Go on, be a sport!

For her latest blog, YFA volunteer Val has turned her attention to that perennial summer favourite: the sports day.  Whether you were a super-speedy sprinter, one heck of a hurdler, a Titan at the tug o' war, or excelled at the egg and spoon, there’s something here to bring back (hopefully!) happy memories.

Last month’s blog was all about growing flowers, visiting gardens and the beginning of the season for the village fête; now as we enter July many of us are ticking off the days to when we will be flying off to sunnier climes or packing the car up for a British holiday experience.

But wait!  We still have the all-important sports day in the diary as well as some summer fairs.  And with that in mind, with all the forward planning in the world, the main question on everyone’s mind is of course the weather. Will it rain, or indeed will it be too hot?  Ultimately, in the great British tradition, we carry on and enjoy ourselves whatever the weather. The films selected for this month are just a few on offer, so when you are tired of watching Wimbledon, spend a few minutes watching fun days in the past and in the spirit of summer, go on, join in that egg and spoon race!

To start us off, especially as its pouring down with rain while I write this, I thought of the film Rowntree’s Sports Day (1946). Filmed by Yorkshire-based Debenham & Co it is the first post-war meeting of the Rowntree’s factory athletics sports event. Yes it rains, and yes everyone looks dressed for winter, but the spectators keep smiling (for the camera anyway) and huddle under their umbrellas.  The events of the day go on for the time being. We have sprints, hurdles, women's three-legged race, a tug o’ war, men's potato races, a women's skipping race, with the three winners doing a skipping demonstration for the camera.  All good clean fun but taken very seriously. OK, it had to be finished on another evening but the enjoyment and energy still prevailed.

On a similar theme is Billingham at Play (1956). The commentary explains the significance of the event: “Every year on the last Saturday in June, thousands of people who work at Billingham come to the great day in the Synthonia Club’s calendar: Sports and Gala Day – and they don’t come alone, this is very much a family affair.” So, we have Cubs and Scouts, marching bands, dog shows, and talent competitions underway. Elsewhere on the sports field, highly trained young men take part in a gymnastics exhibition whilst middle-aged men heave on the rope for the tug o’ war. Again we have a range of athletics and sprinting, as well as cycling racing, as views of the busy sports field testify.  A successful event indeed as the commentator announces that 5000 people have so far visited the gala, both supporting the competitors and enjoying family fun for all ages. We leave the film with shots of children riding on a fairground carousel, children gathered in front of a Punch and Judy show, teenage girls playing on upright pinball-like coin-slot machines. There seemed to be something for everyone with the weather turning out fine.

I just love the following film, the faces of young children showing a grim determination to keep that egg on the spoon.  Cayton Nalgo Holiday Camp (1950) is a film about a holiday to the National Association of Local Government Officers (NALGO) holiday camp in Cayton, near Scarborough.  Again it provides a good example of a group holiday in the 1950s that includes a wide variety of activities from running backwards to sandcastle building.  The heyday of these organisations have long past but maybe it’s time to resurrect the sense of community participation.

I have included the final film Women's Institute Sports Day at Horton Grange (1930-1934), because again the Women’s Institute is one of those great British organisations.  The WI was formed in 1915 to revitalise communities, particularly in rural settings, and encourage women to become more involved in producing food during the First World War. And where would all our fêtes and fairs be without the prolific jam making?  The film is possibly a combination of different events at Horton Grange gardens, where women gather for lunch at long trestle tables and are served by silver service waitresses.  We then see a series of innocently fun races, sprint races carrying small umbrellas or competing wearing miniature top hats or balancing objects on their heads. An innocent portrait in a world facing the horrors of World War II in a few years’ time.

Right, if you haven’t organised a fête, taken part in your child’s sports day, or played a game of tennis, cricket or even crazy golf, get that diary out and plan for next year!

Happy summer days,