Lockdown local heroes! Focus on volunteers who met Covid-19 challenges

Thursday 17th December 2020

Image created by Bobby Gavin (from Tom Scott Road Races in 2019)

By Katy Barden

It is said that out of adversity, comes opportunity, and for athletics clubs across Scotland, Covid-19 is a case in point.

‘I was sitting at home looking out of the window and I would see one runner, after another runner, after another runner all just pounding the pavements,’ recalls Michael Wright, until recently secretary with Central AC.

‘I thought: ‘there has to be a way we can capitalise on this’.

‘When things are moving as they normally do, you don’t always have the time you need to focus on recruitment . . . so actually having that time and space to sit down, it gave us the chance to focus on the local community and to really engage with the local press and with scottishathletics.

‘In every time of adversity there’s an opportunity to be found and this was the obvious opportunity. We were able to engage with and recruit from the local community and to highlight the physical and mental health benefits associated with running that have been brought into sharp focus by the pandemic.’

Central AC’s strategy is paying off and the club’s recreational running group – which already has around ten members – meets weekly.

Katy’s piece in PB magazine highlighted some of the great work which happened at our clubs during Covid-19 times


Edinburgh University Hare and Hounds have experienced a similar increase in recreational runners.

‘We’ve been fully subscribed on a Monday and Thursday with around 30 runners consistently,’ says club president Gregor Malcolm, the 4J Studios scottishathletics Volunteer of the Year.

Throughout lockdown, the Hare and Hounds had the added challenge of retaining the social and cultural values the club is famous for.

‘We did a few pub quizzes with proceeds going to the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH),’ says Malcolm, who is in his final year of an integrated Masters in Astrophysics.

‘We did our midweek gym sessions online and we got involved in scottishathletics and BMC virtual events. We were just trying to keep in place some of things we’d normally do as a club.

‘We continued doing things as a club until late summer, way beyond if it had been a ‘normal’ year (when members traditionally disperse at the end of the academic year in May or June).’

The biggest challenge, he admits, has been the return to university and the co-ordination of club sessions within the confines of Covid-19 guidelines.

More and smaller groups require an increased number of group leaders and responsibility for Freshers or new members, ensuring that they’re running within the right pace group, that they’re not going to get lost and ultimately, that they’re enjoying themselves.

Ironically, 2020 had started off so well.

Malcolm stood on the start line at the British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) Cross Country in Holyrood Park in February – the biggest in its history with over 1800 athletes – a world class event that he had planned, developed and executed (then ran).

From the Edinburgh Evening News


Similarly, Bellahouston Road Runners had also enjoyed a celebratory start to 2020 with a special 20th anniversary event at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow.

Times were about to change, but the impact of a global pandemic didn’t dampen their spirits; quite the opposite, in fact.

Through virtual challenges, online workouts and a variety of member engagement activities, the club did its best to replace the lost social scene, particularly the weekly gap left by the absence of group training and Saturday Parkrun.

Members helped out at a local food bank, unpacking donations and sorting logistics to support in excess of 100 lockdown-impacted families, while online, via their ‘Meet the Bellas’ Q and A, over half of the club’s members shared valuable and personal insights, opening up about their lives to counter the limitations on face-to-face social interaction.

‘The club has been fantastic,’ says President Richard Leyton, a founding member of Scotland’s first Parkrun in Pollok Park.

‘I didn’t really drive much of it, it all just happened from people on the board, from regular members with ideas.

‘A lot of people engage with running as a leveller, they all enjoy running, they talk about running and races, but it’s interesting, because people rarely talk about what they do for a living unless you specifically ask them. Through a lot of this we really got to know our members and to see the great variety of people we have at the club.’

Bellahouston Road Runners were one of the first Scottish clubs to publish their coronavirus plan and they made it available for everyone to read. It was a smart move that further engaged members and built confidence as people resumed training in groups.

‘The club genuinely feels stronger,’ says Leyton.

‘This has been quite a significant moment in our history and the club definitely feels more confident about itself now; what it’s done, what it’s achieved and hopefully what we can go on to do from here.’

Without doubt, where coronavirus brought panic and confusion, clubs delivered stability. In isolation, they provided team-mates and in moments of gloom they brought optimism.

They also made events happen, and in September, Michael Wright and Central AC showed what was possible with the third annual hosting of the Monument Mile, bringing a semblance of normality into a year that’s been anything but.

‘It was difficult, but that was partly because it was so popular,’ says Wright.

‘I suppose having such significant numbers (283 athletes across 24 races) to race in a pandemic, both in terms of Covid-19 and admin, made it a lot harder . . . but it was a fantastic effort from the club.

‘When you’re having to navigate through adverse circumstances relationships are often made stronger, and I think our relationships with scottishathletics, partners like Stirling Uni, officials for Monument Mile, local media like the Stirling Observer – I think they’ve all been strengthened.

‘I think that’s been through trying to deliver not only for our members, but also to the local community and all the way through to elite athletes. Looking back on it, it’s been really positive and a great team effort.’

The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the best in the athletics community. Lockdown has demonstrated the value of staying active, in whatever form that takes, as well as the crucial supporting role of clubs in maintaining good physical and mental health.

‘Just because we couldn’t train together, it didn’t mean we couldn’t rally around to support and motivate each other right through the crisis,’ state Bellahouston Road Runners (via their website).

‘Hopefully (our activity) highlights that being a member of a club is as much about the community you become a part of, as the things it does.

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