Siân Ponting leads one of Wales’ most successful walking netball clubs, Llantwit Fardre Walking Netball Club in Rhondda Cynon Taff. Last year, she was nominated as a finalist in the UK Coaching Awards ‘Community Coach of the Year’ category for her achievements in establishing, growing and nurturing the walking netball community in her area.

With the COVID-19 outbreak putting a stop to all netball activity in Wales, those who rely on the club for both physical exercise and social interaction have been profoundly affected. Here, Siân shares her experiences in setting up the club, encouraging its growth and how she and her fellow walking netballers are there for one another during this tough period…

For many, the thought of engaging in physical activity is daunting and the idea of walking through the leisure centre door for the first time to try something new makes them feel fearful.  But what if someone was to tell you that there is a sport that absolutely anyone can take part in whatever size, shape, age, ability or fitness level you are?  That’s where walking netball stands out to many.

Llantwit Fardre Walking Netball Club will have been running for two years this coming June and are the first Wales Netball affiliated walking netball club.  Originating as a collaboration between Wales Netball, the sports and leisure committee of the Glamorgan Federation of Women’s Institute and Sport Rhondda Cynon Taff (Sport RCT), we have seen our numbers soar and the popularity of the sport grow tremendously.  There are now many other sessions running up and down the country, growing the numbers and now engaging many ladies in a sport that can be adapted for everyone. 

Starting with just a handful of ladies we are now running two sessions and have 70 members attending in total.  Age wise, our youngest member is in their 20’s and there are many ladies that are close to 80, proving that whatever age you may be, walking netball is for everybody.  Breaking down barriers and making sport accessible for all.  But for our club, it’s about more than just the sport itself and the physical benefits.  It’s about friendship, being part of a support network, having an identity and a sense of belonging, mental well-being and of course empowering everybody and having the chance to succeed. 

Our club started to grow particularly fast from September 2018 when I decided to open our doors not just to WI members but to the wider community too.  Being an ex-founding president of a local WI, I have always ensured to be as inclusive as possible and I am more than aware that no matter what stage in life or background, everybody at times can feel vulnerable, lonely and socially isolated so have worked hard to combat these challenges.  The first session trebled our numbers and by the January we closed our books due to being full to capacity and within a few months we had 30 on our waiting list.  With the help of Sport RCT we were able to secure another venue in order to offer a second session which is now also at capacity.

We have had so many exciting opportunities over our nearly two years.  We have been featured on both the BBC Wales and ITV Wales news, BBC Radio Wales, we delivered a walking netball masterclass at half time during a Celtic Dragons match, featured in WI Life and I was a finalist at the UK Coaching Awards 2019 in London in the Community Coach of the Year category.  Of course, there were many other opportunities for our member outside of sessions that have helped us to grow as a club.  Members regularly exercise together on weekend rambles and park runs.  We have had social events in pubs, our local rugby club and even hired a beach hut in Barry Island amongst many other opportunities.  I can’t wait to see what opportunities will be put our way in years to come!

Of course, now we find ourselves in possibly the most challenging time ever experienced for our generation as COVID-19 has hit us.  I am even more mindful that we need to be there for one another and to be able to support in whatever way we can.  We are making sure to keep in touch with members via social media platforms and by using different forms of IT.  With all sport coming to a halt we are all adapting for a new  way of life for a while and building on what we do well, looking out for one another and ensuring that nobody is socially isolated and feel supported day to day.  Trying to inspire one another in any way possible to keep our spirits raised.  We will all get through this together and come out of it even stronger. 

Wales Netball would like to thank Siân for her write-up and wish her and all of the members of Llantwit Fardre Walking Netball Club all the best. We hope that they, along with the rest of Wales’ walking netballers can stay safe and well through the coming weeks and months.