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Not just a club but a community...

Since the Coronavirus lockdown began on 23rd March 2020, Ian Smith and the members of Barkaway Agility have made a real effort to stay in touch with each and every single member of the club, either by email, text, phone or Zoom chats so that no one feels alone. Ian asked members to contribute their lockdown experience for this article, and these are just some of their stories which illustrate why this club is more than just a dog training group.

For a long time, Barkaway Agility Training had a public Facebook page but, at the start of lockdown, we created a Members Only page so people could stay in touch. Then we started our Zoom chats, and the response was so positive that we created a WhatsApp group as we were aware that some members weren't on Facebook and we wanted to reach out to everyone. It's hard for individuals to be locked down with family but even harder when you are alone.

That's when the club members picked up the baton. Without any prompting, they started organising things to do such as quiz nights, silly head wear nights, bingo, keep fit sessions and a weekly get together to have a chat - all been done via the Zoom app. In addition, we have sent out different agility training videos for members to practice in their gardens.

Following on from Lucy Poyner's impromptu call to BBC Radio 5 Live to say  how much she was missing her agility club during lockdown, we decided to ask members for their lockdown stories.

Lucy Poyner


I've always known that the agility is a great one to belong to but never more so than now that I have been social distancing for the last six weeks on my own with just my two dogs for company. I say 'just my two dogs' but they have actually been my great companions. Without them, this whole episode would have been almost unbearable. I like my own company, but six weeks with no human contact is blooming hard.

Right from the start, Ian Smith and the other members of the Barkaway family have been brilliant, regularly checking in on me and other members who are also doing this alone.

One day a couple of weeks ago, somebody suggested we Zoom. Me, a technophobe, had never heard of Zoom but the desire to connect with my dog friends meant the app was installed immediately with only a bit of swearing! (Sorry Ian.) Our first remote 'get together' involved lots of laughs and support for struggling members as well as lots of alcohol,,, lots and lots of alcohol! It's rather like being at a show but without the actual classes and not having to run a class with a hangover.

We have since had a Zoom quiz. I found out that I'm not as intelligent as I thought and I was last! We've discovered shower caps are great for covering 'bad roots' and we've drunk lots of gin. There is now a keep fit or rather a 'get fit' class on Thursday via Zoom  and a bingo session is being organised. And all this is because we have a common interest and a love of agility. I can honestly say that my dogs and Barkaway have been my saviours during this tough time. We cannot wait to get back to training but, in the meantime, we will carry on staying safe and doing Zoomies!

Catherine Mullen

I first met Ian when I joined a club to start training agility. At this time he was competing in Starters. I loved his competitiveness and passion for the sport so a little while later, when he left the club to train on his own, I badgered him for lessons. And lo and behold, that's how Barkaway started.  So I have known Ian for almost half of my life... and I'm no spring chicken!

The club is so supportive. Ian is able to combine competitive agility peeps with others who want to do it for 'just fun.' At least that's where it starts as we all know. He has retained his passion for the sport and blames me for many things including getting a Cocker Spaniel cross!

Barkaway has a really big heart which beats stronger and stronger. It has never been more obvious than through this current situation when Ian has taken up ideas from members and made the club even greater than it was before.  He is an absolute rock and I will forever have memories of having laughed and cried together over the years.  I can't imagine life without the club.

Penny Bantin

It is a great highlight to be able to get together with the Barkaway fraternity via Zoom.

I'm lucky that I do manage to go out on a daily basis as I work as a part-time care worker, but I admit that I also find it worrying as I'm nearly 70 and I live on my own. I worry about my four dogs if anything happens to me, so to be able to get together on a weekly basis on Zoom, has lifted my spirits with silliness, wine and just chatting.

I have discovered that the Barkaway spirit is not just for agility training or shows. We are like a large family which for me, who lives alone, is a godsend!

