Blog: Gillian Payne, Somerset Activity and Sports Partnership

Cynics say community spirit in the modern world has completely fizzled out. We disagree. In 2014 Community Games across the country have attracted gleeful crowds taking the opportunity to spend time with their family, neighbours and friends old and new. The success of these events shows people still have pride in their community.

Somerset’s Shining Light winner, Gillian Strong, is definitely a strong believer in community spirit. We catch up with her to find out more.

Hi Gillian. Congratulations on your award. What makes the event special for you?

Gillian: Community Games is a wonderful event I became involved in three years ago. Living in a remote area of Exmoor, it’s very important to get people in the local community together, with the children participating and the parents and grandparents cheering them on and joining in the fun and laughter. This is what the afternoon is about - getting people together. It’s lovely to see children chatting away to other children who they have never met before and laughing with them 

Community events are obviously very important to you. Where does your enthusiasm for sport and community events come from?

Gillian: Many years ago I taught dance in a theatrical boarding school and keep fit classes to run my car. I’ve always enjoyed walking with my boys and now with the grandchildren, who are very keen on sport.

I think my inspiration to get involved in Community Games comes from an event which has been held here for the past eight years - the 70.3 Ironman Triathlon. I run a B&B and when you see as many fit people as I do, you have to try and keep fit.

And how did this turn into involvement in the Community Games?

Gillian: I founded an organisation called South West Fishing for Life (SWFFL) in 2008. Each year I organise a sponsored walk around the lake with a small group of volunteers to raise funds and make a donation to the local hospital breast care centre. We decided to make the event bigger by having craft stalls, children’s entertainments and face painting, willow weaving, Community Games, and a steel band. The day has something for everyone to enjoy.

Organising a Community Games and encouraging participation isn't easy, what is the secret of your success?

Gillian: Over the years we learnt with SWFFL how important it is to get the event well publicised. We put posters up everywhere; in parish magazines, local newspapers, local radio, word and mouth and make sure all our friends and family support the event. And just pray for sunshine!

Any other tips on how to run a successful Community Games?

Gillian: Over the years we’ve learnt:

  1. Start the time you advertise, have a list of games organised but make sure there’s not too many.
  2. Don’t leave too long between races as the children get bored.
  3. Get parents involved holding the finishing tape and arrange games for them so the children can laugh at the adults.
  4. We give each child a medal and a small packet of sweets at the end.

Feeling inspired? If you’re motivated by Gillian’s story, why not organise a Community Games in your area? Simply register your Community Games and get access to great resources, tips and support.

Blog: Gillian Payne, Somerset Activity and Sports Partnership