VECTIS VIEW: Paul Biddlecombe Chairman of Shanklin Voluntary Youth and Community Centre

By Press Release Sep 27, 2021

Having grown up in Shanklin since the ’50s, supporting West Ham when we won the World Cup in 1966 (Moore, Hurst and Peters), I’ve been involved in sports and the voluntary sector community pretty much ever since.

I’ve played football, cricket and bowls in Shanklin, and, with my late wife Bridget, helping run Shanklin Voluntary Youth & Community Centre since the ’70s, as well as being involved with Fairway Sports Centre for over 28 years.

As manager of the centre, I saw, and supported, the development of countless sports, such as basketball and volleyball, evolving to regional and national standards – and worked on the installation of the running track – all of which contributed to the Island being able to host the Inter-Island Games, gaining the Island International recognition. This resource, and the underpinning support by individuals such as Ray Scovell and Derek Smith, helped athletes such as Kelly Sotherton, Jess Andrews and, more recently, discus thrower Nick Percy.

The investment made in the ’90s, by Medina and South Wight Borough Councils, allowed the building of multi-use sports centres, shared by Sandown and Ryde High Schools, and nurtured a range of athletes that went on to compete nationally and internationally, and several at Olympics – and FA Cup final referee, Lee Probert, used the track for summer training.

Since then there has been systematic under-funding of these much-needed facilities, alongside massive cuts in the funding of sports in schools, with increasing demand placed on the voluntary sector to ‘fill the gap’. The voluntary sector have, at the same time, faced increased administrative demands, an ageing volunteer demographic, the need to provide better quality facilities and, more recently, the impact of Covid guidance.

The much-heralded ‘London Olympic Legacy’ in 2012 has been followed by years of cuts and underfunding, together with a local authority (the Isle of Wight Council) that has had to prioritise the funding of social services and education.

Countless sports groups and associations have had to reduce activities; for example, the Sunday Football League ceased many years ago, there are now no basketball or volleyball leagues, petanque is limited, and the list goes on – the opportunities for participation are reducing and the direction of travel is bleak, including groups not being able to affordably use Rew Valley Centre.

We have similar issues at Shanklin Voluntary Youth Centre; nationally recognised as the voluntary youth centre of the year, and home to a range of martial arts and sports activities, such as table tennis. The consequences of Covid guidance, non-funding from the council, demands for business rates (and we are wholly voluntary), and an ageing volunteer team (many have been giving their time for over 25 years) is a further example of the perfect storm that we are in.

Recent months have highlighted the appetite the country has for sport, with the Olympics, Paralympics, Euros and US tennis success – my worry is that the notion of sport for all is even further away than when I started on my sporting journey. The promised investment in grass roots activity is an unfulfilled promise, and I fear that future generations will be denied the opportunities that our recent ‘champions’ had in their formative years.

Our leaders need to recognise the value of investment in sport and the volunteer sector, both as an activity that unities the nation and local neighbourhoods, but more importantly as something that adds to the quality of life of participants and enriches the lives of all involved.

Shanklin VYCC has received the Queens Award for Voluntary Service, 4Children National Youth Club of the Year and Home Office Award.