Based just outside the picturesque small town of Holmfirth – of Last of the Summer Wine fame – Holmfirth Harriers is over a century old and still going from strength to strength.

It is a club rightly proud of its long and successful history and remains a grassroots athletics club run by its members for its members, with a great future ahead.

Founded in 1907 by a handful of enthusiasts, club members soon made a name for themselves in the local athletic world and successful teams were turned out in a number of disciplines.

The club has produced individual and team champions at Yorkshire, Northern and National levels, with a number gaining representative honours for England and Great Britain on the road, fell & mountain running, cross country, triathlon and T&F.  These honours and awards, too many to list here, were included in the book, ‘See How They Run: The History of Holmfirth Harriers Athletic Club’, written by three members to mark the club’s Centenary year in 2007.

We spoke to Helen Haigh and Mike Hall to find out more about this grand old club.

KUDOS: So tell us a bit about the club’s history and your own involvement…

Helen Haigh: We were born in 1907 and we obviously celebrated our centenary some time ago, so we’ve been going a very long time. We started out in Holmfirth – hence the name – but we moved out to our current premises decades ago. I’ve been a member for 35 years, competing at a high level, and for many years I’ve been Ladies Captain and an honorary life member, so I’m very involved in the club – which is why Michael got me involved in this chat! I get involved in all aspects of running the club, including the building – I’m a trustee of our clubhouse, which is a great centre of the club. I think members might take that for granted – if they went along to other running clubs they wouldn’t have the facilities that we have at Holmfirth.

In terms of what we do and who we appeal to, when I joined there was a very small junior section – it was tiny, we’re talking maybe a dozen junior members. We didn’t cater for juniors at all, we didn’t have coaches…for anybody in fact, juniors or seniors. It was a very different club back then. Now we are very much focused on developing the club to ensure it’s sustainable for the future. About 30 years ago a small group of key members recognised that without juniors we have no future, so they set up some races for local primary school children, to attract them to the club. It worked well, and we still host those races for juniors today. That was something that definitely helped secure our future; having younger people coming through. And over that 30 year period we’ve definitely become more ‘professional’, in our coaching and offering that level of support. We’ve also broadened our scope, in that we now cover triathlon as well. We do all disciplines now – track and field, road running, fell running, cross country, and now triathlon as well. The club has grown to nearly 600 members, and that number is pretty stable now.

Mike: The split of the membership is around a third men, a third women and a third juniors.

Helen: It is a fairly even split, yeah, which is really good, and we certainly cover all abilities now. 30 years ago it was, again, very different, mainly because of our numbers – but now we cover right from the very basics, things like couch to 5k for the real beginners, and then filtering those people into our different levels of running groups.  We always try to encourage those people to improve and to race – some people don’t want to race, and that’s fair enough. But we have to remember there are both ends of the club: we do have people running at a very high level and we always want to encourage that, but at the same time we’re conscious there are people who want to come and keep fit while their kids are training in the junior section, so it’s a real broad range.

So do you place a greater emphasis on competition rather than just going along for a bit of fun and to keep fit?

Helen: Well! Mike and I probably have different views on that – which is fine – because I would say we should have a greater emphasis on competition, and we do try but it’s not easy. Some people prefer to go off and do their own little races or events, but it’s not always easy to encourage people to get into the team events. They might think they’re not good enough – despite what we tell them – and there’s some apprehension, which is understandable if they’ve never done anything like that before. But we are an athletics club at the end of the day, and really what we love to see is people competing, and if not that then helping out and volunteering. We do accept though there are some members who have maybe been there and done that, and now they’re in their 60s, don’t want to race and come down to meet their mates and keep fit. That’s fine, we cater for all.

Mike: It is a tough one, that. I’m probably halfway between the two – I race every weekend, just about, to a very average standard! I’m quite often the only Holmfirth Harrier in the races that I take part in – 10k or half marathons in the main – and we do need to get more people involved in the team events. Getting people to do it for the first time is the key, and it’s not easy.

Helen: When people do give it a go, and they’re part of something, like a relay, and they realise the support they’re given, they tend to love it. Of course in something like a relay you’re not so exposed so it’s a gentler introduction. This weekend we have the national cross country championships in London – obviously London is tricky to get to but big events like that are important to us. We’ve been successful in the past, winning medals and representing Yorkshire, so competition is definitely important to us.

Mike models Holmfirth Harriers’ new Kudos kit!

