Updated: Apr 29, 2019
“To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” Mark Twain
I love sport. I love volunteering. I love being outside surrounded by beautiful countryside especially in sunny weather. Cricket ticks all these boxes for me. I have always loved cricket since I was eight. My younger brother and I would squeeze our bikes into the boot of the car alongside our father’s cricket bag, relishing the opportunity to play outside all day around the boundary or disappear off to explore the unknown territory of the surrounding fields and villages.
Long evenings were subsequently spent in the pub garden afterwards stargazing with my bottle of Vimto and a packet of crisps. Growing up, my summers were spent either at Edgbaston or keeping score for my Dad's village team until as a teenager I left behind the perfect rolled cricket squares for a more aqua-based landscape to row on the river Avon.
Fondly reminiscent of these times, I encouraged my husband to join a local cricket club when our children were seven and five so they too could experience this wonderful freedom of endless exploring, being active all day and watching their father play a sport whilst growing up.
A cricket club is the collaboration of all ages and walks of life coming together to form and play as one team. No other sport achieves this unique quality and opportunity of accommodating different levels of ability and age across one team. But cricket offers more than just the sport, it offers a community for everyone not just for the players, for their families and friends, for the spectators, for all the volunteers who run the club and care for the grounds.
In November 2011, I was elected on to the cricket club’s committee as Social Secretary and Membership Secretary. Keen to make a good first impression I researched the internet for ideas of how to increase membership numbers for our club when I stumbled across NatWest CricketForce (NWCF), sport’s biggest voluntary initiative which combines the power of volunteering with DIY-style improvements just like the TV programmes Changing Rooms and GroundForce. I'd never heard of NWCF before but it looked great and determined to set this club back on track entirely focusing on my role to increase membership numbers, I suggested we implement NWCF at the club.
The initial reaction was “I think we did that a few years ago, Amy. There are some t-shirts left over in the store room!” Hmm, not quite the response I was looking for. So, for the next committee meeting I came armed with the NWCF DVD and a list of what we could do to improve the facilities.
The Committee knew it was going to be hard to contain my enthusiasm for the initiative and appointed me Project Manager. There really was nothing to lose as our clubhouse was in such a state that any small improvement would make a huge difference.
“The most effective way to do it is to do it.” Amelia Earhart
So, what did I do to get the ball rolling? (Pun intended!) Through the power of networking, I found someone who had already managed a successful NWCF before via a written case study posted on the England Cricket Board (ECB) website. I tracked him down and made contact with him which gave us a fantastic head start. After an hour and a half on the phone I had over 50 dos and don'ts scribbled down about how to hold a successful NWCF event and what can realistically be achieved in a weekend.
He also suggested that we find out what talent we had available on our doorstep before going outside the club for additional help. We discovered that at our club we already had an event manager, a site manager, builders, plumbers, an electrician, a carpet fitter, decorators and a carpenter. A complete power build team right under my nose! So, with some of these experts and several Committee members we formed a NWCF sub-committee.
We started planning in late 2011 then met fortnightly from January with five of us meeting every week in March. We put together an 11-page spreadsheet of what jobs we wanted to complete, what work needed to be done before the weekend, what materials we needed, how many people were required for each job and what order the jobs needed to be completed in. A core team of 15 club members spent several weekends in February and March prepping the club completing all the skilled work required to get the clubhouse and grounds ready for the less skilled work to be completed over the allocated NWCF weekend.
The Sunday Team Captain, dab hand on the computer, printed off an official flier which really helped us show companies how they could get involved as it looked professional with the NWCF brand and a QR code on it. In between school drop-offs and pick-ups, I picked up materials and received deliveries down the club. I identified particular businesses who I thought may be able to assist us and approached them either in person, on the phone, by emails or with letters.
Having just project managed my own house build over the last two years I had made some very useful contacts in the building industry and I went straight to them first. Some companies needed head office approval but after tracking down the right person to give authorisation, my patience and persuasion paid off particularly with Dulux, The Co-operative and NatWest as these large companies all have money allocated for community charity events if you only dare to ask. Even the local Tesco store helped us out with a £10 gift voucher. A small amount but it all added up in the end.
We also took advantage of the B&Q Waste Donation Scheme collecting free timber and paint from local branches of B&Q. Once the momentum got going it was hard to stop and very early on we knew that the weekend was going to be much bigger than originally anticipated.
