Participating in team sports improves both mental and physical health and provides an excellent opportunity for making friends and socialising.
So, at a time of increased anxiety, isolation and physical inactivity, it is especially frustrating that local sports clubs have been so hard hit by the COVID-19 crisis.
One Newcastle club was riding the crest of a wave before the lockdown. The Newcastle Panthers Volleyball Club had doubled its membership, moved into the Eagles Community Arena and attracted its first main sponsor, SOS Group’s new DDB Workspace Solutions Division.
With the onset of the public health crisis, the club had to close and, while its Junior Section is now up and running again, the return date for the senior players is currently unknown.
Sue Sowden, aged 59 from Chester-le-Street, runs the Newcastle Panthers with her husband, Keith. Like all the club’s coaches, the couple offer their time in a voluntary capacity.
Sue says: “This pandemic is causing so much worry and, ultimately, we’re grateful that our concerns are for a volleyball club and nothing more serious.
“But we know how important the club is for our members, for lots of reasons. It’s not just about the sport, it’s the positivity of being part of a team and the feel-good factor of getting fitter and healthier.
“It’s personally frustrating because we were in such a great place before the lockdown. SOS Group had come on board as our first main sponsor and we were getting settled in our new home at the Arena. We had more members than ever and we know the interest and desire to play is still there. We just don’t know when it will happen.
“I know this will be a familiar story for many sports clubs across the region.”
In September, with COVID-19 restrictions in place, the Panthers were able to train for senior volleyball matches again. Safety measures included limiting numbers of players, asking members not to interact off the court and stopping play every 20 minutes to clean the ball.
Unfortunately, increased local safety measures meant the adult section of the club had to close down again after just three weeks. However, the Junior section is still playing weekly and its membership is increasing.
Sue adds: “It was such a blow to close down again after just three weeks but we’re so glad that our juniors are allowed to play. During the initial lockdown, we had a lot of enquiries from younger people interested in the game and we had 50 new applications for Junior Membership.
“It’s an absolute treat to introduce a new generation to volleyball and we can’t wait until the whole club is back together again and out on the courts enjoying themselves.”
The Newcastle Panthers Volleyball Club, sponsored by SOS Group’s new DDB Workspace Solutions Division, as over 100 members aged from six to 61-years-old.
The club has a friendly and multicultural atmosphere with members from as far afield as Japan, Brazil, USA, Botswana, the Philippines, Slovakia, Latvia and Russia, who have made their home in the North East.
What was originally Newburn Volleyball Club was formed in 2005 and for 14 years was based at Newburn Activity Centre.
With the opening of the magnificent new Eagles Community Arena, and the help of a grant from Sport England, the club had an opportunity to increase their playing and training space and, in January 2019, changed their name to the Newcastle Panthers and moved into the city centre.
To help with their growth, SOS Group’s new DDB Workspace Solutions Division sponsored the clubs’ five senior teams and provided new kit and support.
Andrew Skelton, director at SOS Group, says: “We’re hugely proud to support volleyball and Newcastle Panthers, particularly at this very challenging time.
“The club is a great example of how sport can bring people together regardless of age or background. Everyone has such different life experiences and, out on the court, they can all immediately connect.
“We’re looking forward to the safe return of all the players and watching some exciting volleyball, hopefully sooner rather than later.”
SOS Group is based on the Team Valley and supplies and maintains leading brand digital office equipment. As well as offering a full range of office management services, including unified communications, IT support, document management, cost consultation and managed print services, the firm’s DDB Workspace Solutions Division supplies a range of furniture that helps tackle common issues including posture and lack of space.
Newcastle Panthers Volleyball Club play in the Northern Counties Volleyball Leagues. Photo taken before requirement to socially distance.