As Stoke on Trent celebrates European City of Sport, Jonathan Pace – Head of Sports Development & Active Lifestyles at Staffordshire University, tells us what sport means to him...
Having been asked to write a piece for The Sentinel, I immediately phoned my dad.
I tend to share all of my good news stories with him. I also tend to use it as a way of showing off. My dad is, you see, a massive local sports supporter, and has been all his life.
In my role I get to meet people who, in his younger years, he used to watch and follow with great admiration.
Phoning him to tell him I was sat with Sir Stanley Matthews's daughter, the inspirational Jean Gough, looking through Sir Stan's family photo album for images to use in our newly refurbished Sir Stanley Matthews Sports Centre here at Staffordshire University is still my highlight.
Putting him on the phone to Gordon Banks or having my picture taken with Terry Conroy still makes a bloke in his mid-70s fill with pride (and more than a little envy).
Why am I telling you this? Well on Mother's Day it finally happened. I had been using my parents as the ultimate barometer for the impact of Stoke on Trent becoming a European City of Sport. In their 70s, active in terms of they walk wherever and whenever they can, but the opportunity that caught my dad's eye was the sharing of sporting stories, and he has a few I can tell you.
This filled me with enthusiasm, ECoS2016 will impact a real cross section of people from all over our wonderful city. Whether it's becoming more active, physically and mentally, or sharing one of thousands of great sporting stories generated across the Potteries, this is a real positive.
Throughout the year, and beyond into the future, Stoke on Trent being a European City of Sport will help to deliver a number of sports and healthy lifestyle activities, providing an opportunity for everyone to improve the general health and wellbeing of our city.
All the great sports stories aside, we do unfortunately have a very inactive population. Some of the initiatives will no doubt help to elevate the barriers folks have with accessing activities – cost and time – with many free and reduced price activities spread across all manner of times and venues.
But this needs to be a city wide effort to spread the word about the benefits of a healthier lifestyle.
We have some wonderful green space across the area, fantastic connections via the canals and greenways, linking the city together. There is no charge for their access (maybe some bread for the ducks) they have longer opening times than the shops, and give you great access to some of the more forgotten parts of our little piece of the world.
I haven't come across a local sports club that doesn't throw its doors open to potential new members.
I've been lucky enough to play a small part in helping to bring one of the most accessible, family friendly, welcoming activities the city has in parkrun, showing the way a community of like-minded volunteers can develop a project that positively impacts on the health of the city, averaging almost 200 participants on a weekly basis.
I remember setting the course out on the first day, getting 14 people and being pleased that someone turned up.
I'm very lucky in my role, as I'm surrounded by the positivity of sport and physical activity on a daily basis.
I see students, staff and the local community engaging in all aspects of sport and fitness on our university campus, from recreational Glow in the Dark Badminton (yes it's a thing), to our competitive Team Staffs clubs and beyond into working with some really talented students through our Elite Athlete Program.
It is this daily connection with sport and physical activity that makes me realise what a positive impact the European City of Sport can have, but the word needs spreading to everyone, by everyone.
So that brings me back to my parents. They aren't on Twitter surprisingly, nor Facebook, but they are now telling all their friends about the fact that we are a European City of Sport and that, in lots of small ways, we can all improve the health of our city. We can all become ambassadors, so let's make the most of this opportunity. After all, Stoke on Trent is definitely on the up.
If you love sport, then why not tell the world what you love about it and why?
We're looking for new and original sporting short pieces of writing about how sport makes a difference in your life. The best will go on a website, and the very best will be published in a book to celebrate Stoke on Trent being European City of Sport 2016. See www.sportingstories.com for details.
First published in the Sentinel and reproduced here with permission.