Sports Reporter Claire Thomson interviews netball club captain Alix Galbraith about how she and the netball club have coped during these dark times for university sport.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, when university sports clubs everywhere are suffering like never before, Glasgow University Netball Club (GUNC) has been the light at the end of the tunnel for many girls looking for a way to escape from technology, meet new people, and most importantly, have fun. Battling the toughest lockdown restrictions, limited equipment, and even the harsh Scottish weather, the club has done everything in its power to ensure that their members feel welcome, up-to-date, and involved during this tough time. The excellent work has continued not only throughout the summer lockdown but the whole way through semester one and onto semester two. This is a continuation of the club’s historic strong efforts and successes, which this year resulted in a massive increase in membership compared to previous years, despite Covid-19 challenges. Alix Galbraith, the club captain, and her incredible committee’s dedication and enthusiasm are responsible for making this year the best that it can be.
A mere three days after the first team won the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) Cup, all sport across the country was suspended. Following many committee and Netball Scotland meetings, Galbraith and her team were faced with the challenge of trying to find a solution or way around the lack of opportunities to be together as a group, never mind play netball. Not knowing what lay ahead of them, she quickly acknowledged that this year was going to be like no other: “We weren’t allowed to train indoors initially, which coming up to coming back to uni was getting a bit stressful because we were thinking we’re not going be able to hold trials. We’re not going be able to hold a taster session for all the girls, which we normally do. We knew this year was going to be a lot different than any other year. And kind of all the advice we’ve been given for my previous club captains and stuff was just like mute, it was very much finding our own way this year, which the committee had been so good in doing. Obviously, it’s not kind of the year I wanted as captain, but it’s been a really interesting one.”
On 24 August, Netball Scotland made the announcement that modified indoor training was allowed, which consisted of a maximum of 30 people on court, but they were to be in two 15 person bubbles. Balls were not really allowed to be shared and had to be sanitised every couple of minutes. It wasn’t until the 5 October that the team was able to have their first, and what turned out to be only, indoor training session of the semester, as on 7 October, the first minister announced a two-week suspension.
Following more meetings with Netball Scotland, the decision was made that as of 2 November, training was allowed back but had to be outside, something which took the team by surprise as never in the history of netball at Glasgow University has the sport ever been played outside. Nothing, not even the darker and colder nights, phased the executive committee of Alix, Lauren Reid, and Rachael Bell, who wasted no time in trying to find some space to play netball outside.
12 November marked the first training session outdoors after a long break from the sport. Finding the positives in the situations Galbraith mentioned: “We had a two-hour session for the 1s and 2s, and a two-hour session for the 3s, 4s and Rec(reational), which was something we never had done before. It was actually so nice, that the recs were getting that time because it was normally like shoving 50 girls in a hall, trying to play some games for an hour and then trying to get out. We were given an entire hockey pitch, for us to do our training on, so being able to have as many rec girls as we want, to be able to spread them out and for them to actually have their own space to train for two hours, they really appreciated it. The girls who came back from rec previous years were like, this is obviously completely different, but really enjoyable. And then all the freshers joined, who obviously don’t know any different.” It is clear that for GUNC, this move outside has been a blessing in disguise, encouraging almost 100 girls to get involved in these rec sessions, resulting in their highest attendance numbers to-date.
Netball’s main goal, just like any other club, was to get freshers involved as much as possible and make what was already going to be a difficult year for them, a little more sufferable. It was all about trying to show them what university is normally about so they don’t become isolated in student halls. Prior to Freshers’ Week, the club had already received many messages from girls looking to get involved, which Galbraith said was really lovely to see. At the Freshers’ Fair, the committee took the time to meet many enthusiastic girls and chatted to them about the club.
However, the efforts didn’t stop there as the club adapted their normal taster session to encompass a day’s worth of short meetings with 10-15 girls in the gym so that new members could meet the committee and find out more information, and their first social over Zoom allowed this to be done again. It is evident that the priority was to create a community in the club and it worked!
The secret to the success of the club this year is maintaining involvement throughout the lockdowns. For the first half of May, the netball club did a fundraiser for Glasgow Women’s Aid. With the knowledge that domestic abuse is going to rise with everyone being stuck at home, it was the ideal opportunity for them to pull together as a team and raise money for charity, whilst being active and exercising. Around 70 girls took part in the fundraiser, raising a total of £4,158 and travelling almost 5,000km. The success, motivation and happiness gained from the May fundraiser, GUNC teamed up with Strathclyde University Netball Club throughout the month of November to raise funds for Scottish Women’s Aid to help support them in the vital work they do aiding domestic violence victims across the country, as well as money for their respective netball clubs. Galbraith commented that: “We got loads of freshers involved with that as well. It was just trying to get them as involved as possible, so they’re not just sitting in their halls.” An incredible 11,372 km were travelled with £1,377.50 raised for Scottish Women’s Aid.
Long term, Galbraith’s goals for the club that she will pass down to next year’s captain are much more ambitious but with this year’s success, well attainable: “Netball Scotland has put out an initiative of nets go outside, so netball being outside will not be a short-term thing, that will be a long-term thing. So, what we’re really pushing for is to get an outdoor court made at Garscube…because the court can be used by us all year round. It can be used by local clubs, primary and secondary schools that can pay to use the court. So, that can bring money into GUSA, into Garscube, as well as having it there for us. It can be used for summer leagues, which obviously wouldn’t have ever been a thing, but now because of Covid, it’s made everyone realise that netball can go outside. So why not use those nice summer terms and summer days? And when it’s warm outside, let’s play outside.” After the increase in membership this year, a fifth and sixth team on top of the already four competition teams is something Galbraith would love to see and will be at the forefront of discussion for the following years’ captains.
With more challenges to overcome than ever before, Galbraith could not be more thankful for her committee and team. She appreciates everyone: from a handful of girls sitting minibus tests and organising shuttle buses to and from Garscube and the University to the welfare convenor, Kirsty Barnett, sharing posts on Instagram and Facebook about body positivity, which were picked up by Sport Scotland and Netball Scotland, as well as being shared across GUSA Sports and leading to her being nominated for Volunteer of the Year. In addition, the recreational convenor, Katie Fairburn, has encouraged, motivated and inspired over 100 rec girls, leading sessions for them, outside, often in the rain and wind, every week. The committee has watched the club grow from around 140 members last year to around 170 this year, with all of them getting involved with the organisation and running of the club in every aspect. Galbraith finished by saying: “I actually really loved going to every rec session this year and getting to know all the girls and things like that. It’s something I would definitely push captains to do next year, the year after etc. It’s just good being a face in the club and people seeing you rather than just maybe seeing your name on a screen every time you post something.”
2020-21 has truly been an amazing year for Glasgow University Netball Club, with the hard work, commitment and dedication of club captain, Alix Galbraith and her outstanding committee being an inspiration to all. On behalf of The Glasgow Guardian, we wish the club all the best for the future!