Cancer survivor continues to help others through Netball

Written by Catherine Blake

In July 2005 I gave birth to my beautiful son Jack. After a really tough 9 weeks of Jack being poorly and undergoing two operations in Hospital we thought we could begin our new exciting chapter.

However, in December 2005, we had just come back from holiday and went to visit some family. We had only been at my relative’s house for 15 minutes when my health started to deteriorate rapidly. I lost my speech and my vision and eventually collapsed before being rushed to Wigan Infirmary.

The next few weeks became very worrying, the doctors at had no idea what was wrong with me.

Finally, in January 2006 I was transferred from Wigan Infirmary to Weston Park Cancer Hospital in Sheffield and was put under the care of Professor Hancock. Professor Hancock said I could have Cancer, and that I had to undergo a variety of tests and scans to find out the cause of my illness.

It was the week of my 24th Birthday and I remember it like it was yesterday. A 9am there was a knock on my hospital room door, Professor Hancock along with his medical team entered the room to deliver the devastating blow that I had a rare form of Cancer. It affects 1 in 60,000 females following the full term birth of my Son Jack. Because of the type of cancer, he explained that there were only three hospitals in the UK that treat the disease.

I felt that my world had been crushed and turned upside down in seconds.

I began a course of Chemotherapy straight away that unfortunately stopped working after two weeks. I was then told I had 2 treatment options left to fight the Cancer so I began a stronger intravenous Chemotherapy that I had to have over 3 days in hospital every week.

I can happily say this attacked the Cancer and after 4/5 months of being in and out of hospital I was finally allowed home to my family. I have been very fortunate to have battled this Cancer and to be here today after such a serious illness. 16 weekly check-ups will continue for the rest of my life.

Having Cancer has affected me in so many ways emotionally, physically and mentally. The most emotional challenging times was losing my hair and dealing with the physical effects that chemotherapy has.

Just before I finished my treatment two of my high school friends came to visit me at my mum’s house unaware of the journey I had been on for the past 5 months. They had come to ask if I would like to join their new netball team. I can honestly say netball was a huge part of my life growing up. I represented my town Wigan, my County Greater Manchester, Trafford Netball Club and also my High School. At this moment I started to smile because something that brought back so many happy times and memories from childhood had for a few minutes took my focus off my illness. Due to still having the chemotherapy I told my friends that I promised after I had finished and all was ok I would go along and join them.

The time came I was unsure if I had the confidence to actually go back to the court that I thought had long gone in my life. I took to the netball court for the first time one Thursday evening and I automatically felt like I’d never been away. The anxieties, panic, fear that I faced daily throughout my cancer Journey seemed to disappear whilst I was on court. Friendly faces replaced the problems I had suffered, unity as a team, self-achievement and complete joy all rolled into one.

Over the next few months I played netball when I was needed to help out when the team was short. One day I was asked by another new team that was starting up if I would like to go and play for them full time. They were called Vixens in the Wigan netball league, these girls are truly amazing and felt just like my netball family, I continue to play for vixens to date.

But this was just the start of my Back to Netball journey.

I found out about Back to Netball through Wigan Inspiring Healthy Lifestyles and Jennifer Leach the Greater Manchester development officer. I wanted my Cancer journey to help other people’s lives and begin a Back To Netball session for ladies from all walks of life.

So in July 2014 I started my very own back to Netball group called Lightning Ladies. We have grown from strength to strength, our group welcomes ladies of all abilities and from all social back grounds. Dealing with Cancer has allowed me to help others within our club. I have also now set up my own Junior 7 a side Netball club and also a High 5 Junior Netball club. I am fortunate to be able to use my life experiences to make a difference to others and I will continue to do so for as long as I can. I really feel that Netball has helped me keep focussed within live.

For anybody out there who has or is going through a similar or hard journey, I would say most importantly please believe in yourself. You can achieve and there is most definitely a Back to Netball group out there that will give you the support you need throughout your transition. I would like to personally wish you good luck and all the happiness in the world. I plan to help and encourage as many ladies who have suffered like me back into the sport that they love, whether it be to find a new session to begin to learn about netball or to come Back to Netball.

