After receiving a fantastic number of exceptional nominations for this year’s Sussex Sports Awards, we recently announced the eagerly awaited shortlist of finalists last week.
As we count down to the intimate awards ceremony on Thursday 25 November, we are sharing the stories of our finalists in each of this year’s five categories.
Meet our finalists for the Volunteer of the Year
The Volunteer of the Year is unpaid. They are a volunteer who gives unconditional support to their sport or club, dedicating great time and effort, often ‘behind the scenes’. They may undertake one or several roles within an organisation and are crucial to the smooth running of that organisation. With devotion and professionalism, they do not seek reward but their efforts over the past year mean they are more than deserving of this accolade. Supporting evidence must make reference to the level of commitment given by this person in both quality and quantity, as well as demonstrating how they have adapted and innovated throughout the year.
Semeena Khan, Crawley Run Crew and Sudhan Welfare Society (SWS)
Semeena is a run coach for Crawley Run Crew and a key community activator that has helped deliver several successful Tackling Inequalities Funding (TIF) projects for Active Sussex. In addition to this, she has become a Sussex This Girl Can Champion helping to inspire more women and girls to be physically active.
Semeena works tirelessly to encourage people from the South Asian community in Crawley to be more active. Despite having a full-time job, she leads running groups for Crawley Run Crew, coordinates its Couch to 5k programme and leads her own ladies-only boot camp. She utilises her training, qualifications, and experiences to challenge the stereotypes in the South Asian community to encourage and inspire women from all faiths and backgrounds to feel confident and comfortable about exercise.
Semeena helped to establish the Sudhan Welfare Society (SWS) and has led the recruitment of participants for 3 TIF projects: walking elders in the Pakistani community with Crawley Run Crew, a men’s volleyball project and swimming lessons for South Asian women. She has helped to engage 73 South Asian participants through these projects, although that figure is likely to be much higher as not all the participants complete the monitoring survey. Nearly every participant listed Semeena as the reason they attended the sessions, demonstrating her influence within the community. In addition she has helped to identify and recruit members of the community to become coaches themselves, strengthening and diversifying the workforce.
She continues to work extremely hard to engage and motivate people within her community, which has led to her accessing further training and qualifications to enable her to deliver a wider range of activities. Semeena is a vital member of Crawley Run Crew and has been critical to the success of the TIF funded projects in Crawley.
Wayne Poulter, Lancing Football Club
Wayne manages Lancing FC Women, providing weekly coaching with a team of coaches and competing in the Sussex East Counties Women’s Football League. He also coordinates the new disability team, and helps coaching across the under-18/23s teams too. In addition to the constraints of Covid-19, Wayne not only continued to manage the teams and offering high quality coaching and direction, but also regularly supports players 1-to-1, and is a committee member, assisting in the stadium and on matchdays.
Despite being very busy and with other commitments, Wayne’s professional conduct has always remained exemplary. Wayne has, for the last two or three seasons, headed the development of new women’s and disability football at Lancing, attracting a range of diverse members from all backgrounds, and providing them with outstanding coaching and development opportunities. Wayne stood out because of his simultaneously attempts to be flat-out busy coaching, washing kits, organising administration for the teams, attending league meetings, running training sessions and matches, volunteering at the stadium and promoting women’s and disability football, whilst also having a professional, positive, kind, can-do attitude.
When faced with obstacles Wayne sticks to the core principles that make a great coach and volunteer – respect, kindness, compassion, dedication and a resolve to do good – evidenced by the growing women’s and disability squads. He has faced personal obstacles himself, from family matters, mental health, work changes due to Cocid-19, and the everyday stresses of balancing work and a large set of responsibilities at football. He’s concurrently one of the busiest volunteers yet is also always punctual, positive and full of praise.
Claire Bennett, Seaford Town Football Club
After starting as a volunteer coach for Seaford Town FC Inclusive/Disability Team, Claire oversaw the growth of the club to three teams who took part in the Sussex Disability Football League. Now, Claire coaches 27 teenage girls at Seaford Town, but she wasn’t about to stop there. Claire wanted older women to also have an opportunity to play, so she set up two women’s veteran teams, ‘Seaford Vets’ and ‘Newhaven Vets’. She now has 60 ladies aged 30-60 playing every single week, enjoying the spirit that comes with being part of a team.
Because of Claire, so many individuals of all different ages, gender and ability have had the opportunity to play football. She has given these women something that they didn’t know was missing in their lives. They now laugh, they enjoy exercise, they feel good and they have improved at football and this is all down to Claire. She was originally a “side-line” football mum, now she is a confident FA Level 1 Football Coach, a player, a supporter, a fundraiser, and a positive figure in her community.
Claire is a role model to her 5 children, who can now see that anything is possible. Claire will do absolutely anything for her players, to make them feel comfortable and supported. She also organised a charity calendar where the women posed elegantly with football gear covering them, all in the aid of raising money for a local mental health charity and with the aim of building up the body conscious women on her team. She now blogs about her experience so that other women can be inspired to take up football for the first time, no matter their age.
Claire has secured funding with companies that can support her players, such as a physio company called “Positive Touch Therapy” who help the women who are not used to exercising and a local café where the women can go to socialise. Claire makes this team so much more than just about football, these women finally have the opportunity to play a game they never thought possible, while getting fit, making friends and most importantly, upping confidence.
The Sussex Sports Awards will take place on Thursday 25 November 2021, where our winners will be announced. See our full list of finalists here.