On the closing night of the Olympics, the biggest cheer went up, not for the medal winners or the organisers, but for the volunteers.
As cheerful a bunch as you could wish to find, the sort who would arm themselves with a dustpan and brush at the merest hint of civil unrest.
We are constantly reminded at the moment of the need for volunteers in this country.Volunteers to run our libraries, clean our pavements, pick the shopping trolleys out of the park lakes. It’s as though the powers that be have this vision of Britain as one big imaginary village where the vicar still pushes a bike and offers a smile and cheery wave to local kids running a hoop with a stick over the cobbles. This is nothing new, folk up and down the land have been quietly getting on with this kind of thing in an unsung way for years. There are real villages where real volunteering and hard work on behalf of fellow citizens has always been done. Let me tell about one of my favourite villages.
I was invited the other week to a cricket club at the bottom of Whinney Lane in Streethouse, not everybody’s idea of an idyllic English village, but a cricket club and a village nonetheless and one that has brought great honour to this area.
The first thing you notice about this place is the sense of peace there, what my old junior school teacher and club chairman Paul Rhodes calls “an oasis of calm.” It’s very pretty. Graham, the groundsman, ably assisted by Colin and Walt, has prepared one of the loveliest grounds in the north. Graham told me he loves to come down after the season is over to “listen to the robins squabbling in the bushes.”
It all started 50 years ago this time when some local men, tired of vandalism at the old Streethouse ground decided to set up a new club from scratch. With a driving force of Keith Brabbs and Dennis Redman, a team of villagers set about raising money to purchase a boggy piece of land from a local farmer and set a five year plan to turn their hard work and voluntary effort into a reality. In those five years, the club played all its games away from home, while volunteers, dug up the bog with a bucket attached to a tractor and laid out a cricket square.
Post holes for fences were dug, Paul told me that a Streethouse player was easy to spot, “they walked with a lopsided gait due to the amount of sand and cement they had been carting about in buckets.” Eventually in 1967 after years of raffles, templegate tickets and barbecues, the ground became the picture that is there today. Just like the line from the film, ‘Field of Dreams’ “build it and they will come.”
“All we wanted to do was provide cricket and community spirit for this village,” Dennis Redman told me. “That’s what we do. And after all this time we still rely on volunteers and nobody gets paid and it’s something we’re all proud of. People still come up to me on Sunday morning when I go for a paper and ask how we got on.”
Streethouse have got on very well over the years, winning many trophies, providing county players, encouraging local village talent, still to this day nearly half of the team comes from the village. Then in 2009, Streethouse shook the cricket world by reaching Lord’s for the final of the village cup. A remarkable achievement for a former pit village bisected by a railway line and one that gets more than its share of negative publicity. It’s all down to a bunch of enthusiastic local people who want to put their village on the map.
If these powers that be ever want to see the best example of volunteering in action, I suggest they come and use Streethouse as their template. They will see a dedicated bunch of proper folk trying their best. They will see local youth being encouraged to make something of themselves, They might even get a cup of tea on matchdays from Joan Rhodes who has volunteered since the ground opened. But whatever they do, they shouldn’t get involved with a game of fives and threes, because as well as being devils with a bat and ball, they’re even more lethal with a hand of dominoes.
These volunteers don’t want an Olympic medal, they deserve a medal as big as a dustbin lid. You can forget your preconceived notions about what it means to be English, a volunteer and what you imagine a village should be. You could do no better than to follow the example set by Streethouse, one of England’s great villages.
Streethouse Cricket Club has plans to celebrate its maiden half century. If you have ever been involved, call Keith Bowen on 07725 462314 or the club on 01977 690798 on Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Monday evening for details.