I firmly believe that community building is best done by the community; those people with the passion, the connections, the ideas, and the desire to have fun with each other and celebrate all that’s good about their place.
I’ve lived in the Derbyshire village of Crich for almost 12 years and during that time helped ignite the fires of physical activity with other energetic souls through jogging groups, walking groups, cycling groups, adventure days, learn to ride schemes and physical literacy programmes across early years and Primary School. I’m proud to say that most of those activities are thriving and led by capable and enthusiastic volunteers and teachers every day of the week. Indeed, a message came through Whatsapp only yesterday from ‘Lynne’ who had just done her first 5k race and thanked her friends at Jog Derbyshire group Jog Crich who had got her started. Dozens of supportive messages ensued, congratulating her on the achievement and encouraging her to continue. That’s community.
The first seeds of an idea
Last autumn a couple of friends had an idea of getting people together over a two-week period during the summer to try new activities and spread the buzz about fitness, fun and friendship. Crich Fitness Fortnight was born!
After many meetings in various homes and pubs across the village, a programme of activities emerged, showcasing what’s available locally for all ages, sizes and levels of fitness. The aim being to promote exercise in the community, bring people together and have some fun around the traditional fete weeks.
And there’s something for everyone; tai chi, kwik cricket, yoga, aerobics, jogging, Walking for Health, dancing, a disco, a storytelling pub walk, rounders, Nordic walking, ballroom dancing, Zumba, meditation, natural running and table tennis. Perhaps we’ll all be exhausted by the end of it? Everything is run by local people in the local environment, most of it is free to attend and I can’t help but feel totally excited by the prospect of all this sport and activity in one place. It’s like being back at university!
Fun and friendly activities
As I approached the ‘rec’ with my children (aged 9 and 11) on a scorching Sunday afternoon for the first session – tag rugby for all ages – I realised when the grass is cut short, there’s a fantastic space there. Cones marked out the area and volunteer coaches from nearby Matlock Rugby Club were on hand to welcome everyone to the session. Neatly erected gazebos provided much needed shelter and buckets of chilled water bottles would keep us all rehydrated throughout the afternoon.
Kate, one of the local mums had agreed to organise the session and she’d invited the Matlock coaches to help. Clear instructions, plenty of interactive small games and passing skills kept things fun and interesting. Adults ran alongside children, forty of us chased around our own free space and we learnt how to enjoy it in a whole new way. Of course, my own children had a blast (they would, they have inherited my sheer love of sport) but I saw other children from the village who hadn’t played before and had their first introduction to rugby, encouraged along by their friends and parents.
During regular watering breaks we chatted to each other, laughed about how we’d feel in the morning and studied the list of other activities to check out where we’d be in the coming days. Coaches from the club shared information about training sessions and the new girls team recruiting for the autumn – ‘Matlock Bees’. Community building and sport development in action.
The power to connect with others
So, as predicted, I ache today. I’d forgotten how it feels to charge down a pitch, turn around and do the same thing again for more than two minutes. But my heart sings! It sings because I felt part of something simple, fun, and organised by people who care about each other and their place. I remembered that sport has the power to connect people in a way that little else can. And that we don’t always need expensive facilities, marketing campaigns, leagues, sponsors and medals for it to have meaning.
Rachel and Trish, the locals with the ideas and the driving force behind Fitness Fortnight took a risk, connected with others, put it out there and invited us all along to join in. They must be so pleased and proud with what’s been achieved so far. Tonight’s yoga session had doubled its regular participation numbers and there’s so much more to come.
Community building is hard work. It requires relentless energy, enthusiasm, belief and soul. So how do we find ways of supporting people like Trish and Rachel to do more of this in other communities? Perhaps one to consider next time…