CLUB OF THE WEEK: Swindon Rowing Club

This Is Wiltshire: Swindon Rowing Club's Francis Nunnery, Tom Sergent and Will Stevenette (l-r) Swindon Rowing Club's Francis Nunnery, Tom Sergent and Will Stevenette (l-r)

IF THERE was any doubt about the delivery of the ‘Inspire a Generation’ motto from London 2012, you need look no further than this humble rowing club based on the banks of Coate Water lake, writes LAURA LAMBERT.

Before the Olympics, Swindon Rowing Club struggled to keep hold of 10 members, but now there are 40 members on the books and a palpable sense that the club is on the rise.

Beneath the surface of this good news is an even more significant factor, which says a lot about the nature of the club itself, beyond Olympic legacy impact.

Within the boost in numbers has been a diversity unusual to rowing in this country and one enthusiastic member, Bernhard Krischan, puts this down to the inclusion and equality at the core of the club.

“This club makes it clear it welcomes people from all backgrounds,” he said.

“Equality is very important to the club and it is not elitist at all, it is for everybody. There are people from different ethnic backgrounds and all walks of life here.”

Members range widely in ability, background and age and there is a special ‘Learn to Row’ programme dedicated to beginners.

Although the option of competing in regattas has been offered to members in the past, Club coach Jacob Allinson explains that the club hasn’t had a strong competitive side, but the new influx of members should help to change this.

“We haven’t done much racing in the past as we had a relatively low number of members before the Olympics,” he said.

“Lots of kids are interested in rowing as a sport, so they are coming down and having a go.

“I would say we are getting to a critical mass of people where we are a proper club and although there is still work to be done, we are really moving forward.

“All our projects this summer, our funding, and our larger membership should all combine next year to allow us to enter people a lot more often for local and regional competitions.”

Having received grants from Sport England, npower, Thames Water and the council, the club has been able to rebuild their pontoon, buy a new safety and coaching boat and buy a new quad boat for the members to race in at regattas. In addition to this, they have recently been lent a quad by Bristol Avon Rowing Club.

Despite the competition between clubs in the Wiltshire and Gloucestershire South region, they appear happy to share knowledge and facilities.

Whereas in the summer there are three training sessions per week, during the winter the club reduces this to just one session on a Sunday morning.

The members say they will brave most weather, and training is only cancelled if there is ice on the lake. On this particular Sunday, the weather is surprisingly pleasant, and I arrive too see many members fresh off the water brimming with enthusiasm. One of the youngest but most experienced of these is Rhys Parker, who reveals how much he enjoys being part of this welcoming club.

“Out of all the clubs I’ve been to, this has been by far the friendliest club,” he said.

“It’s the one where it’s taken the least time to feel properly accepted, as you become part of the group from the first session.

“I would love to be able to start coaching, do some racing and row as a hobby, and this is a great club where I can do that.”

A prime example of the club helping new members to develop and building on the recent interest in rowing was the Coate Regatta which they held in September. The club decided it would be a perfect way to give new rowers and novices a chance to take part in an informal competition without the intimidation of a full, official race. Furthermore, Allinson reveals how lucky they are with the stretch of water they have, and thought they needed to make the most of it.

“The lake is brilliant for regattas, as it has shelter and you can have a straight course,” he said.

“There hadn’t been a regatta here for a number of years, so we thought it was the perfect way to round off a great year.

“Over 50 people came down, each one entering lots of races, and I think everyone had a fun day.”

Before I leave this cosy clubhouse, which is overflowing with enthusiasm and determination to fulfil the potential the club clearly has, Allinson makes one plea.

The club is looking for relatives of a member of the original Coate Rowing Club which ran from 1922-1928 on the lake. Cyril Gray recently died but was extremely supportive when Swindon Rowing Club was set up in 1997, and the club is keen for any relatives of his to visit the club and see the boat that has been named in his memory.

With a boost from the Olympics, a new website which will help ensure that interested locals know how to get involved, it is encouraging to see how Swindon Rowing Club are inspiring the next generation of Swindon rowers.

For more details on the club, or to give any information on Cyril Gray, visit www.swindonrowingclub.co.uk.

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