England netball has given me a new approach on life and has helped me in my darkest of days to get back to the person I was before my illness,

Catherine Blake

October North West Blog 2016

Here is all the latest news and future events from your regions in the North West for England Netball. If you would like to add anything to this monthly blog post, please contact and put the ‘blog’ in the subject line.


Very successful NEW junior session and back to netball session started at Haslingden Leisure centre, Wednesdays 6-8pm.

Back to Netball session starting at Thornton YMCA Health and Fitness centre, Wednesdays 8-9pm from 5th October.

Workplace Netball taster sessions taking place in October and November with NHS Lancashire Care


B2N Session that started in March 2016 have entered their first league after only playing for 6 months. They are playing in the Congleton Netball League and are called ‘The Y Nots’


New B2N Session St Gregory’s, Warrington. 7 till 8pm Every Wednesday

C Umpiring Course, 12th November, 10am till 4pm. Priestley College

Chester NC won their first match in Premier League 2 – 43-41 against Clan


Isle of Man

Helen Kelly Memorial Tournament held as pre season warm up. 20 teams entered from all divisions. Winners SMP Ballasalla A. Raised £465 for Walton Hospital Took part in Southern 6 Day at Castle Rushen High School. All year 7 children have a day of sports and try out 6 sports (Netball, Rugby, Badminton, Judo, Golf and Hockey). Great day working with other sports encouraging students to take part and move into community clubs

Supporting a “Get into Sport” day at University College IOM on 10th October.
Long term aim is to get college teams established in various sports and play in local leagues.

 Greater Manchester

Walking Netball session focused on a Cancer session has started- great response from those who attended.
New walking netball session with Dementia care and Manchester Age friendly
New commercial partnership- I am MOVEGB
New partnership- Asian Sports foundation.


Walking Netball has started at Workington Leisure Centre each Thursday 10-11 AM

Back to Netball has also restarted at the New Leisure Centre in Workington with 17 ladies playing 9 of whom are new to netball.

Holly Wilbraham, Level 2 Netball coach for stepping in last minute to cover a Back to Netball session when the coach was ill so it didn’t have to be cancelled.

Into Officiating course to be held in Cumbria in November. Watch this space and our websites for more details.
It was great to pop in and see the Penrith Back to Netball ladies last month. They are doing fantastic work, keep it going!

Walking Netball has evolved from a growing demand for walking sports. Often, one of netball’s strengths is that people never forget playing the sport and the memories as well as the love for the game never leave. Walking Netball is a slower version of the game; it is netball, but at a walking pace. The game has been designed so that anyone can play it regardless of age or fitness level. From those who have dropped out of the sport they love due to serious injury, to those who believed they had hung up their netball trainers many years ago, it really is for everyone.

Women the length of the country have begun playing the game of Walking Netball for the fun, laughter and camaraderie the social session brings, as much as the health benefits on offer. It can give those who feel isolated an outlet, provide an activity for those who don’t deem themselves fit enough to run anymore and offer a stepping stone for those looking for a pathway back into netball.

New Walking Netball session starts Thursday 29th September at Workington Leisure Center (which is a brand new center) start time 10.00 AM until 11.00 AM. All Welcome the cost is £3.00 per person.

Our partnership work with Adult Education in Cumbria saw 106  ladies return to netball least year.  The ladies signed up for termly blocks of Back t Netball and received coaching that was in line with learning objectives in this supported environment. We start again this September! I’ve attached a photo from one of the Adult Education Back to Netball sessions from last year.


And we’re off…

It’s been a little silent from us (your NW Regional Management Board) for the past year but we are back online and want to ensure you know the silence doesn’t mean nothing has been happening!

