CricketForce off to a flying start
Alastair Cook, Monty Panesar and England women’s captain Charlotte Edwards dug deep to help launch NatWest CricketForce 2006 at Upminster CC in Essex.
The biggest annual volunteering event in sport – that will feature an amazing 1,050 registered clubs nationwide over the April 8/9 weekend – kicked off with the local community and businesses out in force at the Upminster Park ground to welcome the England players for a multitude of refurbishment tasks.
They were joined by England women’s duo Claire Taylor and Beth Morgan, while Alex Tudor and James Foster joined the ranks from Essex CCC to help the Upminster organisers start the ball rolling - both on their long weekend list of tasks, and a 2006 event that will see 70,000 volunteers hard at work across England and Wales.
Cook and Panesar made some early headway on repainting the sightscreen frames, while all the players chipped in to satisfy the massive demand for autographs from the large contingent of juniors present and help out with a variety of coaching activities.
With the club situated in Upminster Park in the centre of town, the very visible NatWest Cricket Interactive Roadshow and the ECB’s Cricket Factory attracted a lot of passing interest all day. And all the activities on site will have helped to cement the club’s place at the heart of the local community moving into the new season.
ECB chief executive David Collier, on hand to help present Upminster with their commemorative NatWest CricketForce 2006 plaque and receive the £50,000 sponsorship cheque from NatWest, was delighted with the efforts of the club, representative of those going on across the country.
“It’s all about ensuring we have the best possible facilities in place for our children, for our members – and we’re seeing it at more than 1,000 clubs around the country,” he told ecb.co.uk.
“When people talk about the Ashes and what was the legacy – this is the legacy. There were 600 clubs in CricketForce in 2005, there are over 1,000 this year. It’s a huge surge in participation and interest in cricket.”
An encouraging element of CricketForce is the willingness of local businesses to back their cricket clubs, and Upminster are just one of hundreds to have benefited from donations of materials and free labour that will enable them to take on significant building projects. The support from local, regional and national businesses – including the Official Supporters of NatWest CricketForce 2006 – will total a massive £25 million investment into club cricket.
The scale of the achievement, both at Upminster and elsewhere, was not lost on England batsman Cook: “It’s tremendous to see so many kids here, it’s fantastic, and it’s just good for cricket.”
Team-mate Panesar added: “It’s the biggest volunteering event in sport – with about 70,000 volunteers involved – which is enough to fill the Millennium Stadium.
"It’s really good, and we’re very happy to come here for a few hours and to lend everybody here our support.
“This is a really positive move to try and improve the grassroots level of the game, and it’s just great to see there’s so much support around.”
The level of backing from the local community, and its importance for the future of the game, was not lost on Edwards either: “It’s a great initiative. It’s where I started my cricket, at a local club, and I think it’s really important that this weekend brings loads of volunteers out, and gets families involved – and improves the facilities at these sorts of clubs so that people want to carry on and continue playing cricket.”
Upminster’s NatWest CricketForce 2006 coordinator, Paul Bussey, a whirl of activity both before the event and on the day, was thrilled with the success of the launch day: “It’s exceeded all our expectations,” he said. “We’re very delighted with everything ECB has done for us here today, and we wish them every success with the rest of the CricketForce weekend.
“We’ve got a lot still to do on our projects, but everybody’s keen to get on – and we’ve had tremendous support from within the club, the local community, our sponsors and numerous businesses which have made some very valuable donations.”
Major projects that will be completed at Upminster CC by their energetic team of volunteers - typifying the work undertaken nationwide - are provision of a new car-park alongside the pavilion, a disabled person access ramp and WC for the pavilion, re-paint of the exterior of the pavilion and a bar refurbishment, as well as renovation of existing nets and build of a new training nets enclosure. And lots more besides!