ArcheryGB's new Parliamentary Fellow

The key note address at this year's National Development Conference (Lilleshall, 23-24 October 2010) was given by Huw Irranca-Davies MP, who used the conference to give his inaugural speech as Archery GB's new Parliamentary Fellow.

Huw Irranca-Davies MP, Parliamentary Fellow for ArcheryGB. Arran Coggan.

Huw Irranca-Davies MP, Parliamentary Fellow for ArcheryGB, addresses the National Development Conference.

I am delighted to be here with you, in my role under the Parliamentary Sports Fellowship, and in the year ahead doing my best as part of that scheme and with your help being a great ambassador for the sport of Archery throughout the UK.

I'm also pleased to be able to help launch this conference, focusing as it does on:

  • The new programme of support for developing Archery Clubs
  • How to engage schools and young people
  • Planning for the 2012 development effects
  • And how to work with County Sport Partnerships

I'm conscious that many of you will not be aware of the fellowship, or who I am and why I have become involved in the sport, so I had better explain. Firstly then, to the Fellowship.

The Fellowship was set up in 2005 on the suggestion of former Labour MP Derek Wyatt, with cross party support from Conservative Hugh Robertson MP and LibDem Bob Russell MP. Derek – for those of you who don't know, was not your bog-standard MP. He also happened to be – in a previous incarnation - a top-class rugby union player. He won a full cap for England as a wing, coming on as a replacement for David Duckham against Scotland at Murrayfield in February 1976, and later played for England at Twickenham against the USA scoring four tries. At the time, Derek was playing club rugby for Bedford, and he would later be a regular for Bath. Derek was a committed and unrepentant sportaholic, believing in the power of sport to enrich people's lives, to enrich communities and nations as well as individuals; and to give people a lot of fun as spectators or participants at the same time.

You may be surprised to know that many parliamentarians like me also have a human side, and they enjoy playing parliamentary charity rugby matches where they knock seven bells out of each other for a good cause, or play five-a-side football each week. There is even a shooting club, as well as an annual pool tournament. It's all fun and games in parliament, beyond the politics.

The Parliamentary Sports Fellowship aims to build a better understanding of sport within Parliament, and a stronger partnership between the worlds of sport and politics. Parliamentarians are matched to a sport and are invited to spend at least seven days with the governing body to gain an insider's view on the work they do. In return, employees from the governing body spend some time with the parliamentarian to gain a better understanding of how Parliament works and to identify opportunities to work with MPs and peers.

Previous fellowships have


  • Labour - Angela Smith MP and the British Mountaineering Council: During her time on the scheme Angela learned how to rock climb and took part in a simulated mountain rescue. This helped to raise public awareness of mountain rescue teams.
  • Conservative - Stephen Hammond MP and the Amateur Swimming Association: Stephen visited swimming pools across London to learn about the issues affecting their planning, design and operation and strategies needed to support community and elite use. Colleagues from London Swimming spent three days with him in Parliament, attending briefing sessions and analysing an MP's case load
  • Liberal - Andrew George MP and British Cycling: Andrew joined Peter King, British Cycling's Chief Executive on a sponsored cycle ride in aid of prostate cancer. He also promoted cycling events on the highway and provision for traffic-free areas. As a result the Department of Transport set up a Cycling on the Highways Working Group.

During my fellowship I intend to work with grassroots development of archery, with the many volunteers who sustain archery in the clubs throughout the UK, and to see some of the work of our top archers – Olympians and Paralympians in advance of the 2012 Olympics, and their support teams. I hope to organize a demonstration in parliament itself to show-off the excellence in this sport at grassroots and top-competitive levels, at which parliamentarians can participate – safely - alongside our top archers and our grassroots members, followed by a parliamentary reception. Bob (McGonigle (Ed.)) and I were discussing last night whether it's feasible to shoot across the Thames, but that was after a couple of glasses of wine, but it would be certainly a coup to get an archery event on the palace lawns! And I want to lend myself to promoting awareness of the sport, and promoting the sport to potential corporate sponsors. I will also be looking for opportunities to get you in and around Westminster to see more closely how government and parliament works, so that this is a two-way process of learning.

In short, I'm here to help in any way I can, recognising that archery – like many sports – is a powerful way of lifting people's eyes beyond their immediate horizon, showing them the world, and revealing their own capabilities. Which brings me to the question of why me, and why archery?

Firstly me: before I was an MP, I actually led a normal life, really! I was a fairly sporty youngster, went through college and university, my first job was in a sports centre as a recreation assistant and sports coach – tennis and badminton and rugby were my things – and later pursued a successful career in leisure management. Then I went into lecturing, specialising in business and leisure management. So I have a long professional interest in sport, sports development, widening sports participation and deepening excellence, as well as a personal liking of most sports. It was curious then that one of my first jobs in government was as a parliamentary aide to Tessa Jowell, when she was deciding whether to bid for the Olympics for London – but that's another story.

So I guess the question arises "why archery?" There are plenty of exciting sports out there from which to choose: the noise and trackside petrol fumes of motor sports; the glamour of the pro-tennis circuit; the passion and partisanship of football; or especially for me as a Welshman, the genetic disposition towards the artistry and physical impact of rugby.

