We’re lucky in Perthshire to have some fantastic clubs and organisations that do a lot in the community to encourage kids and adults to get fit, keep active and get involved in sport. From team sports like football and basketball, to athletics and swimming, throughout the region we have a variety of different activities available to us.
One of the longest established clubs in Perth is the Strathtay Harriers – which has had its roots in the Fair City since the 1940s and provides the youngsters and adults of Perth with a platform to try track and field events and, if they want, to compete at local, regional and national events.
The entirely volunteer led community club operates from the George Duncan Athletics Arena next to Perth Grammar School and has over 200 active members, ranging from kids to seniors, with a growing number of athletes with disabilities also getting involved. The club caters for anyone from five-years-old and above, with the Harriers open to those who are serious about athletics and to those who are just looking to have some fun and keep fit. I’ve been involved since I was a schoolboy around 40 years ago and I’ve been at the Harriers ever since.
Strathtay Harriers’ President, Jim Hunter, and Vice-President Nancy Davidson, have both been involved in the organisation for decades and are very passionate about the club.
“My dad was one of the founding members of the Harriers,” Nancy told me, “along with another one of our volunteers Ian Leitch’s father. That was back in the late 1940s. I can remember being taken up to the club as a child by my dad and the clubhouse was basically just a wooden hut. It was just a meeting place and they went out and ran!”
For Jim, it’s been over four decades of involvement ever since he turned up as a young boy with some of his friends.
“I’ve been involved since I was a schoolboy around 40 years ago and I’ve been at the Harriers ever since. It started for me as something to keep fit and I went along with some pals. Eventually it led to me getting involved in some coaching, thanks to George Duncan and his wife, Margaret.
“They put me through the steps to get into coaching and that’s really the way I got into it – and after all this time I’m still here and still enjoying it!”
The club has been there to help kids from all backgrounds over the years and among the former attendees of Strathtay Harriers is James Fleming – Scotland’s Rugby Sevens star – who Nancy still refers to as, “one of her little Harriers.”
Jim is always keen to stress that the Harriers is an open and inclusive club, not just for the next big British Athletics star but for ordinary people who have their own objectives and are looking to get fit and enjoy track and field sports without necessarily becoming an active competitor.
“People come to us with different goals. Some people want to compete, but others will come along just for fitness. While it’s great to have the top athletes move forward and compete at UK level, one of the best things for me is seeing kids come along who maybe don’t have a great level of fitness and can’t run once around the track without stopping, become fitter and achieve their own small goals.
“You may never be a Mo Farah or a Ben Greenwood, but it’s still great to see kids who came to us without the fitness to run distances or without the ability to do x-amount of press ups begin to see the results of their hard work.
“One of the other great things about the Harriers is there isn’t a great deal of cost for families for their kids to come along. As long as you’ve got a PE kit you can come along to the Harriers. So, it’s accessible to all really.
“You don’t need fancy equipment or anything like that, whereas other sports may have costs and be difficult for parents to afford to send their kids to, you don’t really have that obstacle when it comes to the Harriers.”
Something that has grown a lot of the past few years is the rise of disabled athletes getting involved with Strathtay Harriers. Youngsters like Freya Howgate and Matthew Doig have enjoyed great success in recent times, with a lot of that coming from the coaching offered by the organisation. One of the other great things about the Harriers is there isn’t a great deal of cost for families for their kids to come along. As long as you’ve got a PE kit you can come along to the Harriers. So, it’s accessible to all really.
Now, more and more athletes with disabilities are going along to the Harriers sessions and although Jim and Nancy are delighted to have them on board, they believe that the lack of opportunities elsewhere in Scotland is a big reason why they now have members coming from other parts of Tayside, Fife and the Lothians.
“It’s mostly through word of mouth that we get those with disabilities to come along,” Nancy said, “parents speaking to other parents about it. It’s actually more often than not the parent or carer we need to convince rather than the children themselves!”
“We’re phenomenally successful in that area,” said Jim. “The other night, we had someone from Dunfermline, and somebody from Kirkcaldy come along because sadly there is nothing else out there in their area providing the training and environment that the Harriers do.
“We’ve even had athletes from Edinburgh come through. We benefit from it but it’s a shame there’s not more out there.”
The club relies on the work of its dedicated team of volunteers, something which Jim is quick to point out includes many people behind the scenes as well as the coaches and those involved on training nights.
“Most of our volunteers, particularly in the younger age groups, are parents who are bringing their kids along and are staying to watch. Then over time they eventually end up getting involved!
“We also get volunteers coming from the Duke of Edinburgh Awards and students who’re studying sports coaching qualifications. It’s good experience for them, and we get them for a year to help with our sessions which is also great.
“We’ve got many people doing the things behind the scenes which are needed to keep us going. There’s a lot of work done by those unsung heroes and Strathtay Harriers couldn’t exist without them.”
Monday nights are dedicated to new athletes up to 15-years-old to give them a chance to give the Harriers a go, and if you or your child are thinking about giving it a go, Nancy believes you should pop along to a training session just to watch and see what the club is all about.
“If anyone was thinking about getting their kids involved, I’d say bring them along to watch a session and see if they think it might be for them. Maybe they could join in the warm-up and see if they enjoy it. We’re flexible and want to make it as easy as possible for kids to get involved. Every child is different!”
The Strathtay Harriers club vision is to, “to develop an informed, educated and inclusive athletics community and create a clear pathway to ensure that people of all abilities are supported to participate, progress and perform in athletics.”
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