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May 23, 2021

Newcastle Panthers Pounce On GiveToLocal Support

It’s one of Sue Sowden’s enduring frustrations that British volleyball is still striving to achieve the recognition and profile enjoyed by the sport elsewhere in the world.

And by joining the ever-expanding GiveToLocal community, the secretary of Newcastle Panthers VC hopes her sport can finally begin to bridge that gap.

One of the North East’s sporting success stories draws players from across the region to its new home on Tyneside.

But Sue believes the Panthers have the potential to make an even bigger imprint on Newcastle sport out of their base in the west end of the city.

“We moved to the Eagles Community Arena in January 2019 and it’s already transformed the club,” said one of the driving forces behind volleyball development in the UK.

“We’ve been able to double the opportunity for court time with back-to-back two-hour sessions on a Tuesday night.

“But there is demand for more. Prior to the COVID-19 lockdown we were talking to the Newcastle Eagles about using a third court and accommodating even more junior players.

“Our youngest playing member is six and our oldest is 60. We have players from more than 40 different countries representing the Panthers.

“And that’s a reflection of the game’s global popularity. Go to mainland Europe or South America and the sport is massive - it’s on television all the time and the sponsorship and funding is on a different level.

“It’s such an easy sport to play and it’s perfect for mixed teams and players of all ages. It’s non-contact and a year-round sport.

“Working with GiveToLocal is an opportunity to showcase the value of volleyball to a wider audience and connect more closely with the local community.”

The Panthers tapped into this month’s #InspiredToGive campaign after reading our exclusive interview with Olympic volleyball star Peter Bakare.

The former Team Northumbria favourite is a familiar face on Tyneside and became a perennial winner of the domestic game’s top prizes during his storied spell in the North East.

Peter’s admission that volleyball in the UK - from international level to the grassroots game - relies on a dedicated army of volunteers resonated with Sue.

And she added: “That’s always been the case with the Panthers.

“I set up the club with my husband Keith in 2005 because we couldn’t find a club for our son, Kieran.

“We started out in a school gym before moving permanently to a sports centre in another part of Newcastle but even getting to that point was incredibly difficult.

“I lost count of the number of venues we contacted to see if there was space to run a volleyball club.

“We had two replies!

“But we stuck with it and managed to establish Newburn Volleyball Club. We became Newcastle Volleyball Club - and established a full working committee and a better structure - prior to our move to the Eagles Community Arena.

“Everyone on the committee has certain areas to focus on but since I retired from playing I suppose I do more than ever in and around the club.

“I love it and I’ll do it for as long as I can. But like volleyball clubs up and down the country we rely wholly on the time of volunteers.

“If GiveToLocal can help to support those volunteers then it has to be a good thing.”

The Panthers rely almost exclusively on membership and match fees to cover the club’s day-to-day running costs.

And Sue added: “We see GiveToLocal as an opportunity to reach out to people who might be able to support us, without necessarily joining the club.

“Our biggest challenge is getting the word out to the local community that we are here and that it’s possible to play volleyball with like-minded people from across the world.

“If we can do that then I have no doubt that people will see the value of what we do and do what they can to help our amazing team of volunteers.”