On track for continued success
by Iain Ferguson
Ayr Seaforth Athletic Club has been an institution in the town for more than 60 years and for almost all of that time was synonymous with Dam Park Stadium where it was based until November last year.
Nowadays home is the state of the art Riverside Sports Arena in Ayr built by South Ayrshire Council at a cost of £8.5 million and boasting an eight-lane 400 metre outdoor running track, a field events area, an indoor sprint and jumps space, 250 seater grandstand, changing pavilion and 3D pitch.
Situated in the Ayr North area of the town the move to a new home has presented Seaforth with a fresh challenge in engaging and helping the local community, something everyone involved in the club has embraced.
The facility is also helping to boost club membership which currently sits at just below 250 but there have been peaks and troughs over the years particularly during the pandemic when numbers drastically fell but are now growing again.
Core training sessions take place on a Tuesday and Thursday with most of the training groups but the club has use of the track Monday to Thursday and also on a Sunday.
There are competitions most weekends during the summer and in collaboration with Kilmarnock Harriers and North Ayrshire Athletics Club there is a group called Ayrshire Harriers Clubs Association which puts on events.
Club Secretary, Will Marshall-Watt, said: “We also compete in a couple of leagues and were in division two last year but came first in both and won promotion to division one. As a result, we are competing against some of the best clubs in Scotland. We also have the national and district championship so it’s a very, very busy time.”
Above all, the club exists to attract youngsters into the sport and to be an integral part of the local community.
Will explained: “We hold Run Jump Throw sessions which are slightly separate from the club and an introductory way into the sport. These are held on Wednesday for youngsters as young as seven designed to give them a well-rounded education on athletics. We have also introduced those on a Monday and Tuesday.”
Ayr Seaforth is a grassroots club for all ages with competitions for nine-year-olds all the way up to masters athletes in their 50s and 60s. Many of the older members have been with the club for a long time.
The club supports athletes up to senior level and the pathway to elite level athletics can take various forms. Ambitious athletes tend to continue their athletics journey at their university athletics club or may move to a private coach who will work with the athlete 1:1 in their specialist discipline.
Will added: “The age that people join is mostly seven, eight and nine years old so it takes a while to build numbers back up and bring these training groups back up again. But numbers are steadily picking up.”
Down the years Ayr Seaforth has helped produce many national champions, the best known being Brian Whittle, now an MSP, who famously won a Gold Medal in the 4 X 400 metres relay at the European Championships in 1986, running with only one shoe after his other was accidentally ripped off by Kris Akabussi at the changeover. He also competed at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and is a Commonwealth Games Silver medallist.
Libby White is a rising star these days in the Triple Jump who started her athletics journey at the club and recently represented Team GB at the European Under 18 Athletics Championships in Jerusalem. She will soon be joining the National Collegiate Athletic Association in the USA to study and train at the University of Virginia.
While producing elite athletes brings kudos to the Club, every bit as important is its role in the community and helping make athletics accessible to all.
Since being based at the new facility, Ayr Seaforth has been working in partnership with Active Schools and other organisations within the locality and this is something the club is taking very seriously as Will outlines: “The Riverside Sports Arena is based in Ayr North which is an area of high deprivation within Ayrshire so we agreed as a group we’d try to support that community. Traditionally it’s an area where we haven’t had many members, whether it’s just been affordability or whatever that has priced them out of participation in athletics, so that’s something we are trying to address.”
Will continued: “One of the projects we have been undertaking is going into schools and delivering free sessions through Active Schools and that work has led to joining inquiries. We’ve also been participating in a lot of school competitions and supporting school cross country, helping officiate and handing out medals and again that has led to kids wanting to join Seaforth.”
The club is a charity and as Will points out needs to be well funded to operate and focus on impacting on the local community whether it be organising running initiatives for low income families, disabled people or those from ethnic backgrounds.
“This is something quite new for Ayr Seaforth,” admitted Will. “In the last 60 years or so here, there’s been a lot of focus on performance athletics but not a lot of community stuff going on.”
Helping to change that has been the appointment around a year ago of a part-time Club Development Officer who is responsible for driving the community based work in Ayr North.
Will added: “In addition to delivering free sessions to school age children we have also delivered our first ever couch to 5k programme for adults in the local community which was completely free and a huge success.”
A soon to be launched initiative in association with the Changing Lives Programme from Active South Ayrshire will see some children from Ayr North benefit hugely.
Will takes up the story: “We have recently received some funding that will enable us to deliver a free weekly training session where participants will be given a free pair of running shoes and club vest. A healthy snack will be provided for participants and we’ll cover their entry fees for competitions.
“There are six spaces available so if a school has a sporty kid who maybe has some potential but maybe a barrier is that they can’t afford membership fees, we are going to try to remove those barriers.
“It’s good that because we are receiving funding we are able to do good things at the club and give back to the community. It’s something we are all really excited about as it’s a new thing for us.”
To run a club like Ayr Seaforth successfully is no mean task and requires a lot of help. Currently there are 30 active volunteers with just over 20 of them coaches. In the club there is only one part-time paid role and that’s the Development Officer responsible for driving the community based work.
Will said: “Within track and field athletics there are over 20 different possible events (disciplines) to choose from. When you consider the wide range of running distances that can be raced over, you are looking at over 30 events. A typical local athletics competition requires more than 30 volunteers, just to get the event off the ground so we depend on the goodwill of our officials, coaches, parents and carers to keep the sport thriving.”
If you believe you have something to offer Ayr Seaforth, the club is currently looking for new coaches and volunteers who can help it modernise and continue to provide a high quality experience for the athletes. Check the Support Us page at www.ayrseaforth.co.uk.