Fulham Reach Boat Club (FRBC) may have lost in the first round at Henley Royal Regatta on Wednesday but the last 12 months have been a great success overall for the new community rowing centre.
The boathouse, which was officially opened by Olympic star Katherine Grainger in October, has taught rowing to 400 local schoolchildren since then and is now looking for funding to increase that number.
“We’re trying to give opportunities for everyone to row with great equipment, great coaches and a great boathouse,” said FRBC chief executive Steve O’Connor .
“In the last year we have had 400 students out in boats. Some have loved it, others less so, but that’s what it’s all about. The schools have all decided they want to come back for next year, which is great.”
A year ago, a Fulham Reach coxless four won their opening race at Henley – one of the world’s biggest regattas – using borrowed equipment.
This year’s regatta proved more difficult as the crew suffered a four-length defeat at the hands of Putney-based London Rowing Club in the Wyfold Challenge Cup.
The defeat – in sweltering temperatures – was particularly tough as O’Connor is a former London RC captain and the rest of the crew are all current members of both clubs.
“We knew them pretty well and there was no pressure on us but we thought we would try to get ahead off the start then see what happened,” said O’Connor, who was rowing in his first race since last year’s Henley.
“They were a better crew, controlled it beautifully and deserved to win but it was disappointing to lose by so much.”
O’Connor readily admits that racing at Henley is all about raising awareness of the programme, fundraising and recruiting new members – a key aim in the club’s second season.
He estimates that it costs £10,000 to get one school group on the water twice a week for a year but has promised to pass just 25% of that cost to the four schools currently involved – Hammersmith Academy, Chelsea Academy, Burlington Danes Academy and Lady Margaret School.
Students from Lady Margaret brought home the club’s first medals, a bronze in the Ball Cup for small youth programmes earlier in the summer.
The club aims to repeat last year’s learn-to-row programme with year nine students, while welcoming back year 10 students who enjoyed rowing last season, and estimates the budget required will grow by 50%.
O’Connor also wants to increase adult membership this year, saying: “We’re not trying to be a performance centre but we do want to offer the facilities for people to enjoy the river and the sport.
“Maybe one thing that works in our favour is that we’re not all about winning Henley. If we get a result it’s fantastic. If not, it’s not the end of the world.”
One Hammersmith crew enjoying success at Henley were the coxless pair of Peter Reynolds and Mirko Brinker of Sons of the Thames RC. They beat a crew from Bedford easily on Thursday morning to set up a meeting with the current Great Britain pair, James Foad and Matt Langridge, on day three.
England football manager Roy Hodgson was a guest at the regatta on Wednesday and said: “It’s been great coming here and seeing some good racing and to find out more about a sport like rowing.
“I’ve also enjoyed taking a step back in time and seeing some of the traditions.”
Martin Gough writes rowing blog The Rowlup