Grangetown socially-distanced training.

Grangetown Netball Club is a ‘little independent club‘ on Teesside but, in the last few years, have become a large part of their community and a large netball name in the region.

The club has enjoyed senior success in Premier League 1 and at youth level, attending national finals annually.

In fact, Grangetown should have been representing their region at a national tournament in May but the Coronavirus pandemic stopped all training and competition for all sides.

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The Tigers were quick to get over the news and used the disappointment as fuel to be one of the first teams in England to safely return to controlled, limited training sessions once again.

Head Coach Geraldine Williams and an army of dedicated volunteers have closely been following intrusctions to ensure the break from netball was kept to a minimum.

Now training on outdoor courts and at primary schools, Grangetown were originally using the car park outside Eston Leisure Centre – a stone’s throw away from Williams’ house – in June after gaining permission from the police and local council. The markings even acted as handy guidelines for distancing players.

In June, 163 players from the age of five were back training following government protocols over 33 outdoor sessions led by volunteer coaches. The news was soon praised by the head of Sport England on social media and news crews soon came calling.

For Williams, however, the attention has been fully on getting her members back playing netball no matter the surface. The club organised a welfare team and appointed a Covid-19 officer to ensure safety guidance was being appropriately met.

“I think we went into lockdown on a Friday and by the following Friday we had live sessions going. I honestly think that we led the way in the North East,” said Williams.

“The car park spaces formed the pods. We were able to get seven coaches at a time with five children and we were able to get through all the age groups. Some children really struggled with lockdown so we were able to offer that relief. It’s not just for the kids but for the parents too.

“We found that a lot of children were struggling and we know that sport plays a huge factor in mental health. We’ve addressed mental health, staying safe online while they’ve been on their computers more and a lot of other issues too. We wanted to go above and beyond to help our members.”

Prior to lockdown, members would play matches and train together up to five times a week. Now, they’ve been doing two days a week and completing fitness sessions online via Zoom.

Sessions are shorter and staggered with girls having just ten minutes to leave the makeshift court before the next group arrived. Most importantly, due to following guidelines and drawing up documentation for coaches and players, they were back playing netball once more.

“It’s been a massive learning curve,” said Williams. “To say we’ve pulled this out of the bag as an independent club is something to really shout about.

“The coaches at Grangetown have been amazing. They’re not money driven, they’re doing it because they want to. They’ve been been an inspiration.

“The parents can’t thank us enough. One mum spoke on the news about how much it meant for her daughter and for her family. We’ve put little competitions on for parents and families so everyone can be a part of it. I think it helped families, not just the kids.”

Grangetown’s return has inspired plenty of other clubs to get back to sport and have even had messages from admirers in New Zealand.

As well as physical activity, Williams’ team have ensured that the children are having a good time despite having been restricted to their houses.

They did so through virtual sessions, online discos, challenges and more. These family values help form part of the club ethos which drove them to get netball back as quickly and safely as possible.

“Our club’s ethos is ‘My Grangetown Family’. That is what forms the nucleus of the club and it’s always been that way. We very rarely lose a player, we are able to keep hold of them and give them what they need.

“We’re a little independent club that has grown through commitment, passion and drive. I think we are where we are today because of those three factors.

“We’re looking forward to everything that’s going to come our way. We’re going to keep moving forward, keep building bridges and keep making it all happen.

“Although we can’t do anything about the competition, we’re still networking and developing that strong bond we all share with one another which is the most important thing.”

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