title (the other being William Morrison over 880 yards in 1960) – is the club’s most distinguished member.

A former Scottish record holder, he represented Great Britain in the 400m hurdles at the1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki. According to the excellent history on the club’s website, ‘within four short years, (he) was to transform the profile of the club within the Scottish athletics community.’

While Larkhall’s athletes continue to grace the podium nationally and on the UK stage, today it is the club’s online presence and progressive thinking that make it stand out from the crowd.

‘I was in Larkhall for about five years before I knew a running club existed,’ says YMCA President and club media and Welfare officer Ted Zokas.

‘Nobody knew it was there unless they knew it was there. And I thought, ‘Let’s change that’.’

Current club membership is 60 across junior and senior sections, but YMCA secretary Willie Mowbray is keen to see general membership return to around 75 in the coming year, with at least 50 of those being competitive members.

In addition to a ‘feeder’ group for five to eight-year-olds and an after school club held in Glengowan Primary School, both of which are proving highly successful, the club is now experiencing a significant boost from the launch of its new website – created by Zokas – in October 2023, together with its creative social media presence.

‘Ted’s work has been transformational,’ says Mowbray.

A case in point is the Larkhall YMCA Harriers TikTok training video that received in excess of 35k views. That translated into a number of membership enquiries from parents of potential young athletes who had seen it.

With an effective communications strategy in place, Zokas is now using his personal experiences to positively impact the club’s accessibility through the creation of a local campaign to remove #Barrierstosport.

‘We’re based in an area that has pockets of deprivation, so I knew that there would be people who might like to try athletics but who face a lot of barriers,’ he says.

‘From my background in the police I see the effects of poor mental health, poor welfare, and poverty and deprivation every day, so I thought I’d address it best I could.’

Having identified lack of access to period products as a barrier to sport for young girls and women, Zokas worked with Larkhall’s female members to provide supplies at the club.

It was a simple, low-cost action that effectively tied in with the club’s support of jogscotland’s #MenopauseFriendly campaign.

Similarly, while a new club shop was launched in January to enable members to purchase good quality brand-new kit, the club’s ‘Sell it, Swap it, Gift it’ Facebook group went live in parallel to promote kit sharing at a reduced cost and remove another #Barriertosport. It also cuts waste.

Research from This Girl Can ( shows that 48 percent of women prefer not to be active outside after dark. The club has responded by creating a simple video on women’s safety which is available to members and non-members.

Club fees have also been frozen since 2019 with the aim of reducing the cost barrier to prospective members. For those who do choose to try out the club, their first two sessions are free.

‘You hear about ‘incremental gains,’ says Zokas.

‘The way I see it is that all these little changes add up to someone joining an athletics club.

‘It’s all the little things…they might not seem a lot, but when you add them all up, that’s what makes the difference.’




Tags: Club Development, Larkhall YMCA, Willie Mowbray

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