Every year the Belvoir Castle Cricket & Countryside Trust provides sporting and educational opportunities for around 2,500 primary age and special needs children. Former professional cricketer and director of the trust, Darren Bicknell, told the Melton Times more about the valuable work they do across five core projects, the support he receives from a dedicated team of staff and volunteers, as well as the trust’s ambitions for the future.
Q What’s your background and how did the trust come about?
A I was a professional cricketer with Surrey from 1987 to 1999, and for Nottinghamshire from 2000 to 2006. After retiring I took a job at a Mansfield sporting complex running a charitable trust, and while there I had a meeting with Phil O’Brien who was working with the Duke and Duchess at Belvoir Castle on business development. They wanted to set up something charitable, and from our discussions the idea of the trust came about. Shortly afterwards I was made redundant and called Phil to say I was available! It’s fair to say we were not ready to start but we took the plunge, and Phil kindly backed us with his own money. We started some pilot projects which were a success, and the rest is history. And after year two we were able to pay Phil back.
Q Working from Belvoir Castle sounds great. What projects do you deliver from there?
A We have an office in the castle, which is quite surreal, and we deliver our cricket and countryside days and Belvoir Bees Friday night sessions at the Knipton cricket ground. Our other projects, including the Belvoir Bees, Teach Cricket and Special Needs Project, are delivered off site. Special needs children take part in a five week programme of coaching around February and March, and then attend a Cricket and Countryside Day in the grounds of Belvoir Castle in July.
Q Who helps you deliver all these sporting and educational opportunities? Do you have any celebrity backers?
A Any organisation is only as good as the people involved and I’m very fortunate to have a fantastic and supportive chairman in Phil O’Brien, and am hugely supported by my assistant director Neil Atkins. I have a great set of trustees and a great number of volunteers. I would like to name them all but there is not the space. It also helps to have one or two well-known people to spread the word and we are very fortunate to have my ex-cricketing buddy Graeme Swann and Strictly Come Dancing star Anton Du Beke as ambassadors.
Q How many children do you engage with and what makes the work so special?
A Our delivery numbers are in the region of 2,500 children each year, and that takes some doing I can tell you. I think our work inspires children into playing sport, educating them about our wonderful countryside and making the best of themselves, and also gets the whole community involved.
Q What are the trust’s plans for 2015?
A We have some pretty exciting fundraising events including golf days, dinners, and six-a-side cricket events, details of which can be found at www.belvoir castlecrickettrust.com - the success of these are vital in our survival.
Q How much money does the charity have to raise each year to deliver its programmes? How can readers support the trust’s work?
A We need in the region of £95-£100k each year to survive and deliver our projects, and there are a number of ways to help us, from supporting our fundraising events to becoming a ‘friend’ of the trust and making a small donation each month. Just taking an interest in our work is also very important to us. If anyone would like to chat through our work I’m always happy to do so.
Q What are your long-term ambitions for the trust?
A Long-term we want to continue to increase our numbers, and we also have an ambition to develop an education/cricket centre where we can deliver our projects all year around. This is a bit of a dream but I do think we can make it happen. It would be nice to think that we could also replicate the trust’s work in other parts of the country.
Q Finally, I need a couple of cricket tips. How will England do in the ICC World Cup? And will we win back the Ashes this summer?
A Simple - ICC World Cup, no chance. Ashes, even money!