We spoke to Sian Lowe of Lichfield Spires Netball Club and found an extremely well run outfit, with inclusion at the heart of what they do.

KUDOS: Can you tell us a bit about how long the club has been in existence, how it got off the ground etc?

Sian Lowe: There hadn’t been any netball in Lichfield for a long time so a Back to Netball initiative was introduced by the local sports development officer and England Netball.  When the funding finished for that, we decided to start as a club as we’d managed to attract over 30 people of all ages and abilities to training sessions. We set up a meeting for everyone, voted in a committee (that are all still in place) and the rest is history.  This was in 2014. The coach we’d been assigned for ‘Back to Netball’ agreed to stay on with us as our club coach and we went from there. One of our main priorities as a club was that we wanted to remain as inclusive and welcoming as possible – so that pretty much became our ethos and we’ve always prided ourselves on welcoming anybody of any age and ability regardless of previous netball experience.

After two years and a few friendly matches and tournaments, we realised we’d got some pretty good players and a really nice Kudos kit (!) that wasn’t getting used enough so, we decided to enter a local league (Burton and District). We maintained the ‘anybody welcome’ attitude and this meant that we were still pleasing everybody: those who wanted to play competitively and those who just wanted to train and socialise on a Thursday evening. We were advised to enter their short summer league initially and see how we got on. The team who entered had a really successful campaign so we continued into their more competitive winter league.

The following season, we entered two teams into the summer league and we’ve continued from there.

We now have a new coach (Hen) who is also one of our original committee members – her enjoyment of netball which all started from the ‘Back to Netball’ sessions led her to complete her level 2 coaching qualification and help our club and players go from strength to strength.

How many teams do you have competing?

This year’s been brilliant for the club. Hen decided it was time to branch out and the committee agreed to introduce a junior section to the club, another Back to Netball initiative and we’re planning a Walking Netball section too.

As well as our two league teams, Lichfield Spires and Lichfield Beacons, we now have enough girls for two High 5s teams and two under 16 teams. This is very much in the early stages at the moment and we’re hoping they’ll be joining a local league in September.

How has the season been going for your teams?

We’re currently playing in the Burton and District Summer League and have a team in division 2 (Lichfield Spires) and a team in division 3 (Lichfield Beacons). Lichfield Spires are an established team and, at the moment, are undefeated. Beacons are relatively new as a combination and only play in the Summer league and are doing a great job. They’re working well as a team and have a win under their belts! We always aim for a ‘winning selfie’ on twitter and Facebook after a match which is our incentive to win!

We recently held our first competitive friendly matches for three of our junior teams and have a large, local tournament planned for July. Considering we only started the junior section to the club in April, it’s really taking off and we’re aiming to enter as many teams into a junior league as possible in September (in a snazzy Kudos dress!)

Have you adopted any of the other variations on the game like walking netball and High 5s – and if so do you think they’re worthwhile additions to netball?

We’ve recently set up a number of different variations and divisions of the club including High 5s and an under 16s junior section. The aim is for these to become part of a league in September but to nurture talent ready for our adult teams.

Our coach was also employed by England Netball to set up and host a Walking Netball session which we’re anticipating, will very soon become part of the club. We’ve had a brilliant uptake for this from local ladies.

The aim is for a ‘Back to Netball’ session to start in September, with a view to people then becoming part of the club once the programme is complete.

Although it’s been a lot of hard work (particularly as we’re all volunteers with full time jobs), it’s definitely been worth it and we all take so much pride in how much the club has grown and what it’s become, particularly over the last year. We’re getting more and more attention from the local community as well which is of course boosting our numbers and encouraging support.

It’s been an amazing year for women’s sport in this country. As well as women’s sport more broadly, netball itself seems to be boosting its profile – due in large part to gold in the Commonwealth Games and much increased television coverage on Sky Sports. As a grassroots club, do you feel any of that momentum – eg, has there been a notable spike in interest / numbers?

It feels like, as a club, we’ve timed everything just right. Our walking and junior sessions started just before the Commonwealth Games which was perfect. The success of the Roses meant that with that, there was definitely a spike in interest, particularly from the junior division.

It’s so important to get children into this sport as it’s a great way to stay active for life (which is hopefully what we’re showing with all the different branches attached to the club).

It’s just a shame there isn’t more coverage of such a brilliant sport on television and in the media we find sponsorship quite difficult to get hold of and we have to chase media sources to be included in anything.  The fact that we are completely voluntary makes this difficult (we’re made up of roles such as teachers, lawyers, NHS workers and people who work for local and national businesses. Luckily, we also have a very skilful photographer who’s been able to provide us with some fantastic club photographs) as everything takes so much time!

How would you sell the prospect of joining Lichfield Spires to someone who might be thinking about joining?

There’s no doubt about it that we’re completely committed to the ‘everybody’s welcome’ ethos which we established in 2014. As a club, we host women from the of age 7 through to 70+ and that’s what sport is all about. We offer every type of netball you could wish for whether it be competitive league matches to a quick run or walk around in the park on a Thursday. We’re friendly, welcoming and supportive…three qualities that we feel are unique to us. On top of all of this, we’ve all made some really good friends for life now that we possibly wouldn’t have without the sport. Hopefully some of us will still be playing right the way through to when we have to move to the walking division of the club!

We all have a vested interest in Lichfield Spires, particularly our committee who’ve been there from the start.  All we want is for women to enjoy the game and hopefully make some good friends along the way!

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Thanks so much to Sian for taking the time to speak to us. Lichfield Spires embody everything we love about grassroots clubs – passionate, inclusive and welcoming. You can find Lichfield Spires on Twitter and on Facebook.

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