Sport at the heart of our campus communities

  • Date

    Thu 23 Feb 23

Essex Rebels women basketball team 2021

There has been a lot of positive feedback from visitors recently about the way in which sport is being delivered at the University and we wanted to share our approach, achievements, and our future direction of travel.

Research has shown that participation in sport, whether playing at elite level, representative level or socially, has significant health benefits. Perhaps less well known, is research by the UK charity ‘Better’, that has found that being a spectator at a sports event is good brain exercise, is good for our mental health, and that watching a sporting event also helps us socialise more, and feel more included as part of a community.

  • Join the Essex Rebels at our record-breaking attempt for International Women’s Day Special

A recent report by the Sutton Trust showed that extra-curricular activities are as important as academic studies in the life outcomes of university students, which is further supported by Sheffield Hallam research, showing that students participating in sport are more likely to gain graduate employment and secure higher earnings, than those that don’t. Nearly 60 years ago, our University was founded to offer a living and learning and community, interested in the pursuit of learning but also the fulfilment of lives. As a campus-based university, we see sport playing an absolutely vital role in offering the best student experience, and a fun way to engage our staff and our local communities.

The investment of £12 million in a new sports building in 2018 was an important first step. But an equally important decision was to install 1,655 seats for spectators which turned a new sports hall into an arena. We are delighted that this has allowed us to create the largest capacity indoor sports spectator venue in the East of England. But this has only been the start of a journey and we have a long-term aspiration to invest in world class facilities and coaching, to allow our scholar-athletes to choose Essex as a place where they can succeed, and to encourage staff and local community engagement. To this end we have:

  • Upgraded locker rooms and we are developing a coaching and analysis room for our teams.
  • Invested in the Essex Sports Arena reception area and our “Time Out” café to add ‘the Essex Spirit personality’ to the arena.
  • Installed state of the art digital screens and lighting in the arena.
  • Enhanced the game day experience for the University’s Essex Blades and Essex Rebels teams, including a match day host, music and cheer squad performances, the launch of 'Queen B’ our Rebels mascot, created pop-up fan zone experiences, and developed a more digitally interactive experience for fans, for example through voting for ‘player of the game'. Book a ticket
  • Improved and upgraded our arena and sport pitch cafe venues, “Time Out” and the Sports Pavilion to give our supporters a base and to keep them refreshed.
Essex Rebels play Sevenoak Suns)
Essex Rebels play Sevenoak Suns

We have also started to develop an Essex campus culture of fan engagement. We have facilitated the launch of a student-led supporters club, ‘The Tribe’, with a mission to be vocal supporters of our representative teams – the first student section of its type in the UK. Early success is encouraging with an average attendance of 400 spectators for our Essex Rebels basketball games, around 200 students per match and 200 staff and members of our local community. 4,300 spectators watched an Essex Rebels game between September and December 2022 and we now have the largest average number of spectators of any professional women’s basketball team in the UK. Support for our Essex Rebels volleyball teams has also been equally successful. During this four month period, there have been just two weekends out of 12, without either basketball or volleyball fixtures in the Essex Sports Arena, ensuring regular weekly on-campus free entertainment and social offer for our students.

We are also working hard to make the Essex Sports Arena a venue of choice for sporting events. For example, we hosted the Women’s British Basketball League’s (WBBL) 2023 Betty Codona Trophy competition, involving 16 teams from across the UK. We also recognise that as an anchor institution, we can play a leadership role in community engagement. We are delighted that we now have one of the fastest growing volunteer-led junior basketball clubs in the UK. We are also leading the way in volleyball by bringing our game day experience to one of the fastest growing UK sports. We are delighted to have been singled out by Volleyball England for this trailblazing work and we are proud to take on a responsibility for nurturing the talent of volleyball players from the home nations, alongside the best international scholar athletes.

Essex Rebels mascot Queen B with children)
Essex Rebels mascot Queen B with children

We recognise that an attractive living and learning environment is an important aspect in creating the right context for scholar-athletes to excel. For the coming year we have increased the support through scholarships available to students wishing to pursue a ‘dual career’ of excelling in academic study and sport. Additionally, as part of a wider initiative to create communities of interest in our University accommodation, we are creating an athlete village to provide a more tailored environment to study, train and compete for all students who are members of a University sports team.

Recognition from Basketball England for all that we have achieved was marked by the award of ‘Outstanding Education Institution of the Year in the East of England'. We know that we are blazing the trail, which is exciting, but we are also humble in recognising that we are learning as we go. This approach wouldn’t be possible without great staff, support from the Students’ Union, sponsors who share our values – and scholar-athletes’ interest in sharing our journey and seizing the opportunities that we can provide at Essex.

Our work continues in the coming year, with the launch of a new Sport Sub-Strategy and exciting plans: to offer all our University representative Essex Blades teams support through professional coaching; further investment in our team and individual sport; sport for fun opportunities for staff and students; and encouraging staff and local community groups to use our sports facilities.

Why not join us for a record-breaking attempt at our International Women’s Day Special – Essex Rebels Women v Leicester Riders Basketball event at the University’s Essex Sport Arena on our Colchester campus on Saturday 11th March, when we will be attempting to set a new attendance record – doors open at 3pm.

This article is by our Director of Sport Dr Dave Parry and our Vice-Chancellor Professor Anthony Forster.

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