Wide Open Spaces

COVID-19 CLOSES LOCAL CLUBS AND PARKS

In a pandemic special, we talk to local clubs and leagues about their current financial situation and what they’ve been doing to support their members since the lock-down began.

Since March 24th the majority of the local community have seen their worlds turned upside-down. The phrase “the new normal” has been used frequently to describe how we are now in lock-down with only immediate family or friends who live with us. A trip to the shops for essentials or taking time to exercise are the only excuses for leaving the house, unless of course you are a keyworker and can’t work from home.

With this new normal comes many changes forced upon us without the time needed to adjust, and some people will simply be struggling throughout the whole ordeal. With sport taking the first punch in mid-March, governing bodies have been working to ensure all is not lost and that sports clubs can get closure on their winter season. These clubs now take their natural break for the summer months, but how are they coping financially and more importantly, what are they doing for their members?

Cricket is not excluded from these testing times; we should have already enjoyed the opening weekend of the new season, but the equipment hasn’t even been unpacked.

One question that is frequently asked to anyone these days is how have you been affected by the Covid-19 outbreak, with many responses likely to be along the lines of having to stay at home, being furloughed from work, can’t see friends or family and can’t play team sports anymore. The same can be said for many sports clubs too.

What a different a month makes!
Sevenoaks Rugby Club’s (SRFC) Chairman, Trevor Nicholson, commented: “We should have been celebrating the end of the 2019/20 season, which has seen our 1st XV finish in their highest league position on record. As a committee though, we fully appreciate and understand the responsibility we have to stay connected with our members, sponsors and Sevenoaks community at this time”.

Iain Pearson adds his view from Sevenoaks Hockey Club (SHC); “The hockey season came to an abrupt end in mid-March. There were quite a few unfinished competitions which was frustrating and some traditional end of season events such as our annual Veterans’ Festival needed to be cancelled. However, there was no option and the lockdown is for the greater good”.

A spokesperson for HC Knole Park added: “Our first season was cut short by approximately two months due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The hockey season usually ends in May with the junior and senior finals however these were cancelled in early April by England Hockey and the regional hockey associations. The 2019/20 season up to this point had been a huge success for HC Knole Park. The U14 Girls had won the U16 Kent Cup Indoor and then went on to finish third in England at the National Indoor Finals. These girls had also won all their outdoor matches in the EH Cup and Home Counties leagues and had qualified for the Regional Finals in both (which were subsequently cancelled).

“Both the men’s and women’s 1st teams had already won their league championships and were fortunate enough to enjoy their final matches of the season before everything ended”.

Chairman of the Sevenoaks Vine Cricket Club (SVCC), Andy Richardson, sums up their response: “Obviously it’s both frustrating and disappointing that all recreational cricket is suspended indefinitely, but perfectly understandable under the circumstances. The Kent League have formally suspended the league until mid-July and carry a number of scenarios including a nine match season down through six or even four matches in late summer to no cricket whatsoever for 2020”.

Trevor Wright, Chairman of the Kent Cricket Village League (KCVL) added: “Obviously it is disappointing that we have not been able to get the KCVL underway in some form or other. As with most organisations we are in a holding period and we can only react to directives given out by the Government and the England Cricket Board (ECB)”.

At the Sevenoaks & District Football League, Secretary Kevin Turner said that the league has obviously been affected by Covid-19 in that The FA had stopped all gatherings and applied social distancing and so they were unable to play any form of organised sport.

He added: “We were able to play on Saturday 14th March, this being the last day when professional football had been stopped, so this felt like a bonus, but was very short lived. The season ended abruptly and was terminated for us when we would all have liked to have been able to play out the season, but as time passes and the restarting date gets pushed further and further away it seems that The FA did the right thing”.

“The option of declaring the season null and void or to allocate points per game (PPG) on a simple calculation provides little context to the final standing of the divisional table. Perhaps a slightly more complex way of calculating PPG using some form of weighting (depending upon the opponents played) would have been a fairer way – if more complicated – to conclude the season.” he added.

Swimming also took a knockout blow, with all pools across the Sevenoaks District closed until further notice. This means that for all members of Sevenoaks Swimming Club – including their Synchronised and Water Polo sections too – training has become near impossible. It’s fair to state that the majority of people do not have a swimming pool in their garden.

Financially sound or time to raise cash?
Attention soon quickly turns to finance and sustainability for many clubs during this crisis. With little to no money coming in, clubs could find themselves in times of hardship. The clubs reflect on whether their plans before the storm will indeed keep them afloat after lock-down.

