Essex continues to lead junior archery

South Essex continues to prove it is an increasingly popular place for junior school archery with its annual summer Archery Youth Games. Twenty-five schools chased 14 team places at the games. In all, 150 children from junior schools around the south-east corner of the county battled it out in three sections shooting at different distances on Thursday 9 July 2009.

The largest section, with 11 teams,  was for children using fibreglass (“jelly”) bows and was won by WilliamRead School from Canvey Island.

Four teams of archers took part with barebow recurves and that section was won by St. Nicholas Church of England Primary School, Tillingham. Those children who have chosen to take part in archery outside of school have been put on the “Player Pathway” and they shot Olympic Recurve bows. The Player Pathway offers youngsters extra tuition at Deanes Sports College, the regional centre of excellence for archery, with a view to helping them develop to club level and beyond.

The driving force for junior archery in Essex is the region’s senior archery teacher and chairman of Archery GB’s junior committee, John Willson, who organised the tournament. He says “There’s no reason why some of the children here today should not be looking towards selection for the 2016 or 2020 Olympics. I am pleased that that there are those who are moving from jelly bow and are starting to shoot barebow as that is step towards them joining the Pathway.”  The Player Pathway system has proven very successful. Last year’s competition had just one Pathway participant. This year there were 16.

Giving encouragement to the children were two Team GB members. Just a few days before the tournament, 17-year old Matt Gardner was named Champion on the compound bow at the Junior National Outdoor Championships for the second year running. Luke Willett was double champion in 2008 for Under-18 Target and Under-18 Clout competitions. Each shepherded one of the school teams with members of Rayleigh Town Archery Club looking after the other teams.

Tournament Judge Graham Sibley is very supportive of the development in the south-east of Essex: “I have been judging these contests for eight years and it’s marvellous to see the development, not only of individual children, but the spread of the programme to more and more schools.”

The example of south Essex should be followed across the country, according to the Vice-President of Essex County Archery Association, Tom Major. “The Koreans are highly successful at archery on the world stage”, he explained. “This is mainly due to them starting archery with children aged 6-8 and they grow to become excellent archers. If what is happening in south Essex were to be duplicated across the country, we would have a top archery team and if that were so, there is no reason why on the future, Great Britain could not dominate world archery.”

Tom Major was assisting the Lady Paramount, the Essex County Archery Association’s president Marlene Hutchins, who said she counted it a privilege to be invited to the event and engaged with a number of the contestants before handing out the prizes. Observing this special event, and assisting with prize giving was Archery GB's Development Manager, David Reader.

The event finished with a single arrow fun shoot at balloons attached to the targets.



Matthew Gardner from Bishops Stortford is the best under-18 compound bow archer in the UK for the second year running. He won the title at age 16 and has retained it at 17. This young man has a natural gift for archery. His rise to the top has taken less than four years. In fact only after one year he earned a place in Team GB.

“I’ve been very fortunate,” he said. “I only started 4 years ago, but I have had very good help. Neil Wakelin took me under his wing when I first started. Although he never actually coached me, he gave me tips and helped me along and that progressed me up to a position in the GB squad.” 

Being part of Team GB means he represents his country at international competitions at home and abroad. He has recently taken part in Europa Cup competitions in Ukraine and Portugal, but has also shot for his country in Germany, Czech Republic, Turkey and Cyprus.

Matthew confesses he does not practice as much as she should. He did a few weeks of 300 arrows a day, but demands of exams meant he has had to give priority to his education, so he has reduced the amount of practice he does. “There is possibly a career ahead of me as a professional archer,” he says, “but there’s really no money in archery unless you can go to Las Vegas and win a five-day competition there.” So Matt’s plans are to continue to enjoy his archery as an amateur. 

Photos: available for download at

Press report written by Brian Nichols, 01268 795555 / 07976 73 5757
Event organiser: John Willson 07860 736610