THESE days Winterbourne are the model of a community cricket club with two vibrant grounds, five senior Saturday sides, a junior section producing a conveyor-belt of talent and, new for this summer, two girls teams with plans for more further down the line, writes Steve Hill.

But it wasn’t always this way and it’s instructive to absorb the thoughts of officials who have helped the club develop into a force to be reckoned with whilst simultaneously striving to continue evolving and improving.

Keith Ford, a stalwart for the best part of 40 years, takes up the Winterbourne story. He said: “When I started playing here, our first team was in Division Four of the Bristol & District League, roughly where our 3rds are now. We were just a little village club.”

The South Gloucestershire outfit began moving up through the divisions but things still weren’t quite right.

Ford added: “We were a dying club, we were all getting older, and I was fed up that a handful of us were doing everything. I had had enough.”

Slowly but surely over a long period of time, things began to change under the direction of officials such as former chairmen Steve Wilkins and Paul Dagger, Phil ‘Percy’ Purnell and Martin Sharman, amongst many others.

And those changes ranged from the very minor act of someone finally getting rid of an annoying bush of stinging nettles to the major move of building a second pavilion and putting real energy and enthusiasm into the club’s junior teams.

Current chairman Bob Vickery said: “The one thing that underpins our success is the youth section. We have grown and gone from strength to strength on the back of young players coming through to our senior teams.”

Winterbourne’s first XI were last year promoted to the WEPL’s Premier Two Bristol/Somerset division and kicked off the new season by fielding a side of nine former juniors with an average overall age of just 23. But there’s far more to Winterbourne than their most senior team which includes, when available, junior product and Gloucestershire star James Bracey.

Vickery added: “We may have five Saturday sides but this is one club and we’re all in everything together.

“We genuinely care about our 5ths as much as the 1sts... everyone shares in whatever success any of our teams achieve.”

Winterbourne currently have so many members wanting to play on Saturdays that they are actively considering fielding a 6th team.

And there is a crucial but often over-looked factor behind numbers that dramatically buck the national trend.

Junior chairman Chris Shine said: “We are very lucky to have a core of senior players who decided not to carry on too long in the 1sts or 2nds and block youngsters coming through.

“They’re still playing, for the 3rds, 4ths and 5ths, and passing on all that valuable hard-earned experience.

“It makes such a difference as it makes the games competitive and enjoyable for everyone at all levels.”

The very first step for many is All Stars cricket with 46 youngsters this year signed up by Winterbourne following highly successful Chance to Shine sessions at two local schools, St Michael’s and Elm Park, which also led to the arrival of 15-20 girls who are now a part of Friday night youth training.

Shine added: “We usually have well over 100 All Stars and juniors here, and Friday practice night is absolutely perfect’s the end of the week and parents can walk round and relax and have a drink and something off the barbecue while they’re watching.

“It’s a big gain for the club. We don’t just sign players, we sign families because through one junior we could end up with a parent who decides to play, score, or help out with the teas or on the ground.”

Shine is also part of Winterbourne’s social media team, regularly updating the club’s Twitter feed and Facebook account as well as the club website.

He added: “It’s so important these days to get that side of things right, to keep your members updated with everything going on and to give a good impression to anyone who might be moving to the area and looking for a club.”

Vickery, meanwhile, says there is no secret formula to Winterbourne’s success as he praises the contributions of a large number of dedicated volunteers, from super-efficient secretary Liz Bracey to the groundstaff team, as well as his predecessors for laying foundations that continue to be built on as well as a template that reacts to changing circumstances.

He said: “If you sit still then you’re going to go backwards so you have to keep everything oiled and make sure you are always going forwards.”

That approach is reflected in any number of ways, from providing wi-fi and a credit card reader to ensuring the money has been in the bank for new covers and an electronic scoreboard.

And if the cash isn’t there, then the Gloucestershire Cricket Board and the ECB are only a call or email away, as witnessed by grants for the installation of a new two-lane net facility due to be completed very shortly.

Vickery added: “The GCB and ECB have been tremendously supportive. Help is out there in many areas, clubs just have to ask for it.”