Sevenoaks Rugby Club were fast to act on government advice when it came to finances, already securing a £25,000 Small Business Rates Grant from Her Majesty’s Government. Nicholson added: “Financially, our current position is sound. And whilst we have lost revenue generating opportunities, thanks to the excellent work and financial prudence of our Treasurer John Wilkinson, the Committee are confident that the Club is in good shape in the medium future to withstand the loss of the revenue that we would have received had the season been completed”.

However, he heeded a word of warning to the clubs members saying: “This does not mean that we can now sit back and relax. As we have highlighted in the past, particularly during the time of membership renewal, there are a significant amount of costs that the Club incurs monthly. So, it is absolute vital that we continue to maintain the support of our sponsors and that, when the time comes, commitment to the Club is shown in the payment of membership fees”.

SHC commented: “It is too early to know the full impact [on the club]. As with so many organisations, the main problem is that all income has been stopped but costs are not. We are looking at all options to manage our way through this with the support of our members, our sponsors and the local authorities”.

Over at HC Knole Park the feeling is a little more positive: “Thanks to the incredible support of the HC Knole Park membership and various sponsors, the club is in a very financially stable position. Excellent work from our financial team to budget for the season and a huge boost in membership has meant that the club has been able to offer a great training and coaching package to all its members this season, whilst remaining financially stable”.

SVCC meanwhile were happy to announce that they are currently financially stable due to the sound fiscal management over preceding years and that their early decision making, when considering a range of worst case scenarios under Covid-19 were spot on. Richardson commented: “Currently the club remains financially stable and we have in place contingency planning to see us through this year in difficult circumstances. We shall continue to assess all financial support options available from HMG, ECB and Sport England. Obviously this lockdown situation is having a significantly negative impact on the High Street and our sponsorship/partnership program for 2020 has effectively been placed on hold with the exception of our long standing supporter and partner Savills continuing to stand with us”.

Over at the KCVL headquarters, it is simply a case of supporting its members. With all the clubs facing challenges without any income the KCVL has cut costs as far as they can. If no cricket is played this season, Chairman Wright has promised that “any subscriptions will roll over to next season and any ball orders will be much reduced”. This offer leaves clubs to concentrate on getting enough funds for maintaining their pitches and insurance.

Meanwhile, Sevenoaks Swimming Club have worked very hard to ensure they remain financially stable during the crisis. Club spokesperson, Lorna Gray, said: “Two of our three coaching staff have been furloughed and we have reduced our subs to 40% of the full amount. Clearly many of our members have been financially affected by the crisis and we have made allowances for these individual situations”.

She continued: “By the same token though, many families have been very happy to financially support us and we are therefore confident we can survive the period”.

Over at the S&DFL, Kevin Turner comments: “I am pleased to say that the league is in stable financial position and we intend to assist clubs in this respect. We have waived the annual player registration fees, plus we will be deferring the annual subscriptions and fees to enable clubs to have some income before paying. We will also be reducing the cost of cup competition entry fees for existing clubs”.

Mental health plays a key part
When we talk about the lock-down and Covid-19, mental health is always part of the conversation, so it comes as no surprise to hear the clubs are rallying round their members to ensure all are ok. From loo-roll challenges to virtual club quiz nights, many are hosting a range of events to keep their members engaged and entertained. None more so than SRFC who have launched a One Club, One Call initiative.

Trevor Nicholson provides more information: “We have launched a One Club, One Call initiative, which provides members the opportunity to register their details to receive a phone call from one of our senior squad members. These are testing and lonely times for many and I urge you to visit the page on our website and register – the boys are on standby to make that call!”.

And talking of the clubs virtual end-of –season celebrations he said: “It is important that whilst we cannot be together, we still celebrate the wonderful moments we have experienced over the past season”.

The Sevenoaks & District Football have been keeping their member clubs together by means of communication and making them aware of what is happening with their league. Kevin Turner adds: “The social distancing has severely hampered everyone’s ability to come together, meet and talk things through, as we would have liked to have been able”.

Much like their rugby neighbours, the cricket club operate a One Club principle and have offered pastoral support to all their members, encouraging everyone to look out for each other and be available should support be needed.

Andy Richardson commented: “I’m particularly proud of our NHS Rainbow Twitter initiative, started by Harry Robinson, and for which 100 clubs across the country have now modified their club badge to reflect support for the NHS”.

