Bedeau benefits Bedford
A passion for cricket has been known to bridge all sorts of divides in many quarters of the world but in Bedford, England, a complex mix of racial, religious and gender strains have been enhanced through the efforts of NatWest OSCA winner Wendy Bedeau.
Bedeau, who arrived in the UK 24 years ago from the tiny island of Carriacou in the Grenadines, is a Sunday school teacher at the All Saints parish church in Queens Park, a diverse but deprived area of Bedford.
When she first lived there, the community was predominantly African and West Indian and the prevailing religion was Church of England. Today it is multi-cultural with growing numbers of Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
Church leaders from both communities were keen to create more harmony and Wendy was keen to contribute.
"The priest at All Saints parish church told me they were getting together with the local mosque to start a cricket team and would I be interested in helping out - that was where it all started," she told ecb.co.uk.
Leaflets were distributed to the local schools in Queens Park and word got out but no one was prepared for what happened at the first coaching session.
"We were expecting a few kids to turn up but were astonished when more than 100 arrived," Bedeau continued.
"They were aged 5-16, mostly boys and mostly Asian with a few white boys and a few black and around 20 girls, mainly Asian.
"We had some volunteers to help out but because of the numbers, had to get ourselves organised and break them up into different age categories."
The Queens Park youth cricket club was started in January 2006 and the numbers have increased to around 150 with four hour training sessions held every Saturday afternoon at Biddenham community college and upper school.
Bedeau, who has gained her Level two coaching qualification, noticed early on that the numbers of girls fell away significantly and when she made enquiries as to why, resolved to do something about it.
She continued: "Whenever I bumped into one of them or their parents I asked why they weren't coming and they told me they were interested in playing cricket but were intimidated by the boys and didn't want to play with them.
"I distributed flyers to the local schools and in March this year, set up coaching sessions especially for girls.
“We had 14 girls aged 8-13 turn up and we have been able to play as a team in a development league because there was no girl's league.
“There were nine teams in the league and we didn't come last which was very satisfying. What they have achieved in that short space of time has been terrific. They have come a long way."
Next summer, the girls from the Queens Park youth cricket club are keen to play in a girl's league and Bedeau, who is a public protection administrator in the probation service, is trying to arrange one in Bedford and surrounding areas.
Her commitment to the club earned her the 'Another Way' award at the 2007 NatWest OSCAs but, like all the winners, Bedeau was astounded that her efforts were deemed worthy of recognition.
"I was in Carriacou when I heard I had been nominated and thought it was a joke. When I won, I was shocked but then I was chuffed. I never think about how much time it takes up or why I do it. I just look forward to it," said Bedeau, who has a three-year-old football-mad son.
"It was interesting talking to the other volunteers at the NatWest OSCAs and to read about what they were doing. I never knew there was so much going on and so much being done behind the scenes. It was a real inspiration.
"I want to continue coaching at the club and be an inspiration for other clubs and communities because we have proved that this is a great way of getting kids from different religions and races together and it keeps them off the streets."