15th December 2020
Chris Davies, Chair and Coach of Lliswerry Runners and Lead Ambassador for parkrun in Wales
2020 was the year The Lliswerry Runners Club in Newport South Wales turned 35. It was also the year that life turned upside down.
Founded in 1985 – following the social running boom kickstarted by the first London Marathon – part of the Welsh club’s success, notes Chris Davies, Chair and Coach, was down to its decision to start a parkrun in Newport back in 2011. By involving the local community and getting them to better understand the benefits of running, membership jumped from 80 to 600.
Volunteering, adds Chris – who joined the club in its second year – has also been integral to the rapid growth: "We could not have done what we have done without the volunteering effort. One of the crucial roles in volunteering is the coaching team. We have had funding every year, and we always put 100% of grant money into qualifying new coaches. It's about investing in grassroots activity that is physically and mentally beneficial. You just couldn't do that unless you had people who are willing to get qualified and lead.”
Like thousands of clubs up and down the UK, Lliswerry Runners was forced to step back and think about how it would maintain its activities under the shadow of coronavirus. Senior and junior lead coaches, Sarah and Emma, worked together with the coaching team to enable the club sessions to adapt quickly and safely.
One of the first events organised included a massive relay where no one saw anyone, comprised of a “snakey route” past members households – from Cardiff in the West to Severn Bridge in the East. Over the course of a week, the total mileage was more than 500 miles, and according to Chris, was “the glue that brought the club altogether again. That tonic you get from a run and the endorphins you get after, your spirit has been transformed.”
When the time came to restart face-to-face sessions, club leaders spent a great deal of thought on how to get things back up and running, with twelve athletes per coach and a two metre distance implemented at all times. “Everything we’ve achieved has been with inclusivity in mind,” says Chris, who is also Lead Ambassador for parkrun in Wales. “We appreciate personal bests at the top, but our focus is on personal bests all the way through the club. Last month, we were able to get to the stratosphere in terms of the total elevation our runners achieved. I thought we would do it in four weeks – we did it in one. It's taken a pandemic in order for us to make improvements, and coming out of this we'll be a better club for taking these measures.”
Lliswerry Runners is just one of the many inspiring grassroots organisations that receive support from the £30m raised for good causes by National Lottery players every week, and funding has allowed the club to invest in one of its core strengths – people development.
"That funding is very difficult unless you have grant money,” states Chris, “and that's one area where The National Lottery have really made a difference for us. None of this would be possible without the funding, directly or indirectly through Sport Wales. People don’t realise how much of an effect this has, but it is a vital revenue stream and it makes such a difference to people’s lives.”
In honour of the club’s impact on the local community, The National Lottery funded Geraint Thomas National Velodrome of Wales – usually named after the previous Tour De France winner – will become the Chris Davies National Velodrome of Wales for the day.
Nevertheless, Chris is keen to stress that the club is a team effort, upheld by the trust and dedication of “the volunteer network, who are all doing it for the same reason. There are others beyond me who are involved in all of this. All these people are bringing a lot to the club, it's the joining together of all of those that makes the difference.