Much-loved Joy had a passion for netball and the underdog

Just Regional
Mar 21, 2023 5 mins read

“If my mum was a stick of rock she would have had ‘Aylsham’ and ‘netball’ through it,” says Jenny Haycocks of her mum, Joy, who has died at the age of 80.

A much-loved teacher and stalwart supporter of local netball, Joy loved her community, and the flood of tributes and messages following her death last week have shown that her community loved her, too.

Born in Wiltshire, Joy’s mother died when she was just two, and her father when she was 11, so community played a big part in her early life.

With aunts and uncles living nearby in Salisbury, and the staff at the local pool – where her father had been a swimming attendant – stepping up, Joy was never without someone to look after her and guide her.

“This wider community is what helped to drive mum when she was little, and that continued when she came to Norfolk,” said Jenny.

Joy moved to Aylsham in 1968 from Liverpool, where she met her husband, Jack, while teaching at a school next door to the Anfield football ground.

She started teaching at Aylsham Junior School – now Bure Valley School – in 1973, when she was head-hunted for a job.

As a PE specialist with responsibility for girls’ welfare at the school, Jenny said her mother played a vital role in empowering girls and young women by encouraging them to take up sport.

“She really made a difference to them,” said Jenny. “She was really fond of people, and on a regular basis people would come up to her and say ‘I’m a teacher because of you’ or ‘I’m playing netball because of you’.

“And a lot of people have actually said to me that they loved her. They said that she spoke her mind but that they all knew she loved them anyway.”

A keen letter writer, Joy was a regular contributor to Just Aylsham and other local publications as well as writing to MPs – and even the Queen.

“She said what she thought about something she’d seen and she was very big on inclusivity and fairness,” said Jenny. “The community always came first and I think people took her to their hearts because she took them to hers.”

Jenny said her mother was “always cracking jokes” and would always fight for the underdog. “For her, there was never a reason that someone couldn’t do anything.”

If a youngster didn’t have the right kit or the money to go on a school trip, Joy would always make sure they were not left out.

“I can only imagine that it was because of her own experiences,” said Jenny, whose own upbringing – along with her brother, Matt – was also shaped by Joy’s openness and acceptance.

“That lovely spaciousness she created allowed us to follow our passions.”

One of Joy’s biggest passions was netball, and she created many teams, the most influential being the Norfolk United Aylsham squad, which begain in 1986, with members ranging from 11-year-olds to players in their 50s. Her inclusive enthusiasm meant girls and women travelled from Sheringham, Cromer, Reepham, Norwich and Great Yarmouth to play.

Joy with some of her netball girls.

And she always made sure every one of them was given a chance. In a story in Just Aylsham in 2008, she said she always let people play in matches, whatever their ability. “You can train until your heart’s content, but everybody wants to play matches. That’s why I ensure everybody gets a game,” she said.

This appreciation was repaid by the team members, who nominated her for the BBC East Unsung Sports Hero Award in 2009. Joy was pipped at the post, but said at the time: “The fact that the girls put me forward means everything. They think enough of me to get this far.” 

She retired from teaching in 1999, but carried on coaching netball right up to a couple of months before she died.

Sarah Collins helped her to run the netball sessions and said: “Until very recently, Joy was still seen at the side of the netball court on Wednesday evenings down at Aylsham High School, where the club she founded continues to operate.

“She enjoyed being part of the club, still overseeing the training and adding her input. She was immensely proud of all the girls and their achievements, those who got into their university netball teams particularly delighted Joy. Quite simply Joy was Mrs Netball in Aylsham and the wider Norfolk Netball world.”

Joy went into hospital earlier this year, and after Just Aylsham published her letter letting people know, she was inundated with goodwill messages – including from those who didn’t know her personally but knew the role she had played in the town.

As well as being Norfolk’s “Mrs Netball” she was also instrumental in setting up the swimming club and creating the Aylsham Sports Hub.

“People said Aylsham would never have a sports hall and mum said: “Oh yes…?’” said Jenny.

Although Joy had spent time in hospital this year, she was discharged and was back home for a week before she died.

“That was her wish,” said Jenny. “She belonged here. If anybody belongs in Aylsham it was my mum.”

Her funeral will be at St Michael and All Angels Church, Aylsham, on Friday, March 31, at 3pm, with a celebration of her life at the Town Hall afterwards. The family is inviting anyone with memories of Joy to come along to do something creative, to speak, or to share photos of her.

“It’s an open invitation. Let’s come together as her community,” said Jenny.

As well as Jenny, Joy leaves a son, Matthew, and grandchildren Amelia, Noah and Sam.

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