Victoria Emerson

Last year was our first season competing and we got to Grade 3. Unfortunately, my dog was injured at Christmas so we have done no training since then. It's been hard going as I love my new hobby so much.

During that time, Barkaway members have been amazingly supportive. I still went training - left my dog at home - and even had the loan of my trainer's retired dog, just to keep me going. She was Grade 7 and really made me work! I loved it.

Throughout my dog's recovery, I received many get well messages from the Barkaway family which meant everything to me. I know that people genuinely care about each other.

Now my dog is better, we find ourselves in lockdown and, yet again, this club is there to help me through. I am high risk so not going out much. Learning to Zoom wasn't easy, but to be met with the friendly faces on the screen made my day. I quietly sat there, laughed and listened to friends talk about past shows, their dogs and their general well-being. It has made me realise how lucky I have been to find this club and it's members who have become personal friends.

We have a fitness Zoom session set up for Thursday and drinks and fancy dress on Saturday. People need people, and I couldn't be prouder than to be accepted as a Barkaway member.

Jude McClean

Agility for me is so much more than just training you and your pooch. I just love this club. It is the people in it who make it amazing.

My first dog was Monty, a grumpy rescue dog with a bad history - definitely not a friendly dog. I can count the number of times I nearly got dragged over or pulled out in front of traffic and then there was a way too close a call involving a young child. He came to us at six years of age and didn't trust anybody. My family and friends kept asking me why we would keep such a dog, but club members gave me good training advice and, more importantly, the belief that dogs can improve.

The club was the lifeline that kept us together. I had never done Agility before and was a new starter or a greenhorn. Sometimes I would go home after training very tearful, expecting to get told never to go back again but it never happened - and I'm still there now.

What did happen was that I was surrounded by a lot of very supportive, lovely  peopl. My not very friendly dog turned out to love agility and was definitely much better at it than I was. The bond it created was a very special one. Monty proved that a very troubled pooch can turn ultimately into a very friendly couch potato, usually curled up on top of somebody. All of this was the result of training and friendship and, equally important, we even got to compete at shows which was incredible when you consider how grumpy Monty could be.

I'm now on my third agility dog. Thanks for all the support @ Barkaway.

Heather Walker


The Barkaway community has brought us all together. Members are very caring towards each other, and everyone puts in that extra bit of effort whether that is helping on rings when we are at shows - remember those - sharing food, drinks (really) and laughs at the group BBQ in the evenings after running around all day having fun. If we forget to bring something, we always know that we can knock on each other's caravan doors, tents or motorhomes to ask to borrow anything. Someone will always have some spare. We provide delicious homemade cakes(thanks Mum Walker) to celebrate friends' achievements. And we encourage each other no matter how good - or not so good - we are doing, o
ffering training tips, as well as general help especially if we arrive late at shows on a Friday evening.

Keeping in touch with each other away from shows is even important now.

I joined the club to have fun with my dog but, what I found was a family who genuinely are for each other, I have made life long friends. Barkaway really is the best.

Helen Iammas


When Ed and I first joined the Barkaway family, I instantly knew that it was going to great. Not only was Ian a wonderful trainer, friend and listener but all the members were lovely, bubbly and fun.

As time went on, I began to rely on my training sessions more and more so, when the lockdown started, I felt as if a big dark cloud had descended. What would I do? No training! No catch up with my pals! As the weeks went by, happily our Barkaway family came together again using WhatsApp, Facebook and something called Zoom!

It's not easy to social distance from people when all you want to do is talk and have a hug, but our Barkaway family did just that in other ways. We could press pause on the chaos of the world outside, if only for a moment. Our Barkaway family will always stand together, and it's an honour to be part of it.

Deanne Bayley


Agility is a great source of fun for me. Just to have a 1-2-1 session with our lovely dog Chester was fab. Now Chester loves the club sessions even when it is wet and rainy. We got support from a lot of friendly people, and I get a great sense of achievement from them.

