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Dedicated duo secure vital funds to enable the safe return of hundreds of netballers in Staffordshire

This week The Huddle celebrates two remarkable individuals, Sam Oliver and Julie Tinsley, who played a significant role in securing £10,000 of vital Sport England funds to ensure their well-established (and much loved) local netball league in Stoke-on-Trent can continue after lockdown, despite the challenges presented to them by the pandemic.

Since the first lockdown was implemented by Government, Sport England’s Activity Tracker has continued to show falling physical activity levels amongst adults and children. Even more worrying is the risk to women and girls, with concerns that there could be long lasting effects due to decreased self-confidence and self-esteem.

We know that netball volunteers everywhere, driven by their love of the game and as caretakers of their own Netball Family, have dedicated thousands of hours behind the scenes throughout the year. They have found innovative solutions to enable them to meet Government guidance and restart netball safely for the benefit of the women and girls in their netball club or league, playing a crucial part in addressing falling activity levels. As two key volunteers in their community, Sam and Julie have done exactly that for netball participants in Stoke-on-Trent.

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Like many volunteers, both women are involved in the sport in multiple ways. They sit on the Stoke-on-Trent local league committee with connections to the Staffordshire County Netball Association, they play, umpire and coach and have selflessly invested considerable time and energy during lockdown to protect the game and its people.

To paint a picture, netball is one of the largest female participation sports in Stoke-on-Trent, with over 50 teams playing in the local indoor league, which is just one of several leagues based in Staffordshire. As we all know, when COVID-19 struck, netball had to stop overnight.

When it 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 the majority of major netball leagues in Stoke-on-Trent if it had not been for Sam and Julie. Outdoor spaces were simply not catered to meet the needs of the sport, with no available floodlights to allow safe participation.

Sam said: “Many women play netball not only for the physical activity component, but also for the social aspect of sport – it is more than playing. It’s really important for positive wellbeing and mental health. What we wanted to do is create something consistent for all women and girls across the local area so their sport was protected. We know how much those participants value that.”

Sam and Julie saw the Sport England Return to Play: Small Grants fund and started collaborating with Staffordshire County Netball Association and Kate Woods (Netball Development Officer – Staffordshire & South Staffordshire) to build a case to secure much needed investment. The bulk of the funding application was to help them purchase the floodlights that would be a gamechanger for the league, enabling netball to return outside when safe to do so. They cared about ensuring that this could add value to the whole netball community and not exclusively service their league, which is why they felt it was so important to work in unity with the County Netball Association and England Netball to ensure the grant stood the best chance of succeeding.

After weeks of gathering insight and building the best possible case, on 23 January they received the news they had been waiting for. Sport England had supported their case and awarded them the full £10,000 grant to move the league outside, allowing Sam and Julie to continue planning to restart the league in the coming months.

Julie said: “It’s so exciting to receive the funding from Sport England to enable us to get netball in Staffordshire and Stoke up and running, and everybody back playing and just enjoying themselves as we have done in the past.”

As a sport, we could not survive without the passion of local netballers like Sam and Julie who are at the very heart of the game. There are so many examples like this across the Netball Family and we are so incredibly proud and grateful to have these netballers supporting the game and ensuring women and girls can access the best possible netball opportunities, now and in the future.

Thank you Sam and Julie – we can’t wait to see the Stoke Netball League back up and running… outside.

The Huddle is a brand-new feature in the Virtual Netball Club (VNC) and promises to do what all good huddles do – bring the whole Netball Family together! Ultimately, it’s a space to share amazing stories and celebrate incredible achievements – from members of the Netball Family who work on the front line, to those fundraising or keeping their teammates engaged throughout the pandemic. Share the stories of people who inspire you here.

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