With the ethos of promoting inclusion and sporting activities throughout Mayo, Mayo Sports Partnership co-ordinator Charlie Lambert exuberates enthusiasm as he talks about the “positive work” he and his colleagues at the sports partnership are carrying out throughout the county at “grassroots level”.
Evidently, participation in sports activity in Mayo is on the increase, particularly in the amount of people observed every evening pounding the streets walking, or the amount of cyclists dotted around the roads. Charlie comments that these activities in local community life are “recession proof” and indeed is linking people together, which in turn is assisting positive mental health, and this positive social inclusion can be attributed to the work carried at Mayo Sports Partnership, alongside dedicated local volunteers.
Mayo Sports Partnership, which was established in 2004, is a sub-office of the Mayo County Development Board and is also core funded by the Irish Sports Council. Mayo County Council have also played an imperative role in the partnerships success.
Since 2005, Charlie has been co-ordinator at the sports partnership. A native of Westport, Charlie is married to local dentist Rosemary Smith and they have six children, all under 12. Charlie says that sport has always been “his passion” and growing up Charlie was involved in playing team sports such as soccer and rugby, with GAA being his main dedication. Charlie attended St Jarlath’s College in Tuam and played U21 for Mayo; was involved in training the Mayo senior team in the 90s and recently in coaching and managing Ballina, Charlestown and Westport GAA teams. Professionally, Charlie spent 15 years as a PE teacher in Davitt College. With this extensive sporting background, Charlie took up his current role as he wanted “a new focus” and enjoyed the fact that the job would oversee the development of sport in the county, especially with those groups who wouldn’t have had the opportunity to take part in sport.
Since his tenure began, Charlie alongside Ray McNamara, Sports Inclusion Disability Officer; Anne Ronayne, Community Sports Project Worker and a sports administrator, have all supported existing sporting organisations in the county and have strived to create more inclusion and participation in sport.
Charlie reiterates that team work has made the partnership so successful and he explains that the three main functions of the partnership are that of providing information (where there is a consultation process with sports clubs and organisations ); education (training courses which target volunteers ) and the implementation of the strategic plan for sport in Mayo (the second four year strategic plan for 2011 to 2014 has just been launched which builds on their successful first four year plan ).
Increasing positive mental health
Particularly in these current economic times, which also resonates on a social level, the sports partnership encourages the participation of those who are unemployed to take up sport in their local community. “Increasing motivation and positive mental health” is important according to Charlie, as being unemployed can drain you of energy and affect your physical and mental health. With the Link2BActive programme, this initiative has allowed those who are jobseeking to have access to discounted sporting activities in local sports facilities throughout the county. Another successful programme is the Goal to Work scheme, where 12 jobseekers undergo a 14-week training programme as soccer coaches. Not alone, as Charlie explains, do they learn coaching skills, but also engage in IT and business skills in a classroom setting.
Apart from encouraging the unemployed to get active, Charlie said that one of the most successful schemes which had been rolled out is the Be Active 55 Scheme which is available in 15 centres around the county. Referring to the fact that suicide is on the rise among the older generation, due to the eradication of social fabric such as the local pub and post office — which has left older people isolated with less community links — Charlie said that this programme helps older people form friendships with others. “The cup of tea and the chat after the activity is probably the most important aspect for them”.
Using the local environment
The much welcome development of the Greenway in Westport and the linking of it through Mulranny and to Achill, is a great way for people to use their natural environment for activity, which is a key objective of the new sports plan. “Walking, cycling and adventure sports” are all promoted and success is seen in the Fit4Life Meet and Train groups; the family based Get Out There Festival, the Women’s Mini Marathon and Charlie alluded to a mass participation event which may occur later on in the year on the new section of the Greenway.
Volunteerism stronger than ever
“Volunteerism is probably stronger than its ever been,” said Charlie as in recent years that there has been a surge in people taking up volunteerism in local sport clubs “as perhaps people are not as busy work wise”. Charlie credits all these volunteers for making sport in local communities so successful and noted that “since 2005, 1,500 sports volunteers have gone through the books” and trained in partnership workshops.
“Looking at the bigger picture” Charlie said that there has been a positive change in attitude in the county in the past few years as people have become more health conscious instead of relying on “pill-popping” to cure everything.
Charlie urges all clubs and sporting organisations in the county “to encourage and facilitate people to get involved” as it could mean the difference in somebody becoming involved “instead of them falling off the radar”.
The co-ordinator also encourages schools to take up sports partnership programmes, which are offered at primary and post primary level, as sport throughout life “helps with concentration, self-image and confidence” and you have “more of a positive outlook on life in general”.
Charlie said that he enjoys meeting anyone who comes into his office with an idea that they want to develop, and he, alongside his team, will help them get the idea off the ground. “That’s what I enjoy about the job — I’m doing something positive,” which in turn is creating something positive in the locality. And now, more than ever, positivity is needed in every Mayo community. www.mayosports.ie