Gillingham Anchorians HC attract 40 players to Back to Hockey

Achorians BtH 1

After a club wide effort to maximise the Back to Hockey campaign, Gillingham Anchorians HC have had a fantastic start with 40 different players taking part in the first two weeks. It’s brilliant to see a variety of promotion methods, the club creating a great player experience at sessions and inviting new players to the social events. We caught up with Gemma, the clubs Back to Hockey Co-ordinator, who tells us about the great work they have done.


Why did the club decide to take part in the Back to Hockey campaign?


While our junior section has seen huge growth in the past couple of seasons, we have sadly seen a reduction in the number of men’s sides and felt our three ladies teams also needed some attention to try and secure another decade. The timing of the campaign coincided perfectly with the official opening of our new pitch. Hence we identified this as an excellent publicity opportunity to raise the profile of our family club in the local area, and interest people who may have been considering a return to the sport or those who had never picked up a stick before.


Did the club have any specific aims for the sessions?


We wanted to make them fun, friendly and very informal with the main focus being small sided games to get people playing and make sure even those with less confidence or fitness, could get involved. We initially decided on mixed sessions as this would allow attendees to have more opportunity to play alongside others of a similar age, fitness level and/or ability. We pride ourselves on our family feel and vibrant social scene so offering sessions where they could meet new friends – and have a drink in the clubhouse afterwards – seemed a great extra incentive.


How did the club go about planning and organising sessions?


The support of our coaches was key, they agreed to lead the sessions with a simple programme that predominantly focused on mass participation rather than drills, with lots of small scale games. The coaches kindly gave their time for free and we decided not to charge for the sessions. Around a dozen members have also agreed to support at the sessions, which is great as this helps to promote the social side.


How did the club promote the sessions and to who?


Promotion was on a huge scale and completely based on free publicity and the efforts of volunteers. We also ensured a prompt two way communication through the sign up process to answer any queries from new joiners. Promotion included;


-Members distributing posters and flyers around the local areas in places like libraries, shopping centres, post offices, sports and leisure centres, school staff rooms, colleges and at numerous workplaces.


-All media releases over the past two months have also included information about the sessions and this resulted in repeated exposure in the Medway Messenger newspaper. Plus we’ve achieved editorial coverage in community newsletters and magazines with mentions on local radio stations Heart FM and KMFM.


-Social media has also been vital! We created a special Facebook site specifically for Back to Hockey . This was supported by our Twitter account @AnchoriansHC with targeted tweets to community and sports groups in the local area including ParkRun and Medway Fit.


-Our website was updated with a specific page where people could find info, email us for further details and sign up.

-We have a promotional video produced free of charge by a club member


-We’ve cross promoted with the rugby and football sections at Anchorians Sports Centre.


-Promotion continues throughout the campaign with attendees being supplied with flyers/posters to pass onto friends and colleagues.


Who has turned up to the sessions so far?


27 people attended our first session and this grew to 36 attendees in week two, with a total of 40 people signed up altogether. However this does not include current clubs members who joined in the sessions like umpires or supporters who have not been able to play in recent years. The ages ranged from early 20’s to early 50’s, and 2/3rds of players are women. Six had never played hockey ever before, the rest had played a little at school or confessed to having not held a stick for “very many years”.


                      Anchorians Bth 2


Are there any best bits from the sessions so far?


Seeing the sweaty yet smiling faces at the end of the first session was fantastic and they willingly got together for a photo. We know that some enjoyed the session so much that they are potentially bring other family and friends to future sessions. Also seeing the club support for coaching and socialising was a satisfying side-product and the membership are really positive about promoting the club.


What is the club looking forward to most over the remaining sessions?


The feedback on social media has been fantastic and word is spreading even further, we have been quite clear that there is no expectation for people to attend all the sessions – they can drop in as they feel appropriate. We will be making sure all the players are aware of other club events being held over the summer – including our Family Fun Sundays which are informal games aimed at all ages and abilities.


Do you have any advice for other clubs thinking of running Back to hockey sessions?


There is widespread interest in the sport, and people just need to be provided with an opportunity to regain their confidence to play it. While the focus is on hockey, more generic key messages such as “keeping fit”, “making friends” and “having fun” were also useful triggers for interest.


It’s vital that the playing membership are behind the campaign. At many clubs there is often a key group of a few people who are the driving force, but buy-in from as many players as possible is crucial – both in spreading the workload of publicity and also in acting as PR officers and ambassadors.


Marketing material are an excellent support, as is media coverage in raising the profile of the club and the Back to Hockey sessions, however it is word of mouth and personal recommendation which has certainly played the largest part in this potential recruitment campaign.


What have the players said?


35-year-old mum Vanessa: “I’d been giving it some thought since the kids started but didn’t feel confident enough. Since the kids have been, everyone has been absolutely brilliant and so friendly so I thought I would just bite the bullet and come along, it really is like a hockey family (that’s what we always say to the kids)!! I’ll definitely be back next week, I really enjoyed it even though I’ve not played since school. I quite like the mixed session as it gets everyone talking. All I can say is thank you for the opportunity to give it another go!”


43-year-old Steve from Gillingham: Never picked up a stick before and totally loved it...hopefully you can teach an old dog new tricks lol”


41-year-old Neil from Rainham: “First time I've picked up my stick in 17 years and loved every minute of it!! More please!”


44-year-old Frances picked up a stick after seeing her children playing for the juniors. She said: “Brilliant ! Brilliant ! Brilliant! Can't wait till next week. Loved it.


46-year-old dad Pat from Gillingham said: “Picked up hockey stick today for first time in 30 years....very enjoyable... a tad rusty but nice bunch of people.”


We thank Gemma and Gillingham Anchorians HC for sharing their story and it is great to see they are reaping the rewards of their hard work.


If you have a great Back to Hockey story that you want to share with us you can tweet @englandhockey or email