Club Champions – Wetherby Sports Association, with Jo Ribbons

For our Club Champions campaign at Club Insure, we learn more about the hardworking people behind sports and social clubs, their stories, and their connected communities. The Club Champions campaign aims to showcase the longstanding efforts of committee members, managers, and staff.

We chatted to Jo Ribbons, Committee Member of Wetherby Sports Association, to discuss the club’s services, successes and its bright future.

We asked Jo about the services available at Wetherby Sports Association:

“We have many football teams and rugby league teams, but also a running club, a pétanque club and an angling club. We host both junior and senior teams. Junior football is the biggest, and running club is pretty big as well.” Jo thinks for a second – “We have around 28 football teams, with around 250 boy members and 250 girl members. Last year the number of female players actually exceeded the number of male players, which is fantastic credit to our coaches and volunteers.”

Jo then quickly begins to talk at length about her first club champion of Wetherby Sports Association – Phil Wilkinson. “The main person for leading the growth in girls football was Phil Wilkinson, who’s family all played here; his children played as well as refereed. The original girls’ team, the first ever started as juniors, have just finished their u18 season, and it’s all credit to Phil. He managed to get more and more people involved, more girls coming along. He’s been amazing for the growth of girls’ football in and around Wetherby.”

Jo then thinks about other influential members of the club, who each have brought success through their time and effort. “Another key member of the football club has been Mike Sheerin. He has been here forever and is responsible for organising the galas.”

“Galas are a massive fundraising event for junior football. Mike has dedicated such a large part of his life to the club. Teams come from all over Yorkshire, and we look forward to seeing them again at our next gala this weekend,” Jo smiles brightly.

We ask Jo whether she thinks Wetherby Sports Association has had a good year so far?

Jo took some time after our chat to show us the finances for the club. It showed that just prior to COVID and throughout the pandemic the club was in financial difficulty. The expenditure exceeded their annual £120,000 average income, as the club was struggling to see positive returns on various investments and projects. With the government support, the club was able to survive through those difficult years. Now, with a refocussed energy centred on events and hiring out spaces and pitches, the club has found its feet again. Positive change is visible, with a diverse spectrum of groups and societies shuffling in and out of the busy carpark.

The resurgence of the Sports Association is mainly down to the hard work of a dedicated committee of volunteers who have reorganised the club, reduced expenditure and are working to increase income.

When asked on the club’s finances, Jo was very open during our chat: “How many events we have throughout the year heavily dictates our success. We have some groups regularly using the club’s space, including ToddlerSense and Hearing Dogs for the Deaf, as well as a fitness class which utilises the indoor function room for yoga and the outside space for fitness.”

We discuss what events are coming up for Wetherby Sports Association:

“We’ve got a big football gala on the horizon, but other than that we more often cater to smaller private events. We don’t specifically market toward anything – we have the occasional wedding reception, frequent birthday parties, and a few wakes. There are quite a lot of children’s parties…” Jo smiles, “I’m looking forward to the food festival, an external event that we are hosting. They will utilise our car park and we have offered our clubhouse space alongside. We also host the Wetherby fireworks show every year around bonfire night organised by the Town Council.”

Jo then looks out at the carpark and recounts a story of a successful recent event: “One weekend we had a wedding here, and then the day after we had an event in conjunction with Wetherby Town Council. It was a funfair with live music and fireworks and local food vendors, all organised by the council. We set up a barbeque and outdoor bar, and people were eating and drinking on our veranda, overlooking the music.”

The club is a hub of activity for the community. Jo continues; “Andy Hunter, the Chairman of Wetherby Sports Association, is a champion of ours. He is keen on community projects and is heavily involved in WISE, which is Wetherby in Support of  the Elderly. Andy also runs Sunday afternoon bingo, which is seeing a resurgence.” Jo laughs. “We run a quiz night for locals once a month which is popular. We offer our club space as a function room to hire. We have a partition wall, able to split the main room for separate events and increased privacy for meetings. We also hire out our pitches to those who need it.”

We discussed with Jo the importance of the location of the Wetherby Sports Association clubhouse:

The location of the Wetherby Sports Association clubhouse and grounds is very close to the heart of Wetherby town centre. We mentioned this to Jo who pointed out the advantages of the club’s location – “The club’s location is beneficial for the sports clubs we host, as well as for private events. We are a bit out of the way to be considered a good drinking spot for Wetherby locals. Our clubhouse and pitches are owned by Leeds City Council, and we have a lease.”

Jo looks out over the grounds; “The River Wharfe surrounds the club, which unfortunately means we often see flooding. Thankfully we haven’t had a flood this year, however I remember years where the grounds have flooded 3 or 4 times. When it floods, because of the banking around the pitches, we have to wait for the fields to drain naturally. Everything comes to a standstill, often fences and posts are destroyed and need to be replaced. Recently Leeds City Council have installed better drainage which seems to have worked.”

You’ve had a recent refurbishment at Wetherby Sports Association, what’s the story behind this?

“One of our committee members, Ann, applied for a competition on Absolute Radio, not really expecting to win. The winners were voted by the public and amazingly she won! The competition was in partnership with Wickes, and so we won a £10,000 prize pot which accelerated our plans to refurbish the front of the clubhouse.”

“The refurbishment ended up costing more than the £10,000 pot. Even so, we saved money by having separate contractors build the stone foundation and put in place the glass panels, then volunteers and connections through the club built the benches.” “Put simply, the club wouldn’t exist without volunteers. None of us get paid. All the clubs are run by volunteers, as is the Association. We used to employ a manager, who ran the bar and kitchen and maintenance, but we didn’t generate enough money at the time to sustain it. We do pay wages to bar staff and kitchen staff who are part-time, but most of the labour is performed by volunteers.”

Thank you to Jo for taking the time out to talk to us. We wish her and the other champions behind Wetherby Sports Association well and every success.

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