Restart fund creates legacy of activity, helping health and wellbeing

16 Jan 2023

A scheme to help get people active following the pandemic, boosting their health and wellbeing, has left a lasting legacy in West Suffolk.

A year on from when the Restart Grants to community organisations and sports clubs were paid out, many of the initiatives supported are continuing to grow and are reaching even more people.

In West Suffolk, nearly 150 organisations and clubs were supported with more than £240,000 of grants.

Among them was Haverhill Rugby Club who used a £2,000 grant to set up youth and colt teams (under 18s), which feed into its senior club. It now has around 60 young players aged from four to 18 and is competing against long established clubs with the youth side playing away at Newmarket this weekend.

“I think it has created a legacy for the club and the town,” said Paul Martin, Chairperson of Haverhill Rugby Club.

“The club has been around since 1965 but we didn’t have a youth side before this. It’s been difficult in the past because in many ways we are a rugby club in a football town. But through creating and developing our youth and colts’ sides, we are getting children and young people off of their consoles, getting them physically active and fit and building a sense of belonging to a club which is good for their mental wellbeing as well.

“The sport teaches them discipline – we teach them to respect the referee, while we also do lots of fundraising for charity which the youth and colts’ players are part of, all of which helps reinforce the culture of the club and our role in the community.”

The Restart Grant money was designed to help clubs and community organisations reopen safely following the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as to switch to new ways of working. The scheme launched in April 2021 and which ran through to the beginning of 2022 saw grants of between £250 and £2500 made available to cover the costs of additional staff, equipment or other adaptations. That funding was then used to encourage people of all ages back into community and sports activities, re-establishing and in some cases growing membership, all with the aim of helping people in both their physical and their mental health and wellbeing.

A Restart Grant helped pay for outdoor gym and play equipment in Great Whelnetham to help people of all ages exercise, and to set up a Tuddenham St Mary youth club which has been so successful that a spin-off parent and baby group is being developed. Eastgate Boxing Club in Rougham meanwhile has seen the number of people attending it boxercise sessions double after it bought new equipment so it could safely reopen post pandemic.

Restart funds have helped a girl guides group in Mildenhall to be able to meet safely in a new venue and sustain the numbers it grew online during the pandemic, while in Brandon the town bowling club was amongst the groups to benefit, using the money for social distancing.

Newmarket Gymnastics Club received funding for additional coaches to help run its sessions, while Haverhill Rugby Club similarly used funds to recruit more people including volunteers to help its growth and development including that of a new youth team.

And it has helped the Riverside supported housing scheme in Bury St Edmunds in its work helping young parents and their families prepare for living independently.

Elsewhere village activities including junior cricket in Barrow, and outdoor sports at Exning 1st Scout Group, also benefitted.

West Suffolk Council worked in partnership with Community Action Suffolk and Suffolk County Council to administer the grants, funded from Suffolk County Council.

Cllr Robert Everitt, Cabinet Member for Families and Communities at West Suffolk Council said: “It is great news that this funding is having such a positive and sustained impact on the health and wellbeing of our communities. The restart grants were about giving the confidence to our communities to get back out after the lifting of restrictions and get active for the benefit of their physical and mental health. It did just that by supporting the groups and clubs with the equipment, the staff or other resource that they needed in order to be able to not only welcome people back in a COVID secure way, but to expand and cater for other needs and for more of the community. I am delighted that a year on, they are continuing to play such an important part in people’s lives supporting them in keeping active and helping their health and wellbeing.”

Below are some case studies from some of the clubs and organisations that received Restart Grants.

Newmarket – Newmarket Gymnastics Club – amount received £2374.98

Newmarket Gymnastics Club came out of the pandemic needing to recruit new coaches and volunteers as many had taken up other work. It has also lost a third of its gymnasts who had left the club during the pandemic.

The Restart Grant helped it rebuild its membership by bringing in and training new coaches and volunteers, as well as buying or repairing equipment so that the club could be run in a COVID safe way. All of that meant it was then able to welcome new gymnasts back to the sport, helping both their physical and mental health.

Nicki Negus, chairperson of the club, said: “After being cooped up for so long during lockdown, we were so pleased to be able to turn things around much quicker than we could have imagined – and that was thanks to the support of the grant. It means that we have been able to offer more children the opportunity to participate and enjoy this great sport, keeping them fit, active and happy.

“The grant allowed us to expand our numbers and we are now back to full capacity with 168 children and have an ever-growing waiting list.”

