Benfleet on the up
The transformation of Benfleet Cricket Club over the past four NatWest CricketForce events has been underpinned by a series of ground-breaking partnerships, most recently with giant car company Ford.
Under the Dagenham-based manufacturer's community service programme, which is typical of many UK corporate schemes, each employee is allowed to spend up to 16 hours a year helping out with a community project.
This year five Ford workers opted to spend two days - in torrential rain - at Benfleet, fencing off a compound for the club's sightscreens.
"This was the first project of its type for Ford," said volunteer Stuart Scott, a Ford manager and former Benfleet player who approached the club with the offer of community help.
"But it was tremendous. We had two days in appalling weather but we had a good laugh and shared a few mugs of tea with some terrific people," he told ecb.co.uk.
By the end of the two days, the volunteers had put up 34 four-metre fencing panels, bought with a discount from official NatWest CricketForce suppliers Jackson Fencing, plus 34 cement posts and two gates.
"A lot of big companies encourage their workforce to go out into the community and this provided an excellent solution to the labour problem," said Jon Wright, Benfleet member and NatWest CricketForce regional support officer.
"Our membership is full of useful resources - these days we always try and find out from our new young members what their parents do because you never know what partnerships we can strike."
This is not the first time Benfleet has benefited from forging strong relations with commercial partners. In 2005, their first year of NatWest CricketForce, 1st XI captain Mike Tremain persuaded his employer - shopping channel QVC, where he is a producer - to host a DIY show from Benfleet, filming the makeover and selling off brushes, ladders and a range of DIY tools.
It was a huge success: around 80 volunteers took part, sales went through the roof and by the end of the weekend, the first floor of the clubhouse had been completely refurbished.
Year two saw a bigger team of volunteers tackle the downstairs - six changing rooms, the umpires room, showers, toilets and kitchen were all transformed - and this year there are plans to carry out a substantial coppicing project while the changing rooms and kitchen will once more be the subject of major improvements.
As a result, the club has changed beyond recognition, according to Wright.
"It has completely changed. In terms of appearance, it has gone from looking run down to looking very smart. We have gained Clubmark and become a Focus Club," he said.
"It is a self-help thing. Once you start, there is a snowball effect. We are now a much more vibrant club.
"Our senior side is more successful and we have three more youth sides, more parents involved and a waiting list of people who want to become coaching assistants - eight at the last count.
"We have become more outward looking and I am going round all the time talking to clubs and trying to energise them and many of our members are actively involved.
"We have one woman at the club, Pat Tremain, who is a star at organising projects and getting companies to donate. In my experience, it is mostly the ladies who have been best at galvanising people into action. They seem to be better at getting people to do things."
NatWest CricketForce 2008, which takes place on April 4-6 2008, will have a heavy emphasis on energy efficiency and conservation and Benfleet will be one of more than 1,000 clubs who will participate.
NatWest CricketForce 2007 was another huge success with more than 80,000 volunteers turning out on a bright sunny weekend at more than 1,150 clubs around the UK, bringing the total number of volunteers over the past three years to 200,000.