State schools in both Hammersmith and Chelsea set their sights on taking on the public-school rowing elite this week as a new boat club moved a step closer to opening its doors.
Pupils from Hammersmith Academy were on hand to help unload a £160,000 consignment of new boats, shipped nearly 6,000 miles from a factory in Shanghai. They will get their first taste of the sport next week, when the club begins its learn-to-row courses for pupils aged 14 to 18.
Three other local schools – Chelsea Academy, Burlington Danes Academy and Lady Margaret School – also have a partnership with the club, which will become the first to open on the Boat Race stretch of the Thames for more than 50 years.
“A couple of the academies want to be competitive and to mix it up with the established rowing schools but we need to spend a couple of years embedding good technique and ways of doing things,” said club chief executive Steve O’Connor.
“The aim is after a year or two to get Chelsea Academy [for instance] on the start line in their own right.”
Five-times rowing Olympian Sir Steve Redgrave came from a state school but more than half of Britain’s rowing gold medallists at the London 2012 Olympic Games were privately educated.
However, the new club aims to “bust the myth” that the sport is elitist, helped by £3m in funding from developer St George, in an agreement with Hammersmith & Fulham council linked to the construction of nearly 750 riverside flats, plus offices, restaurants and bars.
“We’re really lucky that we’ve got a brand new facility and had a blank piece of paper to start with – we’re not inheriting anything,” said O’Connor.
“What we offer will perhaps be more professional than learn-to-row courses elsewhere. There will be measurables for each course that will need signing off.”
O’Connor explained: “By Christmas all the schools will have been through the learn-to-row course and all groups should be competent.
“Towards the end of the school year, we’ll look to race the academies internally and the schools will be recognised in their own right.
“But there are other goals that are a bit more ‘woolly’: Some of these students have never been involved in sport. We want to teach them that being out of breath is okay.”
After the school pupils unloaded 16 new boats – singles, doubles, quads and eights – into the new facility, O’Connor added: “They understand it’s a great opportunity, although they don’t know a lot about it.
“They’re excited about getting on the river but maybe a bit nervous of falling in.”
Find out more about Fulham Reach Boat Club on their Facebook page
Martin Gough writes the weekly rowing blog The Rowlup – http://www.therowlup.com – out every Friday
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