British Rowing Awards: Medal of Merit

Five exceptional members from the rowing community will receive the 2020 Medal of Merit


The Medal of Merit was introduced to recognise those who have given exceptional service to both their club and their region and in 2020 five people will be presented with the award, including one to be made posthumously.

Three stalwarts from Agecroft Rowing Club – Denis O’Neill, Stephen Hitchen and Kevin Maynard – have all been honoured, together with Avon County‘s Philippa Sondheimer and Sally Lawrence from Lea Rowing Club, who sadly passed away in May.

Find out more about each of the recipients from their citations below.

Denis O’Neill, Stephen Hitchen, Kevin Maynard (Agecroft RC)

Stephen and Kevin joined Agecroft RC in 1978 when the club had a membership of just seven, in a boathouse then owned by Salford University. The club grew slowly and starting winning events which drove more growth and more success.

Under the guidance of Kevin and Stephen, the club bought back the boathouse in Salford and in the 11 years from the mid-80s to the mid-90s Agecroft won the North of England Head nine times, becoming as a true performance centre in the North West.

In 2000, Stephen, Kevin and now Denis, took the club to Salford Quays. Initially operating out of a tin shed, they won a lottery bid and built the boathouse with an excellent gym facility, created an aggressive boat buying strategy and the club started to thrive once more.

Agecroft gained the World Class Start programme in the mid noughties, as the success started to gather momentum. Crews have won at British Rowing Championships, Women’s Henley Regatta, Henley Masters and at Henley Royal in 2009. Agecroft rowers have gone on to represent their country at World Championships and the Olympics.

Denis, Stephen & Kevin made all of this possible, managing coaching, facilities, boats, fund raising, access to the Quays and so much more besides.

They finally stepped down from the committee in July 2019 allowing the new committee to define a new strategy for the club.

Agecroft RC now has an active membership of almost 200 across junior, senior, masters, social and para squads. It would not be the club it is today without Denis, Stephen & Kevin.

Philippa Sondheimer (WAGS)

Over the years Philippa has performed so many different roles that a list is the easiest way to demonstrate her commitment to the sport:

National roles – Divisional Rep for British Rowing, Secretary for WAGS, Entry Secretary for national championships, former member of British Rowing Council, volunteer at the London Olympics 2012.

Local roles – Safety Officer, Women’s Coordinator and Entry Secretary for all three heads and regattas at Avon County Rowing Club.

Everything Philippa does she does with dignity, respect and lashings of good humour. She has introduced many people to rowing and has persuaded many to stay. She is one of the most respected and long-serving members of our club.

Sally Lawrence (Lea RC)

Sally Lawrence passed away on 1 May aged 60, after being diagnosed with cancer only eight weeks earlier. In her club tribute, she was described as the heart and soul of Lea Rowing Club and, as was one of the best known of its members.

Earlier this year, Sally was to be awarded the British Rowing Medal of Merit – she knew that it was to be presented to her, but, due to the lockdown, she was unable to receive it in person.

Her connection with rowing started in 2000 when, like so many parents, she brought her young daughter and son along to the club to learn to cox and row.

Sally’s support of the club started by helping to look after the juniors and then – using her accountancy skills – she looked after the club finances.  As well as being club secretary for many years, she was soon looking after race entries, boat spares and repairs, membership records, new members, helping to organise the two annual club regattas and much more.

She was the epitome of inclusiveness, making sure people enjoyed their rowing above all else. She would support anyone who had specific needs, from people with physical and mental challenges to a local group of Hasidic Jewish women who just love being on the water.

In 2014 Sally became Secretary to the Eastern Region Rowing Committee getting involved in many of their plans and making sure that the club supported regional events as much as possible.

Sally touched the lives of everyone at the Lea and beyond, and rowing on the Lea will never be the same without her. It’s hard to think of anyone who has contributed more. Her constant presence, enthusiasm and infectious smile will be very sorely missed by everyone who knew her.

Thanks to Lea Rowing Club for their tribute. 


Thanks to the British Rowing Awards Panel – Mark Davies, Mike Williams, Nick Hubble and Andy Parkinson – for their time selecting the recipients of the Medal of Merit.

We are celebrating the winners of the British Rowing Awards 2020 all the way up until 31 December so please keep and eye out for other winners #BRAwards2020