I run my own pet business which is a seven days a week job. Due to work commitments, we can't make many shows. Having a break from work and a busy family life - however short - is a personal time for me and Chester and hopefully my young dog Rosie when we all return to training again.

Liz Warner


Not everyone knows this, but five years ago I lost my son. If it hadn't been for Barkaway, I would have had no reason to carry on. Ian and Catherine were amazingly supportive. I tend to hide my feelings and bottle things up but they both made sure I was okay. I felt that because of my dog Pixie loved agility so much that if I didn't take her I would be letting her down as well as myself.

I'm not saying all of this because I want your sympathy - which I don't. What I want you to know is how much this amazing club means to me. And Ian is not just a trainer. Thank you so much for all your help.

Alison Christofirido


When I first joined Barkaway, I remember that I had absolutely no idea of what I was doing. At times, I even struggled to remember my lefts from my  rights. My Cocker Millie loved agility and, although we didn't always stick to the course doing most of the jumps in one go, we always had fun.

Ian is not just a dog trainer. He is a friend and a confidante and a good listener. I've unfortunately had a lot of ups and downs and he has always been there to listen and to advise. It is such a welcoming club with some fabulous members.

Sam Irving

Before I started agility, I suffered from severe anxiety. I struggled with over thinking things. My dogs were my friends. Although one of them was born deaf, I was determined to prove that he could do whatever hearing dogs could which is why I started doing Agility.

I trained at a different club for about a year but when it closed down, I went to Barkaway. Ian didn't even bat a eyelid when I asked if he would take me and my deaf dog Toby on and, ever since, we have improved so much with his support and advice, pushing to make me a better handler!

I've made a lot of friends within the club. They all seem to love Toby. It's made me want to go out, be active and even talk to people. It is likely that my anxiety will never go away but during the Coronavirus lockdown - as with previous hard times - agility is the only thing that has kept me going. Being able to talk to my agility friends and get advice about training in my little garden has kept me sane. I can't wait to get back to it and see everyone again properly.

Ian Smith, Trainer

Barkaway Dog Agility is more than just a training club to me. I call us the Barkaway family. The club members are so important to me. They are very close friends. Some of them have been with me almost since the first day the club began in 1998.

There have been times when I have considered closing the club due to health issues, but these amazing people make it impossible to give up as they are so loyal and always willing to help out. I have members who have stood in for me as the trainer when I have been laid up in plaster after 14 ops in approx 12 years. I never have to ask; they always volunteer. (Don't you Caroline Key and Catherine Mullen.) When we are at shows and I'm judging - and when you consider on average I judge approx 12/15 shows per season - these people are there to help run the ring incredible really.

The club community is incredibly supportive. Regardless of the situation, they are always willing to help out. Catherine Mullen will organise a series of club shows throughout the winter to help people maintain the competitive spirit and to give our newer members the opportunity to find out what a show environment is like.

Times are difficult now for everybody, but I am aware that we have some club people who live on their own. Isolation is bad enough when you can get out daily and chat, but being shut in - with no contact - is not good. We make a point to make contact with every single member through social media at least once weekly,  just to check that people are okay. This club is more than a club; it is a community. My thanks to every single person within this club. We are what we are because of you.

About the club...
Barkaway Dog Agility Training was started in 1998. It was never intended to become a club - just a field where Ian Smith could do some extra training.

As time went on, a friend asked Ian if they could do some extra training. That friend is still with the club today nearly 22 years later. More people joined and gradually Barkaway gradually became the club it is today with Ian as a full-time agility trainer.

Over the years, members have competed at Olympia and Crufts as well as various other finals with a lot of success. Junior members are treated as adults, not kids, and are encouraged to get involved in all competitions and events.

The club endeavours to put on different club events throughout, organised by the members themselves, for other members to enjoy. These range from club competitions to evenings out and quizzes, etc.

Barkaway is located in Worcestershire.

First published 4th May 2020


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