We are your newly elected Chair and Vice-Chair of the Regional Management Board – having been involved in the North West for a few years now, with a strong sense of pride for our Region and its 9000+ members, how could we refuse to stand!  Our role as a board continues to centre on developing our great game from grass roots right through to the next generation of ‘Unite in Red’ role models via the 6 strands with the following Technical Support Group (TSG) Leads:

  • Finance and Business (Lorraine Weekes-Bailey)
  • Competition (Estelle Graham)
  • Performance (Sue Day)
  • Officiating (Mary Slade)
  • Marketing and Communication (Roberta Micci)
  • Coaching (Vacant – we will be advertising, so keep an eye out if you want to join us!)

You have elected us as your representatives to ensure our great game continues to grow, and we want to maintain our #NWisbest status working with our England Netball Regional Staff team, County Netball Associations and Manchester Thunder.

There seems to be a myth that Netballers get the Summer ‘off’.  Not sure if you think that, but we are definitely busier than ever using this time to get everything ready for the year ahead!

Our Marketing and Communications Chair, Roberta Micci, has some exciting plans to ensure we shout about and celebrate, more than ever before, the successes achieved by our #NetballFamily.

On Saturday we held our first planning meeting, and discussed dates for courses and relevant meetings to coordinate events across the Region more effectively.  When everything is finalised key dates will be shown on our NW Netball website Competition Calendar and Courses.

Our aim this year is to improve our communication. We welcome your feedback (via your Netball Development Officer or through your County Netball Association Committee) about how you think we are doing and ways in which we can improve our communication to you, our members.

Good luck with your 2016/17 Netball season.

Yours in Netball,

Imo Greatbatch & Laura Rodgers

2016/17 Chair & Vice-Chair of NW Netball Regional Management Board

A day in the life of….

Regional Management Board Volunteer, Technical Support Group (TSG) Chair for Competitions, Estelle Graham, gives her insight into volunteering at the England Netball National Schools Finals that took place 14 March in Ellesmere Port. Over to Estelle…
This year, the national schools finals was hosted in Cheshire once more at Whitby high in Ellesmere Port. Easy to find, loads of indoor space and 9 very good outdoor courts. England Netball advertised for trainee tournament referees, with funding for young netballers – that means 24 or under! Being twice that age, it didn’t stop me applying – got to be in it to win it right?
My application was successful and I met with the Competition Manager Ian Holloway and 2 of the 3 referees on Friday night for a briefing where we talked through the info pack sent to the schools.
Now as Competition lead for the Region, I have managed a few tournaments but the national schools has a much bigger budget and staffing.
  • Venue – paid for school staff to man gates, sort parking etc although I did do a stint on the street corner in a high vis.
  • Food – school canteen opened up and provided great indoor space for spectators and athletes to eat lunch and stay warm.
  • Sound system – hired in to ensure the MC for the day could be heard across the 9 courts.
  • Photography – these guys were very busy a full schedule of timings per school throughout the day and there were lots of purchases.
  • Umpires and court managers – a huge team of umpires scheduled across the courts along with 6 court managers in charge of everything court side including team management, extra time timings and parent control. When you think you need 18 umpires per round and there are 23 rounds plus semis and finals, that’s some manpower needed.
  • Event office staff, which included 5 volunteers from cheshire – 2 court runners and the others running the timing and scoring system. The event staff from England Netball – Ian, Olivia – who managed all the daft things during the day – couldn’t open a gate so Ian took his tool kit and repaired it for example; ensuring there was loo roll in the appropriate places.
  • Tournament referees – Pam, Mary, Jan and me to shadow.
The day started with registration – each referee manning an age group desk (paperwork all checked and supplied by EN Staff, which is one big difference between our Regional and County events). I manned the scorer sign in table and helped distribute bags and new balls which schools receive. Interesting to observe the experienced schools – lots of familiar hello’s and hugs versus the first timers with lots of nervous questions. We did our best to put them guys at ease.
Court areas where checked and back to event office to chase up the odd scorer who hadn’t signed in and before you know it the first warning is rang and nearly 8 hours of netball starts.
I joined Pam on a walk around, who used to actually put the National Schools event on before England Netball took over and has a region so large that their regional round is just as big as the national event. She asked me could I see any problems in the U19 court area – oh goodness, I need to impress so pointed out the obvious which turned out to be the right answer. Phew I thought.
We moved a few people into the correct area on the courts, got Ian out to sort the gate, said a few hellos then went back to the event office awaiting any issues to deal with. On the issues side, we were very quiet and Pam explained that’s how most events are. However the referees are essential for those unexpected decisions or incident management that may just happen when 48 teams from all over the country are playing in a full day tournament.
I spent the rest of the day keeping busy. Making sure my mentors had tea, supporting the scorers with a second pair of eyes, lots of questions to the referees about their experiences at other events, doing court walks (manned with a bin bag just in case) and yes I did a stint filling up the loos with toilet roll.
I also liaised with Cheshire Police who attended to assist with the parking and managing the roads at the 3pm exodus when the round robin was over.
Then came the semi and finals – each referee manned a court although the court managers were in charge of extra time timing if it occurred. I watched the NW teams – Hulme in U14 then Fallibroome in U16 – both got through to finals. I watched Fallibroome in the finals – of course I would they are from Cheshire and they won! Then I turned around to see Hulme going into extra time. An amazing 4 mins of netball saw Hulme come back from 2 goals down to win!
Whilst these games were going on, the event staff set up the presentation which the new CEO, Jo Adams, came to present. I watched the thank you’s and umpire presentation but then got busy, helping clear up the venue – many hands and all that!
After arriving at 7.15, armed with the milk for the umpires and leaving at 18.45, walking 26,000 steps, I mulled over my experience on the drive home. The volume is much bigger than anything I organise with budget to suit. Paid staff have months to prepare and that shows in the professionalism and great feedback about how well run the event is, and I gained a better understanding of what can be achieved.
I also realised that the NW and Counties do a great job as volunteers organising our events in between work. For me, I learnt you need several heads to look at potential problems and discuss issues before making decisions but all in all, netball is a team sport and that includes the back office managing and hosting the competition.
What did I take away from this experience? I need to carry a tool box, ensure the right volunteers are around and make sure the day after is free for a pyjama day to recover!

