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Beth teaching online fencing to people around the world

Street swords stay sharp with help from the Community Foundation and Darlington Borough Council funding.

A North East sports club has won a national award for innovation.

North East Region England Fencing was nominated after its online sessions attracted people from all over the world.

Through the ‘Street Swords’ project, the team launched an online training programme during the first lockdown. Now the online sessions have been awarded the Viveca Abrahams Memorial for Innovation, at the British Fencing Awards.

Founder Beth Davidson and fellow coach, Stewart Watson, are still running five sessions a week online.

Participants of all ages, hailing from around the world, have joined the club’s original members from Darlington. Sessions focus on tactics and fitness. In addition, getting active has helped everyone involved to look after their mental health.

Creative thinking

Beth, who has competed for GB, said: “To do the sessions I could only use a small space. We knew not everyone had certain equipment, so it really pushed us as coaches to be creative. We were constantly thinking ‘How can we represent this move or tactic’ so it has been a real journey. There have been people of all abilities joining in, and cats and dogs wandering in and out so it’s been pretty weird!

“In each session we’ve also been able to catch up, laugh and smile with each and share what we’re going through, which has been really important for mental health. We have had some lovely letters of thanks.”

As well as letters of thanks, one person enjoyed the sessions so much that they nominated the club for the award.

Beth said: “It’s a meaningful award anyway, because of the family that started it, and it was amazing to win.”

Community Foundation support

And the good news didn’t end there: County Durham Community Foundation awarded the club £1,000 from its Darlington Borough Councils Covid Support Fund to support the relaunch of fencing sessions at the Dolphin Centre, in Darlington.

Beth said: “The funding was exactly what we needed. It gave us the ability to put on sessions even if only one child could attend, and still be financially viable. It also helped us cover all the extra costs around safety and sanitisation.”

So far the online sessions have attracted 60 people in total. Hailing from Australia, Holland, the Philippines, Canada, Italy and America, keen fencers have been tuning in for top tips.

Beth said: “We’re a bit more niche than Joe Wicks! Fencing is problem-solving at 100miles an hour and it tends to appeal to people who get slightly obsessed.

“The world changed overnight and we’re self employed. I’d never come across this thing called Zoom but we decided to try and so some sessions online. The main reason was to keep our minds active and stay a bit fitter – I assumed I’d just train in front of the camera and the odd person might drop in and out. It just grew and grew beyond being a club and became a platform for people across the world to join.

“The sessions are free, but people can donate, and we’ve actually found that we made almost as much as we would have before the lockdown, because we didn’t have the same overheads. The donations have really helped but it was more about keeping busy. I felt passionate that people should be able to join in whether they had the money or not.”

Achievement through fencing

Street Swords started 10 years ago, when Beth’s role in promoting the sport connected her with The Prince’s Trust and she started a leadership programme for children with behavioural problems.

Beth said: “Those children could solve problems quicker than your average child. They already knew how to fight so I’d drip feed them tactics and after 40minutes they’d be on to high level moves. There are a lot of issues with areas of depravation and these children’s social skills were skewed. They had no parental support and their schools weren’t always supportive either, so I began to develop the sessions into a leadership programme. I’d teach them and then get them to teach a group of primary school children and by the end they had such a sense of control and achievement.”

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