The Huddle: 2021 in review

With 2022 just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to step back and reflect on the past 12 months.

The Huddle was introduced in March to celebrate and inspire the amazing individuals that enable netball locally, enrich lives and make the sport as special as it is.

From keeping the Netball Family connected during the COVID-19 pandemic to rebuilding our sport and opening doors for #NewAdventure opportunities, there have been and continue to be countless accomplishments across the country.

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Today and every day, there are so many people within the netball community to be proud of and thank.

Here are just a selection of achievements from 2021 – you can keep sharing stories of who inspires you and the positive difference they make via The Huddle.

With so many of us accessing netball via virtual means this past year, we started The Huddle by celebrating the role Jan Johnson played in setting up and delivering a regional virtual league to 600 participants, keeping players connected, motivated and engaged during lockdown.

When it then became clear that indoor courts would be off limits once the game returned due to the transmission risk they posed, this news could have halted major netball leagues with many outdoor spaces not meeting the needs of the sport – for example, no available floodlights to allow safe participation.

Volunteers everywhere, driven by their love of the game and as caretakers of their own Netball Family, invested considerable time and energy to ensure their well-established and much-loved local leagues could continue after lockdown.

This was the case in Stoke-on-Trent as Sam Oliver and Julie Tinsley played a significant role in securing £10,000 of vital Sport England funds to protect the game and its people.

Although there was a desire to get back out on court, there was also a nervousness around returning to netball safely meaning that if the sport was to return in some areas, it would need to be delivered very differently.

The power of togetherness was told through the story of the Northants ‘Rise Together’ leagues with the Northamptonshire County Netball Association, local league Chairs and England Netball staff working together to overcome all the challenges faced and support women and girls to return to court.

Netball simply wouldn’t have been able to restart or continue to happen without the time, talent and expertise of volunteers at every level of the game.

In June, nine volunteers came forward and showcased their stories, sharing what inspired them to get involved, what they do and why they continue to love it, as part of Volunteers’ Week.

As we reached one year to go until the Commonwealth Games in July, two inspiring local champions of community sport in the West Midlands – Joan Hunter and Sarah Scanlon – were named as Birmingham 2022 Hometown Heroes.

With a new netball season upon us, and after all the uncertainty and challenges we had experienced during the past 18 months, it brought with it a renewed sense of hope and joy for the Netball Family.

In August, The Huddle shone a spotlight on facilities and the critical role successful partnerships, such as between the Herts & Essex School Sports Centre, Swan Netball Club and Bishop’s Stortford District Netball League, play in opening up access for so many to participate.

We were able to reunite as one Netball Family, a proud community with a sense of belonging and togetherness.

As the new membership year started, we heard stories from a range of individuals in the Netball Family, including Leah Nolan, about how being an England Netball member is about being a part of something special; being a part of a Netball Family that helps to protect, grow, nurture and champion our game today and for years to come.

To make netball development opportunities more accessible to members than ever before and equip a new wave of volunteers locally, a host of coaching and officiating courses were made available virtually for the first time.

During Black History Month and beyond, we continued to celebrate the diversity within our sport and hear from a range of individuals making a positive difference every day.

Our new 10-year Adventure Strategy, including our commitment to ensuring everyone can find a place to belong, flourish and soar in netball, launched in November.

To bring it to life, nine members of the Netball Family, including young volunteer India Nellist, took part in a photoshoot and shared their journeys and achievements to date as well as ambitions for the future.

Elevating the visibility of the sport is one of those aims and several members of the Netball Family were recognised beyond the realms of the netball world in December.

Julie Maiden was named Talent Development Coach of the Year at the UK Coaching Awards, while Dominoes Netball Club were crowned Club of the Year at the Manchester Sport Awards and Colette Thomson MBE received an honorary doctorate from the University of Birmingham.

Katie Barta (Young Volunteer of the Year) and Julie Holmes (Coach of the Year) from Dominoes Netball Club were also shortlisted for accolades.

After a series of regional events, including the Pride of East Awards and North West Celebration Event, volunteers were reunited to celebrate on International Volunteer Day as part of the Roses Reunited series.

Attendees included Honorary Life Members as well as individuals from the 900-strong network of young volunteers who had completed 400 hours as part of Pass On Your Passion.

A brand-new video thanking all the brilliant people gifting their time each and every day to netball was also premiered.

2021 posed new challenges and experiences for us all but the togetherness, dedication and passion of the Netball Family shone through.

Thousands of people bring and keep netball in the lives of others and as the new year draws closer, we hope you can raise a glass and smile thinking of the person who has inspired you and / or made your year special.

We can’t wait to continue showcasing and celebrating the incredible people in the Netball Family in 2022 – make sure to keep submitting your stories here.

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