Chair gives birth to beautiful baby girl so Vice-Chair gets the Regional Baton

As your baton-wielding blog-loving Vice-Chair, I’d like to tackle the criticism about the lack of communication and dissemination of information to members. This blog is for you, if you care about Netball but know little or nothing about the Regional Board or committee volunteer roles beyond your club or county.

A few key facts about the North West Netball Region:

  • It embraces six counties: Cheshire, Cumbria, Manchester, Merseyside, Lancashire and the Isle of Man
  • 9267 participants (11% of National participant total)
  • 1044 organisations (12% of National total) and 314 of which are Netball Clubs.

The Chairs of all nine English Regions meet face to face or via conference call four times a year to receive updates, share good practice and discuss common challenges and to meet staff from England Netball, such as the new Interim Chief Executive Officer.

Phase 1 Arriving and Networking

My first meeting and I’m late (stressful West Coast overhead line issues sent me all over the West Midlands!): what sort of reception would I get? Inhibitions blown out the window by a lovely warm welcome, and Janet (Chair of the forum) got everyone to introduce themselves.  Phew!

Lunch was an opportunity to hear a few stories about how each of the board members got involved.  Delighted to see how passionate everyone is about promoting netball (and secretly wanting their own region to be the best!).

Phase 2 The 6 hour Forum

How to summarise six hours of discussion? Starting with structure and channels of communication.  They should work as follows: affiliated members feed information up to their counties, the county representatives feed into the relevant Technical Support Groups (TSGs) and these feed back up to the Regional Management Board (that Shirley is Chair and I am Vice-Chair).  We take this – and other items – to England Netball via this Regional Chairs Forum from which we then filter information back down: several balls to be juggled!  If you want to know more about any of the items below, you can speak to the area’s Regional TSG lead or get in touch with me (names of other Board member are on North West website).

