May Club of the Month!
It's fun for all the family at Winchester Goalball Club, who stress inclusion as the key driver of their rapid growth in recent years.
The Hampshire club have continued to engage dozens of players, ranging in age from eight upwards, before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
These outstanding efforts have seen them scoop the Parasport Club of the Month award for May.
Goalball is designed for blind and visually impaired participants, involving teams of three throwing a ball with a bell inside into the opponents’ goal, who try to stop it like goalkeepers.
All players wear blindfolds to ensure fairness, and therefore sighted players can also take part in domestic competitions.
The club put their ability to grow from a small taster session in February 2013 to a thriving, diverse body down to careful fostering of a community spirit.
"One of the things I really love about the club is the big, family spirit," said Adam Knott, the London 2012 Paralympian who founded the club.
"The club has grown significantly through social media and outreach but we couldn't have done that without people saying nice things about us.
"By constantly encouraging family and friends to get involved, we've created a bigger community, a bigger reach and more opportunities to talk about what we do.
"The atmosphere at the club is fantastic. We want to enthuse the players and their families with goalball and help our participants keep fit and active.
"We run a Family and Friends Day where they can come and play the sport, coach it and referee it. We also have a families and friends party at the end of each season.
"We want to do well, we want to win and we want to grow but we want to have fun first and foremost. That's the fundamental thing about the club."
The backing of Children In Need has helped Winchester launch and develop a successful U18 section, helping engage a new generation of players in a meaningful way.
A fundraising drive saw them run 'Blind leading the Blind', an innovative take on a ParkRun in which blind and visually impaired goalball players led sighted friends around a 5km course.
With the support of local groups, the fundraising mission raised just shy of £8,000 which will allow the club to take a group of young members on an outdoor pursuits trip to Snowdonia.
The COVID-19 pandemic and government social distancing guidelines have prevented Winchester from training, running tournaments and meeting as before.
Still, that has not dampened the community spirit coursing through the club and they have thrown themselves into social media campaigns to keep members engaged.
Most club members have submitted images of their #StayAtHome activities to share on the club’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, they’ve also run a successful virtual quiz to maintain social connectedness.
They are also planning a special Now That's What I Call Lockdown series, encouraging members to submit daily feel-good songs to be collated into a playlist that will be their warm-up soundtrack when they return to training.
Ongoing efforts to circumvent the challenges of COVID-19 played a key role in their naming as Club of the Month, an award that means something special.
"The last time we all met was in March but the club is such a network for people to talk about their experiences and for young people to be active with people they can relate to," says Knott.
"It's really important that during this time when we don't have those physical networks that we can meet in other ways.
"I've been incredibly proud of the whole club and it’s been so fantastic to have everyone's buy-in to our social media campaigns. Everyone is keeping in contact, communicating and looking out for each other.
"We're over the moon to be named Club of the Month. It's a real testament to everything we're doing and the friendly, family atmosphere we have at the club.
"It's a massive team effort and we're just delighted."