Charity begins at Home – Belvoir Castle Cricket Trust

The sale of EMPICS and our departure from the business coincided with a move to a new village. Knipton is at the centre of the Belvoir Estate – an area of 16,000 acres owned but the Duke of Rutland. The rural idyll is nice – but with so much private land, there are limited public footpaths and very few community amenities.

Knipton did have a cricket club – and I saw some youngsters playing there so took my 8 year old son along to see if he could join in. The club had only just started junior cricket again after a gap of some years. They had an Under-11 side – but it became clear that they could not accommodate children this young. It was frustrating – however, in true entrepreneurial spirit, I decided that I should put my energies to start something to accommodate youngsters.

The first night of Belvoir Bees at Knipton The Belvoir Bees was started with great fanfare in April 2007. I convinced Leicestershire County Cricket Club to come along with the Twenty20 Trophy and their mascot and got Keith Tongue of Nottinghamshire Country Cricket Club to lead the coaching. Initially the sessions were aimed at children 8 years and above – but, encouraged by parents, (and not wanting to frustrate parents by age limits similar to those I had faced) it became open to all primary school children. During the first season, Stephen Henderson (a former county cricketer and active MCC committee member) brought his sons along to enjoy the sessions. We struck up a friendship – and hatched plans to develop the Bees and explore other ways of taking advantage of the beautiful venue in the grounds of Belvoir Castle.

During this exploration, I met Darren Bicknell – the ex-Nottinghamshire Captain and Surrey cricketer – who was then working for another sporting trust in Nottinghamshire. Darren suggested that the project could follow the lines of John Barclay’s work at the Arundel Castle Cricket Foundation. John’s efforts, starting in 1985 – and supported by the likes of Colin Cowdrey and Sir Paul Getty – have used cricket to bring children out of cities and into the countryside.

In the summer of 2008, we organised a fundraising match between the Duke of Rutland XI (newly formed!) and a Sir Richard Hadlee XI to gauge interest in setting up the Belvoir Castle Cricket Trust. This event raised over £5,000 and engaged the interest of many people in the cricket community including Tony Lewis, the late Bill Frindall and Jonathan Agnew.

In the autumn of that year, Darren became available – and with him as Director we decided to take the plunge and create the Trust as a registered charity.

Children from inner-city Leicester school enjoy a Cricket & Countryside day at Belvoir The charity has now been operational for 3 summers. This summer (2011), the Trust will have welcomed over 2,300 youngsters from local rural and urban primary schools, along with a number of special needs schools. As well as getting children involved in cricket, it has provided learning opportunities around countryside activities. It has also been successful in encouraging volunteers to get involved. This year it will see three of the small village cricket clubs it supports start running children’s teams to play in leagues for the 2012 season.

Founding and chairing the charity is a refreshing use of my entrepreneurial spirit. It’s the same as any small business – funding and cashflow are always an issue. It’s had fantastic support from many sources, most notably the MCC Foundation and Samworth family – as well as the charity’s patron Her Grace the Duchess of Rutland. We’ve also managed to engage with a wider cricketing community – from Sir Tim Rice to Mike Gatting. It’s a credit to the very hard work of the Trust Director Darren Bicknell and Assistant Director Nina Coverley. I am pleased to have made a difference.

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