- Course studied:
- Sports Studies BSc (Hons)
- Year of graduation:
Sport has taken Jonathan Pace to the United States and back. It has enabled him to help the homeless, rehabilitate prisoners, engage with the elderly and boost participation among young people. Now, as Head of Sports Development and Active Lifestyles at Staffordshire University, he has returned to where it all began.
Jonathan graduated with a degree in Sports Studies from the University in 2000. Since then his career in sports development has been hugely varied, culminating with his involvement in a £1.25million investment in a state-of-the-art refurbishment of the Sir Stanley Matthews Sports Centre.
“I was always interested in the sports development side, rather than physiology, working within the community with different people and using sport as a way to bring down barriers, encourage participation and involvement,” Jonathan explained. “Now I’m continuing that work at Staffordshire University, with the Sir Stanley Matthews investment having a huge impact on participation levels among students and the wider community. It’s the biggest thing I’ve been involved in in my career so far.”
America and back
Jonathan grew up in Goldenhill, Stoke-on-Trent, before attending Newcastle-under-Lyme college, where he developed an interest in coaching and working with young people. After starting his degree at Staffordshire University at 18, a wide range of opportunities opened up to take his career in any sporting direction he chose.
“I didn’t pick Staffs because it was close to home,” he said. “I picked it because of the highly regarded Sports Studies course. In 1997, the course was really varied and I got involved with sports teams outside the university, gaining a lot of practical experience being a volunteer at local rugby, football, basketball and athletics clubs. Then my first job after graduating came from a connection I’d made while on a life-changing Staffs work experience placement in America when I was 19.”
In 2000, Jonathan moved to Pittsburgh, in the North East state of Pennsylvania, to work on a fast-growing Major League Soccer community engagement programme. A year later, during a trip home over Christmas, he saw a job opening as a part-time lecturer in Sport and Health at his old college and couldn’t resist. “I was back in North Staffordshire, teaching something I was passionate about – I really enjoyed that,” he said.
From there, Jonathan went to work for Stoke-on-Trent City Council, as Football Development Officer, developing activities across the city. Then he joined Sport England funded Arch North Staffordshire, a three-year project to get the homeless, substance misusers and former prisoners participating in sport. “That was an eye opener,” he said.
Then Jonathan spent four years at Port Vale Football Club, as Community Development Officer. “I was a Stoke fan working at Port Vale – it was an odd situation,” he joked. The project aimed to promote healthy living in the local community through engagement in sport. “It wasn’t just football – we worked with groups of elderly people, playing boules, for example.”
Finally, in 2011, Jonathan returned to Staffordshire University, first spending five years as the Student Activities Manager for the Students’ Union. Here he oversaw huge growth in participation levels but, he says sarcastically, his biggest achievement was “winning the varsity competition against Keele University.”
Now 38-years-old, Jonathan has been in his current role at the Sir Stanley Matthews Sport Centre for 18 months, and is looking at an exciting period of development for the University and the region. He said: “We’re looking to further develop all our sporting programmes, establish the elite programme to attract world class athletes to the University, and Stoke has been named as the 2016 European City of Sport. It’s an exciting time for North Staffordshire.”