Inspire. Engage. Aspire. Big ideas help feed Team East Lothian’s purple patch

Saturday 8th April 2023

By Katy Barden

‘In many ways we’ve gone further than we ever anticipated and yet, in other areas, like the facilities side of things, we’d hoped the situation would have been better,’ says Team East Lothian AC chair Stuart Donnelly when asked about the club’s progress.

Donnelly joined the club a decade ago, not long after it was formed in 2012 by Dunbar Running Club, Haddington Running Club and Musselburgh and District AC.

The initial aim of the collaboration was to develop an East Lothian-based pathway for young athletes to reach their full potential. Already there is evidence of success, with a number of junior athletes having represented Scotland over the past 12 months.

While facilities continue to provide a challenge, it was the track at Meadowmill (opened in 2012) which spearheaded the innovative pathway approach, while on-going efforts to build an indoor arena could provide further incentive for the club’s talented athletes to stay local rather than relocate to Edinburgh.

Donnelly, our 2022 4J Volunteer of the Yea, says the stability of facilities is now a key priority.

‘We’ve been looking at what needs to happen in the long-term for facilities in East Lothian, and we’ve been talking to the council for six or seven years now.

‘We had initial plans, much like Kilbarchan, to put in a 50-60m indoor track for sprints training in the winter.

‘We’d have space for doing some jumps and throws and hopefully also a gym space for strength and conditioning . . . but Meadowmill is an interesting site. It used to have a coalmine underneath it, so there are potentially issues there.’

Since joining the ambitious club, Donnelly, who is a software engineer, has volunteered across a variety of roles including coaching, officiating, fundraising, and community engagement.

He was also involved in the development of the Run, Jump, Throw programme in partnership with East Lothian Council.

Perhaps most notably, he also formed the initial relationship with Paddy Burns, CEO of 4J Studios, best known for developing Minecraft for Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo consoles, which led to the support from 4J for Team East Lothian (and later Scottish Athletics).

‘I drew up a list of companies in East Lothian who we could approach and who might be interested in funding,’ he explains.

‘4J was top of the list. I emailed Paddy and said, ‘Would you be interested in sponsoring our cross country event?’, and he asked what we’d spend the money on.

‘I sent back a list of equipment and he said he’d pay for all of it. Then he asked, ‘What else do you need?’. They’re just brilliant.’

The track and stand at Meadowmill (photo by Bobby Gavin)

Since then, 4J’s support has been integral to Team East Lothian’s progress – in particular facility development – and has included part-funding (together with Tyne Esk Leader) a new roof on the club’s viewing facility at Meadowmill to create a more substantial stand, in addition to creating an area for warm-up, strength and conditioning, and pole vault.

There are other projects underway. While they’ve not yet got to the point ‘of talking numbers’, Burns and 4J are equally keen to make the indoor facility happen, while an on-going project in Dunbar will, on completion, create a new strength and conditioning facility.

Prior to the backing of 4J, Team East Lothian were already breaking the mould.

The club opted to pay its coaches in order to attract the level of coach it believed was necessary to support the quality athlete pathway it aspired to. The club also pay a third of the salary of the county’s Athletics Development Officer in partnership with the council and local leisure trust.

‘We’re looking to inspire and engage people,’ says Donnelly, in conclusion.

‘We’ve got athletes that have the ability to inspire the rest of the county. We’re also looking at what we can do as a club to ensure that long term the facilities are there, that the coaches are there, the infrastructure is there and the pathway is there.’

While challenges lie ahead, Team East Lothian are ambitious and thriving.

With the support of 4J Studios and a dedicated group of athletes, coaches, and Officials, their forward-thinking approach will continue to drive success on and off the track.

Photo by Bobby Gavin

Tags: Club in Focus, Team East Lothian

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