Jess West does a great job for Sport Pembs

Jess WestGet out, get active.

Never has the above ethos been so important, and yet at the same time so contradictory.

But enough on ambiguous lockdown measures. The notion that exercise is more imperative to people’s health and well-being than ever before is one of the few things since March 2020 to have remained constant.

And one person only too aware of that concept is Sport Pembrokeshire’s Jess West.

She linked up with the company in 2017 after being employed by Disability Sport Wales as a Get Out, Get Active' Activator. She has since moved into a Community Development Officer role, with her focus as much on providing opportunities for all as it is sporting results.

Straight in at the deep end

The 34-year-old grew up in New Forest in Hampshire, and could soon boast of diverse sporting experiences. Swimming, horse riding, and tetrathlon - which combined the two former sports with shooting and running, took up much of her younger years.

Naturally, this all led onto modern pentathlon and after moving to Newcastle Emlyn and attending school there aged 11, her love of sport both in and out the water continued.

“I have always loved outdoor activities,” she said.

“Being lucky enough to have the coastline and Pembrokeshire Coast National Park on the doorstep brings such a variety.

“Having always lived by water I grew up competing in swimming and over the years I have enjoyed being part of surfing, sea rowing and lifesaving clubs. I love walking too and enjoy getting fresh air along the coastal path. More recently I have discovered a passion for open water swimming - not so much for jellyfish.”

Changing paths in Pembrokeshire

Her work as a ‘GOGA’ Activator was what got her started with Sport Pembrokeshire, and equally significantly, helped her engage with so many people in the local community.

“It was a UK wide project, focused on getting disabled and non-disabled people active together.

 “Within Pembrokeshire it aimed to engage with people from across the county to enjoy outdoor activity opportunities. The role immediately caught my eye for the outdoor and inclusion focuses and I have learnt so many new skills over the three year lifespan of the project.

“The role ultimately led me to a Community Development Officer role within the Sport Pembrokeshire team that I’m in now, focusing mainly on elective home educated families as well as an intergenerational project.”

Original opportunities

Her role doesn’t follow straightforward guidelines. There is scope for originality, for variety, and of course, for enjoyment.

It’s also seen Jess broaden her sporting outlook even further.

“Being a development officer gives great opportunity to engage and create opportunities for many people across Pembrokeshire.

“The role also allows for flexibility within a physical activity engagement setting rather than mainstream sports. There have been some great outcomes through working with groups to do beach cleans, map reading and find more unusual ways to introduce activity.

“It has also been so important to look at the social isolation that many people feel living in rural communities. For me, seeing a rise in participation levels to try something totally new, seeing individuals increasing their confidence and skill levels, and just seeing people coming together, even virtually, and having fun is so rewarding.”

Reacting to restrictions

Her use of the term ‘virtually’ was not misplaced. Like the rest of Sport Pembrokeshire, or in simpler terms the rest of the UK, Jess has had to adapt to a new ‘normal’ in work.

But negatives have been turned into positives.

“The pandemic has forced us all to work differently and certainly far more digitally.

“The team have adapted really well to these changes and the ongoing online contact, and a fluid approach to our roles has allowed us to see some really positive stories evolving.

“It has been fantastic to get a real sense of community from some of the clubs and participants we have engaged with - and to see how these adaptions have tackled anxieties people had around sport and physical activity during these times.

“In some senses, the pandemic has forced us as a team to reassess how we work and it has introduced many positives adaptations along the way.”

Harnessing future talent

One thing not on hold for Jess at the moment, is her ambitions for sport in Pembrokeshire - or her visions for the younger generation.

“I hope to see a growth and sustainability of the fantastic work that is already in place in Pembrokeshire,” she concluded.

“There are many sporting talents that have started at grass roots level and progressed to high performance levels over the years. These people are an inspiration to the next generation and their community.

“And within the community it is important to recognise the work done by partnerships, clubs, parents and volunteers to make sporting and physical activity opportunities possible, inviting and fun.”

And therein lies the key. Creating openings in sport is one thing, making them attractive and enjoyable, especially with those perhaps lacking in confidence or experience, is another.

Judging by her impact on sport in our county, it appears that Jess has that particular equation down a tee.

West is best’ is a familiar phrase around these parts. And in relation to needing someone to get into the community to find innovative ways to get people active in Pembrokeshire – it seems to ring true.