Well, it all started with tennis. In my early twenties whilst at University, I took part in a student exchange one summer to the high mountains and lakes of North Carolina USA, to a children's summer camp. You know the sort that they do in the US, where children are packed off out of their parents' sight for weeks on end, to receive a never-ending diet of healthy outdoor activity and creativity. I had been coaching tennis to local children back home in South Wales since I was a teenager, including through the wet winters – it's no fun coaching tennis with gloves and an anorak on! So I duly arrived at Camp Windy Wood, high in the sunny wooded uplands of North Carolina, with my racquets and kit eager and ready to coach my new batch of budding John McEnroes (remember him – I'm from the McEnroe and Borg era). But when I arrived the Camp Director took me to one side and broke the bad news: a young US tennis pro had become available, so I was not needed. I could either get straight back on the plane and head back to England (Wales was part of England to the Camp Director) or – wait for it – I could help coaching archery. I stayed, and enjoyed three months of learning by doing.

Years went by and I hardly bent a bowstring in anger. But then I came across a remarkable local phenomenon. As an MP, not unexpectedly, you have a lot of contact with community groups and organisations, and with some inspired and inspiring individuals. But every now and then, something quite unusual even outstanding comes along. So it was with the Blandy-Jenkins Archers. In a community known primarily by outsiders for its historic connection with the mining industry, and as the former location of one of the largest open-cast sites in Europe – although I have to say it is a growing and changing and always welcoming community - a group of well-intentioned local people were wondering what to do on those cold winter evenings, and – as importantly – what to do with (not to, but with) the youngsters in the area. There was a good local youth drop-in centre, a rugby club, but many of the youngsters still were seeking for something to grab their attention.

There was also a rather basic, slightly forlorn, long low narrow old welfare hall looking for uses. The two came together in an unusual conjunction, when – in an area not known for its archery prowess and traditions – they tried in 2004 a "Have a Go" archery session with the help of half a dozen experienced enthusiasts from established clubs in South Wales. This led to a beginner's course which was over-subscribed, which led to the need for a committee to be formed, which led to more courses and regular sessions and on and on. What started as a slightly odd idea, took off and took people with it with a life of it's own. Now, with great continuing commitment from and enthusiastic bunch of archers and non-archers (one of the prime instigators has never in fact picked up a bow, but attends every event to see how it is continuing to serve the community and young people in particular), so now 6 yrs. later it has between 65 and 90 members at any one time, runs three or four beginners courses a year, has one of Wales (and team GB's) top wheelchair athletes, hosts junior-only nights, championship events and has FITA record status for it's tournaments.

That is why I am here. Not as an experienced archer myself, but as an advocate of a vision of archery as fresh, new, embedded in communities, open and welcoming, striving after excellence in it's top athletes and widening participation amongst all groups. I've seen the ability of archery first-hand to contribute to the well-being of communities, and the self-esteem and confidence of individuals. Far from being a stuffy sport of blazers and archaic rules – although like any good sport it does have the odd blazer and odd rules - I've seen the fun and the energy, the mixing of ages and abilities.

So in a modern era when the competition for archery as a sport, for its governing body and clubs, is not just with other sports great and small, but also with the era of the Wii and x-box, sky TV and busy modern lifestyles, can archery promote itself further as a sport for all, for excellence and enjoyment, for all cultural and ethnic backgrounds, for all ages and abilities. I believe it can, even against a challenging time for sport funding in the UK and the impact on governing bodies.

This is a time of quite unprecedented challenge for the national organisation of sport in the UK, and for governing bodies, and I say this genuinely in a non-politically partisan way. We know already that UK Sport - which up to know has focused the high performance end of sport in the UK - and Sport England will be merged. How the Youth Sport Trust could be brought into the new structure is also being considered. Meanwhile whilst core education spending is being ring-fenced, some of the extras of previous years – not least where education funding has been used to introduce additional sport into schools – will disappear. You know now the common refrain, where we are all being asked to do more with less! With the backdrop of these challenges,

  • So UK Sport has been asked to consider how to work better together with NGBs and other organisations to find ways of getting additional private sector funding into Olympic and Paralympic sport alongside the public funding, knowing that the public funding is lessening
  • They've been asked to work closely with the Home Country Sports Councils and Commonwealth Federations in the run-up to Glasgow 2014 to maximize our teams' performances so that we can improve British performances at the Winter Olympics and Paralympics
  • As I mentioned, they'll need to work with Sport England to deliver a merged organisation by the target date of 1st April 2013 driving out administration savings through closer working in advance of the merger
  • And also, not forgetting, working with the Department and Sport England to improve the governance of NGBs, including in the areas of equality and diversity.

But I must say, UK Sport and Sport England are confident of meeting these challenges. And it would be right to say that similar challenges will be facing the respective bodies in the devolved regions and countries of the UK, and the partner organisations there, so working ever more closely together will be essential.

And Archery GB will similarly have to meet these challenges by working closely and cleverly with you, with partner organisations in the regions and nations, with the many clubs and thousands of volunteers the sport has always relied upon, and this conference is part of that process.

To nurture and develop the wide base of participation, without which Archery GB's Elite Olympic and Paralympic World Class Podium and Development Programme, and the World Class Development Programme wouldn't work. Without which the next Nicki Hunt and Jan Howells (Wales), Tracey McGowan (Scotland) and Dani Brown (England), Chris White, and Duncan Busby and Liam Grimwood wouldn't be found.

So in closing, can I thank you for listening, and wish you well with your conference this weekend. I'll be staying with you for a while today, but I also hope to see many of you through the course of the next 12 or eighteen months during the fellowship, out and about around the country or up in Westminster, and also helping you to celebrate next year the 150th Anniversary of the Grand National Archery Society – sorry, Archery GB – which was first formed at Liverpool in 1861. Have a great conference, and here's to the next 150 years!