A special 15 years

As Werewolves of London marks 15 years since being founded this month, I caught up with one of the founders Mike Dwyer to talk about how the club has grown and become successful as well as his aspirations for the club and special hockey.

Photo courtesy of Mike Liotta

Mike Dwyer on bench duty. Mike and his son Charles founded the Werewolves in 2002 after being involved in Special Hockey teams in North America

I believe you started the program with just 2 players. Tell us about how you managed to grow the program and were there growing pains?

In the year before our launch in November 2002  I met Judith and Janis who ran the Streatham Youth Ice Hockey Club (SYIHC), having signed up my sons Charles and Iain to the under 19 team. SYIHC agreed to make some of their ice time available – 45 minutes during a weekday evening – and the Werewolves were born.
In those days there was no social media. I joined the Lambeth Disability Sports Partnership who helped to get the word out; emailed flyers to special schools in Lambeth and some other London Boroughs. I eventually found out about the Disability Register covering a number of London Boroughs who agreed to do mailshots for a fee if i provided pre-stuffed and stamped envelopes. Things started to take off at that point and our numbers of registered players steadily grew over the following years. Although we had recruited more volunteer coaches and off-ice volunteers to form a management committee we always found that were in need of more coaches.
Player numbers reduced in the run up to the closure of the old ice rink when we relocated to the temporary ice rink in Brixton. We returned to the new ice rink in Streatham in 2013 with about 30 players and started to rebuild. We are now back up to 50 players and still growing. We have a dozen volunteer coaches in addition to our off ice volunteers who run our management committee, without whom we would not be the success we are today. 

“Ice time is like gold dust so make friends with your local youth ice hockey club and persuade them to help you get some ice time and volunteer coaches.”

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The replacement rink in Streatham opened in 2013 and Werewolves moved in after a short stint in a temporary facility based in Brixton

Werewolves are a member of Special Hockey International and attend their tournaments overseas as well as hosting it themselves twice in 2006 and 2012. How did that come about? When did the club attend its first tournament?

Two of our players attended the 2004 tournament in Washington hosted by the Washington Ice Dogs where we joined up with the Albany Cougars to make up a team. The board of SHI invited us to host the 2006 tournament and we asked to host it again in 2012 as it was the same year as the London Olympics. On both occasions we held the tournament at Bracknell ice rink with the support of Trevor Petch who generously donated his time and expertise in running hockey tournaments to make both of our tournaments a success. The rink manager, George Black, was also a key supporter along with EIHA officials. One of the challenges in hosting an SHI tournament is finding family size hotel rooms which led us to book everyone into Butlins and lay on buses to take everyone to the rink for games, or to London for sightseeing – everyone had a fantastic time.

The Special Hockey International tournaments add excitement, fun and opportunities to bond with other players. This is from the tournament hosted in Ottawa in 2015

When you look back over the last 15 years, what are the highlights for you? Are there moments that standout?

Certainly hosting the 2006 and 2012 tournaments were very special but there have been other highlights too, e.g. seeing our players, and their parents, have a wonderful experience at SHI tournaments in Canada and the USA. Teaching players to take their first steps on the ice.  Applying for and winning grant funding e.g. from The Big Lottery Awards for All so that we can loan equipment to players at no charge.  

We’ve seen growth in Special Hockey in Europe recently. Why do you think that is and do you think this is a trend which will continue?

Currently there are two special hockey clubs in the UK, the Werewolves of London and the Spice Jets in Slough. The latter formed in 2006 with players from their longstanding special ice skating programme and have grown from strength to strength. We were delighted to meet with representatives from Norway at SHI’s 2012 tournament who went on to start the first special hockey team in Scandinavia. There are now two special hockey clubs in Norway, one in Sweden and Denmark, and three in Finland.  As these are all great hockey playing nations it seems likely that there will be further growth and eventually we hope that special hockey clubs will become established in other European countries, especially where ice hockey is a popular sport.  

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SPICE Jets host a friendship tournament with participation from Werewolves and SALA Silver Bullets from Sweden

 

The club is very successful. What do you think has helped make it so? Do you still have aspirations for the club in the future?

There are several strands that go towards making our club a success but  it is of paramount importance to have on board ‘can do’ people with a range of skills and the determination and vision to make special hockey happen.  As to the future, we still have some way to go.  I would like to see our player numbers double to 100 within the next 3 years and our coaching team to grow further; all of our players to experience an SHI tournament; to host or attend a European Special Hockey tournament in addition to SHI tournaments in North America; to become more self-sufficient by broadening our funding streams including through more parent engagement in the running of our club; to develop a special hockey summer camp for our players; to hold special hockey exhibition games in rinks throughout the UK to promote special hockey.

“We have a dozen volunteer coaches in addition to our off ice volunteers who run our management committee, without whom we would not be the success we are today.”

What advice would you give to anyone reading this considering starting a program?

Ice time is like gold dust so make friends with your local youth ice hockey club and persuade them to help you get some ice time and volunteer coaches.    Keep costs of participation down by applying for grant funding for ice hockey protective equipment e.g. from Big Lottery Awards for All.   Seek guidance from https://www.ncvo.org.uk/  on how to establish and run your organisation as a non-profit or charity.   Understand the role of the National Governing Body for ice hockey and their rules and regulations especially about safeguarding and child protection.   Don’t try to do everything yourself and spread the load with volunteers.

“It is of paramount importance to have on board ‘can do’ people with a range of skills and the determination and vision to make special hockey happen”

The popular Cake and drinks stall run by our wonderful volunteers

My thanks to Mike Dwyer for taking the time to answer the questions. If you are considering starting a program, would like to volunteer or have questions on the Special Hockey program we run then please contact mike@werewolvesoflondon.org.uk

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