So with such a huge membership, how often do you train and how do your training sessions look?

Mike: Officially we train twice a week – Tuesdays and Thursday evenings. Typically on a Tuesday there might be 60-70, probably a bit less on a Thursday.

Helen: Numbers dropped off because of covid, and it’s still not back up to normal.

Mike: So we basically split it into the various groups – five or six different running groups who go off to do 3 mile, 4 mile, 8 mile, 10 mile, whatever it is they do.

Helen: Some of those have coached, formal speed sessions as well, so some people might choose to do that – we have one for the top end and another for the middle range – as opposed to going off for a run.

Mike: And we do strength and conditioning sessions! One thing is though we don’t have a track on-site – it has been a long-term plan to try and get a track on-site, but it’s a long process. There are issues with drainage and it will cost a lot of money. We’d also have to buy the field off the council. It’s complicated!

So do you have a steady flow of new members?

Mike: Yep. We probably dipped at about 550 during covid and it’s gradually risen up to 600 again, which is as many as we’ve ever had.

Is it possible you might get too big, unmanageably big?

Helen: There were concerns a few years ago that that might happen, but we have a much better structure in place now so that we could always manage.

So how did the lockdowns affect the club? Did it all completely stop or did you find ways around it? A lot of clubs in other sports we’ve spoken to were able to figure some stuff out over Zoom, but Zoom isn’t really conducive to running…!

Helen: No, it’s not! We did have our committee meetings via Zoom, but no you’re right! We did have a core group of people who did a brilliant job of helping people to do 5Ks etc online, on Garmin, things like that, so there were things people could do. That worked really well and kept people going. When it started to ease and people started coming back, we got going again with staggered starts – so we were covid-compliant, but staggering the times meant people were able to come in and run in their groups.

Mike: Other than for a relatively short period of time, we were able to run in small groups. We’d use the club as a base, but with everything outside, and then from last summer it started to get back to normal. In terms of overall membership numbers, we’re where we were before covid – we’ve had no fall-off in terms of numbers, which is great.

We genuinely believe that joining a sports club is much more than just about taking the part in the sport. The benefits of joining a club go way above and beyond the sport itself – the social benefits, the mental health benefits…all of that…it’s really important. Do you find that to be the case at Holmfirth Harriers?

Helen: Oh definitely. Helping with people’s confidence is a huge deal. Just to feel part of a big family means a lot. There are some people who wouldn’t run if they didn’t come to the club – they need that to motivate themselves to come along

How do you find this generation of kids having so many distractions – technology, consoles and all that? Is it a challenge to get kids interested and maintain that interest? How do you do for junior numbers?

Helen: Well there’s always a drop off in later teenage years but that’s probably always been an issue regardless of technological distractions. A lot of clubs struggle with that. A lot of kids are involved in loads of different clubs, different sports – swimming, tennis, horse riding, whatever it might be – and they usually eventually have to decide what they’re gonna stick at. So we might lose them to football or whatever else, but in terms of the younger kids we do have really good engagement – we have great junior coaches, and it’s loads of fun for the kids. They love coming, and we have a little tuck shop which they love, so they all really enjoy it. It’s later on, when training structures change as well the other challenges I mentioned, that’s the most difficult. We always lose young girls – the other distractions of course include studies, which we of course understand, and we lose people when they go off to university. Many will remain members, but they’re just not around so much.

Mike: I honestly think we do pretty well in comparison to most other clubs though, I really do.

So for anybody reading this who might be considering joining your club, or getting their kids involved, how would you sell the idea of joining Holmfirth Harriers?

Helen: Well it’s not only an opportunity to keep fit and to improve, but also to make friendships and to give something back.

Mike: I think the appeal we have now, compared to 30-40 years ago, is that range of opportunity we provide. Whatever standard you are, you’ll find something that will work for you. 30 years ago that just wasn’t the case.

___________

Thanks so much to Helen and Mike for their time and illuminating insight into what is clearly a fabulous club. If you’re interested in getting involved at Holmfirth Harriers you can start the process here, or alternatively drop us a line and we’ll put you in touch with the club.

KUDOS SPORTS – A LEADING SUPPLIER OF CUSTOM TEAMWEAR

KUDOS supplies made-to-order teamwear to a range of sports clubs across the globe. We supply bespoke custom kit that is built for performance and worn with pride. Use our one minute kit designer to design your kit today.

Share.

About Author

Comments are closed.