New boats for Hillingdon as London 2012 legacy thrives

On Saturday members from Hillingdon Rowing Club welcomed local dignitaries to their picturesque site as they christened six boats at Hillingdon Outdoor Activities Centre (HOAC) near Harefield, Middlesex. 

Guests included Annamarie Phelps, British Rowing Chairman; Sir John Randall MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip; Catherine Dann, Mayor of Hillingdon; Rita Kilroy, Mayoress of Hillingdon, Councillor Michael Markham and Karen Smaggasgale, HOAC Trustee.

Four of the boats were named after the musketeers from Alexander Dumas’s classic novel – Athos, Aramis, Porthos and d’Artagnan – and were bought for HOAC with Sport England inclusive funding to be part of the centre’s Rowability programme. 

The club also christened a quad and a double, named after Greek gods Hercules and Hermes. Both purchases were made possible thanks to the generosity of Sport England and Sportivate, a Lottery funded London 2012 legacy project to help young people enjoy sport.

Catherine Dann, Mayor of Hillingdon said, “It’s a pleasure to be here naming the boat. And I wish them every success in their future rowing events – it’s a lovely location.”

Several of the guests hadn’t visited a rowing club before, including Sir John Randall who joked that it was the first time that he’d been asked to name a boat in over 17 years of being an MP.

Founded in August 2012 Hillingdon Rowing Club is a great example of the Olympic and Paralympic legacy in action and now boasts around 80 junior and senior rowers, with enquiries from prospective rowers every week. 

Jade O’Donoghue was amongst the first to join the club after being inspired by the Olympic rowing.  

“I saw the women’s lightweight double sculls with Kat Copeland saying that she was going to be on a stamp! I thought, ‘I want to be on a stamp too!’ I googled to see what was happening in the area. The club had only been going a week so I thought I’d come down. 

“Everyone was really welcoming – it was brilliant. I was in a crew with a 13-year-old girl and a 50-year-old man trying it out and I just caught the bug and here I am today.”

Junior Captain Oliver Case, 16, was also inspired to join after watching the Olympics. “We had one boat for the juniors which wasn’t great but we shared.

“I just like rowing – you make friends, develop bonds with people and it keeps you fit as well,” he said.

The six new boats are much needed as the club has been getting by on older, second hand boats. 

“To be able to turn up to a regatta and have a boat that’s respectable is great. They mean that we can compete against other clubs,” says Jade. 

“And the more boats we have the more people can get out and try it. Whatever level you’re at, there’ll be a seat for you. We welcome everyone!”

But while the boats might help the club’s performances on the water, the centre is fighting for survival on land. HOAC is under threat from the High Speed Two rail link from London to Birmingham with construction proposed to start in 2017.

HOAC trustee Karen Smaggasgale explained: “HS2 is intending to come through the lake and if that happens it would be a real loss to the borough. But we’re looking at different options and relocation.”

One such option is to move to nearby Broadwater Lake, which offers more space and is better suited to rowing and other water activities offered at HOAC. 

Club Chairman Jon Neale said, “The bigger lake is near lots of schools and there’s a sports academy up the road.”

He added, “It’s a key time for us now. The main thing for us is that people came down today and went away thinking that this a worthwhile club and that we don’t want to kill it off. I don’t think it could have gone better. They all seemed very positive.”

British Rowing Chairman Annamarie Phelps enjoyed her visit, saying: “This is a really tangible Olympic legacy run, by and for, local people. I am very impressed by the partnership between Hillingdon RC and HOAC that has ensured this beautiful facility has been enhanced for the benefit of everyone in the community. Let’s hope we can find a sustainable new site to ensure the club’s future, and to keep a rowing presence in this area.”

Echoing her sentiments, the Mayoress of Hillingdon, Rita Kilroy, said, “I’ve never ever been down here before and I think it’s amazing and long may it remain. I think it’s wonderful and it should definitely not be taken away.”

Find out more about rowing at Hillingdon at www.hillingdonrowing.com.

Ben Fogle and Alastair Humphreys visited HOAC recently. You can read Alastair’s blog about their trip here: www.alastairhumphreys.com/hillingdon-outdoors-activities-centre.

By Wendy Kewley

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