He continued: “The club has endeavoured to communicate openly and regularly to all members with the state of play and have extensively utilised social media for a range of competitions and quizzes etc. to keep the membership engaged. Given we still have some unavoidable costs we have offered a range of subscription payment options should any members feel able to support the club in this way – the support and understanding from the junior section has been phenomenal and for which I’m very grateful”.

HC Knole Park has adapted its hockey provision to an online format of small group conferences and feedback sessions, their spokesperson said: “The members have been hugely supportive of the initiatives organised by the club and we regular get over 50 members signing up to our online events”.

They added that: “all Knole Park members have also received written feedback reviewing their performances this season and the coaching team have been replying to members that have sent videos in to be analysed and therefore our players have still managed to be coached!”.

Over at SHC, Iain Pearson commented: “There have been a wide variety of virtual team get-togethers and online meetings. These continue to offer lots of fun with home skill challenges and support for the NHS and other key workers”.

He continued:”We are keeping our members engaged and active and also reaching out to those who are more vulnerable, older or isolated. Above all, we are a club and a family and we are part of the community.“

Back at the swimming club and the same bells are ringing. Head coach Keiron Piper has introduced a host of activities for its members including Club quiz night every Thursday evening. Land coach, Anya Roberts, has also been delivering two live online training sessions per week. Lorna Gray added: “Daily emails keep every squad involved, giving training ideas as well as offering group and individual activities. Challenges such as Bake-off’s, decathlons and poster competitions have all been a huge success. Our coaches have also been delivering technical workshops, one-to-one meetings and group chats to keep everyone connected and feeling involved”.

The Synchro section of the swimming club recently organised a swimming costume design competition which really showed some inspired creations, including the NHS Superwoman costume!

Lorna Gray continues: “I’ve been truly amazed by the sense of community and spirit the Sevenoaks Swimming Club has shown. The squads are working hard, my coaches are stepping up and we’re having a great time! If anything, we could potentially be more united as a club now than before the lockdown. One Club. One Team. One Dream!”.

The message was a simple but powerful one from Trevor Nicholson at SRFC: “Now, more than ever, our One Club ethos needs to come to the fore. Stay safe, stay in contact and most importantly, stay well”.

Back at SHC, Iain Pearson adds: “Events like this remind us of what is important in life. Community and friendship play a key role in sustaining us all and we are so grateful to our front line heroes (some of whom are hockey players!) for looking after us all. This will come to an end but, in the meantime, we have learned a lot”.

HC Knole Park added: “Our Director of Coaching and the committee have been phenomenal in planning online activities for our members and creating independent learning opportunities for all. It has been an exceptionally tough time for everyone, but as we are all still connected online, the excitement hasn’t dissipated. We are all exceptionally excited to get restarted once it’s safe to do so!”.

“Our thoughts go out to the front line workers and the incredible work of the NHS, as well as those that have lost loved ones from this virus. We are hugely grateful for all the positivity and support that we have received from our members and sponsors at this time – it really is like having an extended family at Knole Park!.”

Kevin Turner at the Sevenoaks & District Football League concludes: “The fact that so many people have died due to Covid-19 is one that we all have to come to terms with and as a league we send our condolences to all those affected. To be talking about local football may seem to be totally out of context with what is happening, but to continue the pursuit of one’s hobby or pastime and football is just that at our level, is to try to carry on life as near to normal as one can whilst always remembering those who have died”.

Andy Richardson sums up life at the cricket club, saying: “It’s a very frustrating time for all those who love and support Sevenoaks Vine Cricket Club, and who had put in a tremendous amount of work into preparing for the season – but in our near 300 years of existence the club has faced similar challenges and come through. I’m confident this shall be no different!”.

Over at KCVL headquarters the mood reflects that of so many others: “It is so important to be positive,” comments Wright, “and I hope that clubs can bounce back, which whole communities will need to support”.
He adds: “For anyone that loves sport whether that is watching Football, Rugby, Cricket, Golf or Tennis, think about your local club and go and support them. Try and play or volunteer rather than just watching, there is a place for everyone and you will make new friends by doing so”.

Support our local clubs
In an effort to support any struggling clubs in the Sevenoaks District, Sevenoaks Sport & Wellbeing magazine has set up a GoFundMe page. All proceeds raised from this fund will go straight back into the local community where local clubs need assistance.

Many of our clubs are run solely by volunteers and live life in a financial balance. Let’s keep all our sports clubs going for the sake of all our local communities together. You can donate online at www.gofundme.com/f/sacs-appeal.