Simon Keller

Once, the Saturday afternoon club run was Scottish’s main regular fixture. Dozens of club members would assemble at the clubhouse in Mt Cook and as many as eight packs – from the walkers to the fast guys to the juniors – would disappear in different directions, before returning an hour later for afternoon tea. 

The Saturday afternoon runs are still alive, and the clubhouse, complete with the kitchen, showers, and the club’s honour boards and trophies, is still there. 

The Saturday club run, though, is not what it once was. Numbers are dwindling and the whole club is no longer represented. For many of us in the club, over the past two years, we have crossed a significant threshold: you can no longer turn up to the club on Saturday afternoon and be confident you will have someone to run with. There is now every chance that no one else will want to run at your pace and you will do your run alone.

What has changed? And should we worry?

The reasons for the reduced numbers are, I suppose, pretty obvious. More runners now prefer to run on Saturday mornings. Many find that a 60-minute Saturday pack run does not fit into their training schedules. Saturday traffic is getting worse. If you are coming from the north of the city, the drive to Mt Cook can be slow and tedious. We all feel busier these days and are less willing to drive to the club and hang around after a run when we could run from home. The club Facebook page allows us to organise group runs at other places and times.

An additional factor, I think, is that the clubhouse no longer feels as though it is ours. Scottish has a rental arrangement with a karate club, which in turn allows the space to be used by a holiday art class. This makes money for the club and means that the building gets more use – both good things – but increasingly, the clubhouse feels like it is set up for karate and art and as though we need to fit ourselves in around their supplies and gear.

From one point of view, none of this is a cause for concern. We still get enough runners on Saturday afternoons to make the club runs worthwhile. Considered as a whole, the club is more active than ever, with thriving regular group workouts at Karori Park, the track, and the waterfront; long Sunday runs; and midweek trail runs. None of these activities uses or needs the clubhouse.

There are two important elements of the club’s life that have been lost, however. 

First, the Saturday club run was always the best point of entry for new members, giving them an opportunity to find their pace group and to be welcomed into the club as a whole.

Second, the Saturday club run was what made us genuinely a family club – a community. Saturdays at the clubhouse, with representation from all parts of the club, allow us to make friendships across generations and to feel part of members’ successes at all levels. It’s where my kids made friends with other families, played frisbee with Hamish Carson, did hill sprints with Melissa Moon, and got training tips from Anne Hare.

I think we still need a way to bring the club together regularly throughout the year. Perhaps that is no longer achievable, but we should try. 

A first step, probably, is to move away from the Saturday afternoon time slot. Perhaps it would be better to hold club runs on Sunday mornings (with breakfast? Coffee? A barbeque?) or rotate them through different times of the week. But another step is to reconsider our commitment to the clubhouse.

As time goes on, the clubhouse is becoming a liability. Over the years, club members like Todd Stevens, David Lonsdale, and Marshall Clark have regularly checked in on the clubhouse and done small maintenance jobs. With fewer club members spending time at the clubhouse, there are fewer available to help keep it tidy and maintained. There is also less reason for the club to make the large investments that might be required when the clubhouse needs, say, a new roof, or renovations to the showers and change rooms.

Perhaps, though, with a new home, under a new arrangement, we could host more appealing all-club events – not necessarily on Saturday afternoons – attractive to everyone, regardless of what kind of run they would like to do. 

Scottish owns its present clubhouse, but it does not own the town-belt land underneath it. Leaving the clubhouse might not be easy, logistically or financially. But supposing we were to move somewhere else, what should we look for? Here is my wish-list.

  • Central Wellington
  • Plenty of free parking
  • Near good places to do road runs, trail runs, and workouts
  • Near pubs and cafés
  • Space to display club trophies and honour boards
  • A kitchen, bathrooms, and showers
  • Someone else to take responsibility for cleaning and maintenance

Given that wish-list, it would best suit the club to be a tenant in a facility used and maintained by an existing owner. That would fit us within the Wellington City Council’s policy of supporting “hubs”: buildings shared among various sports. 

In the spirit of ideation, we can think about which venues around Wellington might be suitable and perhaps even available.

The Basin

Close to our present clubhouse, near good running routes, and with a ready-made training track. But traffic and parking will be problems.

The Scottish connection: Scottish has twice held its Night of Miles at the Basin, on the concrete track running around the outside of the cricket ground.

Freyberg Pool

A council-run facility in the heart of Wellington, rumoured to have nice rooms upstairs. Parking is easy but expensive, but it is near bus routes.

The Scottish connection: Freyberg Pool is a popular meeting spot for Sunday morning runs.

Wilton Bowling Club

Located next to Otari-Wilton Bush, with great trail and road running options. It has a lovely large social area, including a bar. Set up for bowlers, it does not have such good showers or changerooms.

The Scottish connection: We once held a pack run at the bowling club. We had one of our best turnouts ever and stayed late, making the most of the very reasonably priced beer.

Karori Park

An ideal training circuit with many other running options available. It is some distance from the city, but still accessible. While it has change room facilities and a café, the difficulty would be finding a room we can keep as our own.

The Scottish connection: Karori Park is an ever-popular spot for club members’ Saturday morning workouts.

Club Kelburn

A squash club and gym, on town-belt land, next to Kelburn Park and the Botanical Gardens. With council funding available, the owners want to build it into a multi-sport hub. It is centrally located and has plenty of free parking. For now, though, it does not have a kitchen or social area.

The Scottish connection: Several Scottish runners are members of Club Kelburn and good friends with the manager. Sierra Ryland holds classes and personal training sessions there.

Newtown Park

The perfect location for starting any kind of run. There is plenty of parking and good public transport, but it is a difficult journey for anyone living north of the city.

The Scottish connection: As well as being the city’s running track, Newtown Park has hosted several recent successful Scottish prizegiving dinners.

It is much easier to make suggestions than to implement them! But I think that the first step towards rebuilding the club’s community culture is to find a new home.