Mildenhall – 2nd Mildenhall Guides – amount received £1458

For the 2nd Mildenhall Guide unit, the grant helped with the costs of moving to the St Johns Centre so that the 19 strong group could meet in person once more.

The Guide unit actually grew its numbers during the pandemic, increasing from 12. Part of that has been attributed to the work leaders did to regularly engage with its members through online Zoom sessions including quizzes, games, at home ‘sleepovers’ and camps, and other activities.

But when restrictions were lifted, the unit faced a problem in where to meet. As the Scout Hut where they met was used by the Rainbow and Brownie units immediately before the Guide sessions there wasn’t adequate time to clean down in a COVID secure way in between - and so the growing Guides group had to temporarily relocate.

Abigail Gilby, Leader in Charge, said: “Being able to still communicate with the children during the pandemic, to put on activities and to then have the support so we could all meet again, is hugely positive for people’s mental health, particularly when everybody had been so isolated.”

Great and Little Whelnetham - Great and Little Whelnetham Parish Council – amount received £2500

An outdoor gym has been created on the playing field next to the village community centre. The Restart Grant was used to buy gym equipment.

Items include an exercise bike, pull up bars, leg raises, as well as a table tennis table, a basketball/target wall while the parish council also extended it range of play equipment for younger children, adding a basket swing, rope bridge, play panel and roundabout.   

Elaine Gorman, Parish Clerk, said: “It is being well used. The idea behind it is to help local people improve their health and wellbeing. It allows people to take the initiative without having to be able to drive somewhere and to exercise outside in the fresh air. We have tried to provide something for everyone covering all ages. To have something like this locally is great because there is an increased likelihood that people will use it as it is on their doorstep.”

Tuddenham St Mary – Tuddenham St Mary Village Hall Youth Club – amount received £1429.54

The youth club was launched in June 2022 and is held monthly. The grant was used for equipment including arts and crafts, games, table tennis, table football, and a pool table. Since the launch the numbers attending has grown from 17 to 30 people.

Parish Cllr Kim Burt and village hall trustee is one of the organisers of the initiative. She said: “The club has enabled the children and young people in the village to reconnect after COVID-19. This has been particularly important in a village like Tuddenham where our children go to many different schools across the area, and they are now forming relationships and meeting up outside of the youth club. It has also provided carers and their babies born during the pandemic to get to know each other and build support networks.

“The youth club will continue to meet monthly. We are also looking to develop an off-shoot mother and baby group. With a new village hall being built and hopefully fully functional this Spring, we can look at holding more activities including on the playing fields opposite.”

The youth club is held every third Saturday of the month at 10am and any changes are advertised on the Tuddenham Facebook page 

There is also a café there for tea and coffee for the parents, grandparents and others who wish to attend.

Rougham – Eastgate Boxing Club – amount received £2,310

“We are a community club and the while we train and produce boxers, we have also seen a big increase after the pandemic in terms of the number of people coming to us to boxercise to keep fit. We used to have about 15-20 people a week coming to us to boxercise – now we are seeing around 40. The bag work, the coordination between hands and feet, even if someone doesn’t want to box, it’s all great for cardio and keeping fit,” said chairman Mick Bryant.

“But boxing is great not just for fitness but for the mind as well. If we have someone come to us who has been bullied, helping them train makes a huge difference and in a short time you can see them start to get their confidence back.”

The club, named best community group in the Bury Free Press Community Awards in November, has a team of volunteer coaches who are working to develop more young boxers to compete in the ring. The restart grant was used to invest in new equipment so it could welcome boxers and community members back safely.

Bury St Edmunds - Riverside supported housing for young parents – amount received £900

The supported housing scheme for young parents aged from 16 helps them towards independent living. During the pandemic it was helping 12 young families and three single care leavers. But the impact of the restrictions meant that many of the babies born during or just before the pandemic, weren’t getting the opportunities to socialise properly while young parents were also missing out on some of the benefits of simply being able to meet up and talk about their experiences with other young parents. So, when the restrictions were lifted, Riverside used a Restart Grant to buy a gazebo, barbecue, paddling pool and outside toys, all to the benefit of its residents.

Manager Jenny Howarth said: “It’s made a huge difference to the families – to the parents and their babies both in terms of socialisation and supporting them in preparing for living independently – and although many of the families have since moved on, the equipment is still there meaning that when it warms up a bit, we can use it again to the benefit of other young families we are supporting.” 

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