ICONIC sports venues across England and Wales will be renamed for 24 hours this week to honour grassroots sport community workers and volunteers who, with the support of National Lottery funding, have gone above and beyond during lockdown.  

The Paula Radcliffe Athletics Track, at Loughborough University, was renamed The Kayla Kavanagh Athletic Track in honour of a Barnsley-based mum who set up the Mother Runners running club after discovering for herself the physical and mental benefits of running. 

Kayla, 41, who is a full-time mum and the founder of Mother Runners, lives with partner Neil, and children Joshua (6) and Bethany (3) in Barugh Green, Barnsley.

During lockdown, Mother Runners inspired women in the local area to use the time to look after their physical health and created an online community where women were open about their lockdown struggles and mental health. 

Other venues to change names this week will be Twickenham rugby stadium, The Kia Oval, The Redgrave Pinsent Rowing Lake in Caversham, The Geraint Thomas Velodrome in Wales and The National Outdoor Centre in Wales.

The venue name changes and the special dedications are taking place following the findings of a new UK wide study commissioned by The National Lottery, which shows that almost half (44 percent) of adults believe 2020 should be the year we celebrate everyday sporting heroes as much as elite athletes and two out of three people (67 percent) say the pandemic has increased their love of sports and being active.

“Without exaggerating, Mother Runners has been a life-changer for me,” said Kayla. “I’ve lost two and a half stone, I’m fitter and healthier than I’ve ever been in my life, my children have seen my weight loss and my fitness increase, which has been inspirational for them and it’s wonderful to be a positive role model. 

“Wider than that, for me it’s a massive privilege to be part of the community. These women are all struggling with various things – whether it’s physical health, mental health – we deliberately target this at people who wouldn’t walk into a gym, people who wouldn’t join a running club, because they are the ones that need it the most. 

“I take great pride in the knowledge that we have a force of such wonderful women who thought that they couldn’t, and now know that they can. 

“That to me is the most amazing thing. Physically I feel better than I ever have, mentally it’s without question been a massively positive influence on my life. I don’t know how I would’ve been able to survive lockdown without being able to go out on my runs. 

“All these ladies have carried on running through lockdown. We’ve supported them online by having virtual resources to keep everyone motivated. 

“There’s an app called Strava – which is like Facebook for runners – which we’ve used, so we kept everyone motivated.”

When Kayla turned 40, she decided she needed a positive lifestyle change and so took up running.

After she felt the physical and mental benefits of becoming ‘a runner’, she decided to found Mother Runners for other mums in her local area who were struggling with fitness to come together in a social, and totally free, environment to get fit together. 

Over lockdown Mother Runners also raised money for Barnsley Hospice with a virtual run and were awarded the ‘Spirit of Barnsley’ award. 

“When I saw the Paula Radcliffe Athletics Track would be renamed after me, I had to read the letter about three times to believe it,” added Kayla. 

“I thought I’d read it wrong! I had no idea the email was coming, and then when it arrived, I was in shock. 

“We grew the club and got it to the stage where we wouldn’t have been able to carry on without the funding from the National Lottery. I honestly never thought we’d get the money when I applied but I thought I might as well try. 

“I’ll never forget the day the email came through. Usually when you get an email like that you prepare yourself for the worst, but I saw the words ‘We are delighted to’, and I couldn’t believe it! I literally jumped up and down and went straight onto the Facebook page to share the news with the ladies. 

“That funding has allowed us to remain safe during lockdown. One of the most important things about running on you own is staying visible. The cost of lights and reflective – we didn’t want finance to be a barrier and Barnsley’s quite a socially-deprived town, so we try to provide kit for the ladies to use.”

Dame Katherine Grainger, UK Sport Chair said, “It’s fantastic that sports across the nations have been able to come together to celebrate grassroots champions who have gone above and beyond this year. Around £30m a week is raised for good causes across the UK by people playing The National Lottery, and has helped sport at all levels, from the smallest rowing club to helping athletes prepare for the Tokyo Olympics next year.”