Week in, week out for the last 20 years, Mike Ridger worked tirelessly to get a new training base for his athletics club off the ground. After two decades of planning and pitfalls, the finished product is already proving a hit. Here we reveal how the club reversed its fortunes to become an athletics hub for the community
With a new 2-4-6 athletics track, Paddock Wood Athletics Club has seen a surge in membership numbers and training sessions regularly attended by more than 50 local people. But things weren’t always so rosy.
Backtrack 20 years and the club was using a local primary school as a base. Members had dreams of a purpose-built track – a place where you could run in all weathers and that was fit to train budding athletes, as well as attracting more casual users from the local community.
Enough was enough – so £10,000 was saved each year to get enough funds to build a training base.
While its construction hasn’t always ran smooth, good things come to those who wait and the club, with support from Sport England, now has facilities to be proud of.
“Not a week has passed in the last 20 years where I haven’t been on the phone or responding to emails trying to get the track up and running,” says Paddock Wood AC club chairman and sprint coach, Mike Ridger.
Money saving experts
Paddock Wood AC were able to save up money from the club’s annual half marathon to reach their goal, with further support coming from Sport England, Tonbridge Wells and the town council.
“As there was already a sufficient number of six-lane athletics tracks in the Kent area, Sport England suggested the idea of the 2-4-6 training track," said Mike, who has recently been awarded the Services to Athletics Award in the England Athletics South East Regional Council Volunteers Award for 2015.
The unique 2-4-6 design features two lanes around the first 200 metres, four lanes around the next 100 metres and six lanes around the last 100 metres. The design is a cost-effective way for clubs to have their own facilities and works as a training rather than competition base.
But reaching the end goal wasn’t all plain-sailing. Disaster struck when the original track builders went into liquidation and the future of the project was under threat.
That’s where we stepped in. Our funding, combined with support and guidance from Kent Sports Development, meant the club was able to pick up the pieces and deliver the finished article.
“Club members really pulled together,” recalls Mike. “Many of them began to help out, and their knowledge and expertise meant that, in the end, we only had to pay a third of the new cost. It was such a fine example of club unity. Without it, we couldn’t have got the track off the ground.”
Opened last month by Dame Kelly Holmes, the new facility is already proving to be hugely popular.
The club has also developed links with two local schools and the club’s membership has grown by a third. The addition of the 2-4-6 track in the area has also seen athletes offered more choice and greater opportunity to get involved.
“One of the things we asked at the beginning was, what will we do with the track during the day? And so we’ve encouraged schools to use the facility, the priority being to make it free of charge,” recalled Mike.
“We have links set up with two schools in the local area – Mascalls School and Paddock Wood School – and they have free use during term time.”
While the benefits of the project far outweigh the potential pitfalls, the unique 2-4-6 design isn’t without its downsides, not least the logistical challenge of managing the many new people using the track.
With an extra Wednesday club night added to the standard Tuesday and Thursday mix for distance runners, Mike says it’s been “relatively easy and straightforward” to manage so far.
The 2-4-6 design has enhanced Mike’s club, and he urges many other clubs to consider its merits. Not only does it enable clubs to buy their own facilities – instead of using other sports grounds and equipment – it also enables a club to get people through the door and keep the numbers growing.
“My only doubt about 2-4-6 as a concept is whether it will be overused,” said Mike. “It’s a nice problem to have.”
- Has your club overcome obstacles to keep going? Perhaps we’ve helped your club come up with solutions to issues like the one Mike faced here. Let us know by tweeting us or email us at email@example.com
Thanks to Keeley Hoad Photography for use of photos