This month saw the launch of an historic new sporting facility in the borough – the first rowing club to be opened on the Boat Race course of the River Thames for more than 50 years.
Fulham Reach Boat Club (FRBC) is a brand new facility offering the local community an opportunity to discover a new sport, including children attending state schools in the borough.
Cutting the ribbon and declaring the club officially open was Katherine Grainger CBE, our reigning Olympic rowing champion, herself a former state school pupil from Glasgow.
Youngsters from the Chelsea Academy, Hammersmith Academy, Burlington Danes Academy and St. Pauls Girl’s School attended the launch and were thrilled to meet the Olympic star – especially when she generously offered the children a chance to wear her London 2012 Olympic gold medal round their neck.
Katherine, who is currently training hard for the Rio Olympics in 2016, said on arrival at FRBC: “This is the nicest boat club I’ve ever been to, it’s so smart!
“It’s the most amazing thing to bring rowing into the community. I’ve ended up being very involved in rowing and going on to a very high level, but I started out at uni having a laugh.
“It’s such a sociable sport and it’s wonderful Fulham Reach Boat Club is putting such an emphasis on teaching youngsters who go to school so near the river but haven’t had the chance to row.
“They may take it for granted, which they definitely should, but the Hammersmith stretch of the river is one of the best in the UK and as they get more into the sport they’ll realise this is where the best races are and is one of the most famous places to row in the world.
“There’s been a lot of interest from girls which is great to hear as the Women’s Head of the River Race is the biggest women’s rowing race and it happens right here.”
Katherine was warmly welcomed to the club by its Chief Executive, former national champion, Steve O’Connor, who has said he is determined to “bust the myth” that rowing is an elitist sport.
The club has a team of expert coaches, new fleet of 16 boats, an indoor training room with eight rowing machines, smart new changing rooms and a club room.
Steve O’Connor said: “Rowing is a sport that is open to a lot of people and I enjoy busting the myth that it is elitist. This Boat Club creates an opportunity like no other to increase the participation levels within rowing. With a new fleet, professional coaching team and outstanding facilities we have created every opportunity to uncover the Olympic stars of the future.”
David FitzHerbert, Chairman of Fulham Reach Boat Club, added: “To me, Fulham Reach Boat Club is about three things: opportunity, access and enjoyment. Opportunity for students in schools to learn a great sport with the best of coaches and equipment; initially we are starting with four schools in the area but hope to expand. We aim to be beating private schools within five years.
“Secondly, access to the river: we live in a very crowded city – the area between Putney Bridge and Teddington lock is equivalent to one thousand football pitches! It is huge, beautiful, quiet, governed by Nature and yet most Londoners have never been on the water.
“And thirdly, enjoyment: rowing is very enjoyable. Whether starting out as a complete beginner or competing at Henley, it is great for each individual and also in building team spirit. Ask the students!”
The new club, featuring a boathouse, pontoon and fleet of 16 new rowing boats, has been funded by developer St George in an agreement with London’s Hammersmith and Fulham Council linked to the construction of nearly 750 riverside flats, plus offices, restaurants and bars.
Nick Hutchings, Managing Director, St George Central London, said: “I am delighted that we have supported this fantastic new facility at our Fulham Reach development. Fulham Reach Boat Club is an important part of this new community and will be an asset for the residents of Hammersmith and Fulham.”