Impressive turnout from England Netball staff including Jo Adams (Interim CEO), Paul Clark (former CEO and now Performance Lead), Amy Willis (National Development Manager – Regional Implementation) Vicky Annis (Director of Finance and Corporate Resources) and Stephanie Pippin (Director of HR), also on the Agenda was Beth Jones (Children and Young People Manager) and her protégé Youth Advisory Group Chair, Charlotte Rose.

GOVERNANCE ACTION PLAN UPDATE, it was agreed that information would be rolled out in readiness for September seeking applicants for the roles of Chair and President. As to the Constitution and legal structures of each Regional group, England Netball (EN) is asking Sport England what guidance is appropriate, particularly after April.

From early February the EN website will have an important new section on Compliance and Inclusion, with information on equality and diversity. A key section that will also signpost those involved with disciplinary panels to the long awaited ‘online training’ (very good news!). There is more good news about MyNet – EN have an insight team extracting and processing data which should help provide clearer information to Regions (yippeee, as this is a big item we have been pushing for).  Recent appointments to help with all this include a Disability Manager (Sheonah Forbes) and a Capital Investment and Facility Lead (Charlotte Malyon).


With the spotlight from HM Revenue & Customs on sports coaches (guidance on the sports coach UK website) and the tax affairs of organisations, England Netball invited Pay Coach, to present to the Chairs on their offer of bespoke umbrella services to ensure all involved comply with HMRC tax regulations and with payroll legislation.


Set-up in 2009 to give a voice to the youth of Netball gathering feedback and insight from young netballers.  Thirteen appointees regularly meet and discuss items with the England Netball staff. There are then two further strands: Pass On Your Passion Volunteers – POYP (12 – 25 year olds) who are volunteer coaches, umpires or administrators out and about and Youth Advisors (aged 9 – 25 years old) who don’t want to volunteer out on the ground but would like to share their thoughts and ideas with England Netball.  The North West has been represented on this group by Natasha Walker.  As a Region we have 122 POYP volunteers and 80 Youth Advisors.


Paul Clark gave an overview of the current position regarding nine Regional Performance Academies, fourteen Regional Academies and the one independent Regional Academy (Barking Abbey). He talked through recent discussions with Sport England and will be planning meetings with the Performance TSG leads and Regional Chairs to discuss the model and future. Aim is for all young girls to know the pathway to take should they want to play for England, and how they can reach their full potential.


Key updates from the Development team detailed how well Netball were doing after our Big Summer of Netball via their internal measures (e.g. grant applications and website data). Reviewed against some of the past external Sport England measures (Active People Survey, APS). Amy highlighted the fact EN are currently recruiting for a National Development Manager – Regional Implementation (who will oversee all the Regional Managers) due to her move to the role of National Manager – Coaching and Officiating to cover maternity leave. We also heard about an exciting new ‘ThisGIRLcan’ Sport England campaign, launched this week, to inspire women not currently exercising to get into sport and be active. There are loads of opportunities being promoted but we need to ensure we shout about them coming and playing netball!


All the Regional Umpiring TSG leads have attended a meeting together and the main two areas discussed were Course fees and the Assessors course. You should be hearing more about this from Gill Henderson or your County Umpiring leads once they have met.

Phase 3 Reflections during the journey home

I have broken all the rules by making this such a long blog (but if you are still with me  – well done!). My top three reflections:

  • Making things happen takes a long time.  Some of the things that are starting to take shape were being discussed when I worked for England Netball (nearly 10 years ago!) but the important element is they are taking shape.
  • There are a lot of passionate people working hard giving their time behind the scenes to grow and develop our great game of Netball at all levels.
  • Don’t be afraid to get involved and make a difference.  I was nervous about giving my input, but I walked away feeling my contributions were valued.

We will monitor feedback and reader numbers to determine if a blog such as this is an effective way to keep you in the loop. Suggestions are welcome!