Good news kept flowing in and more people were keen to be part of the success story. Regularly communicating all this progress to our members in emails, on our Facebook page and group and with tweets, I made sure that everyone put the date in their diary early so there were no excuses of not being able to attend the weekend! From these updates, more members stepped forward with useful contacts, professional labour, raffle prizes and materials. The snowball continued. We were going to need more NWCF t-shirts!
Press releases were written for local newspapers, I even put an article in the April issue of Kent Life. The Kent Cricket Board had awarded our club NWCF Showcase Club for Kent which was great for marketing the event to companies. Staff from the KCB and ECB were incredibly supportive and actively helped us throughout our NWCF campaign.
Slightly worried about the potential of April showers over the NWCF weekend, I contacted a local marquee company to find out the cost of hiring one. Between us we agreed on a great solution that would benefit both parties: they would erect the 9x27m marquee for free for our event if they could use our cricket ground out of season to erect the same marquee in December for Christmas parties. We struck a deal. I even recruited a new Sunday team player in the process. Win win!
As it turned out, the weekend was dry but the marquee was invaluable though as it ensured that there was a focal point for everyone to eat together, an essential storage area for materials over the two days, band venue for the evening fundraising event and ultimately a place to warm up in that lovely April we had that year.
So, what did we achieve over the weekend? 112 people turned up to volunteer on the Saturday, 62 on the Sunday. Our event was supported by staff from the local NatWest branch, Kent 1st XI team players, most of the KCB staff, former England, Kent & Somerset cricketer Chris Tavaré and his wife and the Mayor. Wow, I was totally overwhelmed by the support we received.
Savings, donations from over 50 local and national companies, skilled and unskilled hours totalled over £36k. These included paint, food, carpet, floor and wall tiles, building materials, fencing, bar seating, complete music system, mirrors, sinks, taps, blinds, £1200 worth of plants, beer, new bar fridge, generous raffle prizes, free food for all the catering over the whole weekend, two fantastic bands providing the evening entertainment and the marquee. We secured club sponsorship and charity matched fundraising from Barclays and NatWest. The Council provided us with several large wheelie bins and collected all the rubbish at the end of the weekend completely free of charge.
What did NWCF do for our club in 2012? It put our cricket club back on the map and helped to recruit new and lapsed playing and social members in the process. Being part of the team that made “the transformation no-one dreamt was possible” was invaluable and gave everyone a great sense of community spirit. Everyone involved was keen to point out the bit that they painted or show off the “Tavaré ceiling” to visiting clubs.
“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” Helen Keller
The key to our success was effective early planning, group enthusiasm for the project and maintaining a strong focus on the objectives which we wanted to achieve. It was so much fun and a great team-building activity for the club. It wasn't just about the renovations and improvements, it was about involving everyone in the family and making the club the true hub of the community. NWCF is the biggest volunteering initiative in sport and why wouldn't you want to be part of that?
I was awarded an Outstanding Service to Cricket Award (aka an OSCA!) in 2012 by the single national governing body for all cricket in England and Wales, the ECB, for making a positive and sustainable impact on a cricket club, going ‘beyond the call of duty’, galvanising club members and providing a legacy of future stability and growth for the club and the community.
Inspiring and mobilising a team of over 150 volunteers to engage in sport’s biggest voluntary initiative meant that together we improved the facilities of the cricket club, helped raise its profile and increased its membership numbers. My enthusiasm and positive approach instilled commitment, confidence and a sense of achievement in others. Yes, I won a national award but the true winners were the club members and the fact that the club is continuing to thrive today.
Seven years on, we held our annual NWCF two weeks ago and the ground has never looked better. The clubhouse is now rented to a preschool during the week which provides the club with a regular income leveraging the space of the club and grounds in its downtime, new members have joined us year on year and we have record numbers of 5 to 8 year olds joining to play All Stars cricket. The club is run entirely on the efforts of its members as volunteers.
“Volunteers don't get paid, not because they're worthless, but because they're priceless.” Sherry Anderson
As Social Secretary, I have the privilege of organising social events throughout the year spending quality time with wonderful people who share a mutual love for cricket. Our children are now in their teens and together as a family we remain a part of the wonderful community that our cricket club provides us.
Celebrating the start of the cricket season at the annual dinner last night, I sat down to tuck into the fabulous meal lovingly prepared by one of the club’s committee members and Vice-Presidents observing that there were three generations of her family in the room. That is what cricket does, it brings family together and holds it for generations!