Norwich set to be elite rowing centre

Norwich will become a leading centre for Britain's Olympic rowing and canoe hopefuls thanks to the revamped Whitlingham Boat House, which was opened last night.

The facility, put together for a cool �750,000 in less than a year, has received major backing from British Rowing and is set to establish itself as a top breeding ground for successors to the likes of Great Britain rowing legends Sirs Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent – possibly as soon as the London Games next summer.

Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk Richard Jewson was on hand to open the new centre, which will see Norwich Canoe Club, as well as the rowing clubs for Norwich, the University of East Anglia, Norwich School and Norwich High School for Girls all working together more closely.

And for David Ashcroft, a member of the boat house's management committee, that can only mean good things.

'The building itself we launched on April 24 last year, so only 15 months ago, and in that period we've raised �750,000 and we built the thing,' said Ashcroft.

'British Rowing gave us �200,000 for the project and that is the biggest capital investment they have made this year, so they are taking it really seriously.

'And obviously rowing is one of the sports where, if we are going to win Olympic gold, it is going to come from cycling, rowing or sailing.

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'That's effectively what you have got here – it is oozing confidence, excitement and enthusiasm, and people enjoying watersports – be it for leisure or straight athletic competence.

'You can feel it just growing and growing, and it is fast becoming one of the major out-of-London rowing centres, so it is very much moving forward and developing as a group.

'Obviously British Rowing has identified us and we have got a really good river here and the Broads. It really is excellent.'

Whitlingham's new boat house is set to become a focus for rowing talent from across the county – helped by Norwich Rowing Club's programme that sees them travel to 25 Norfolk schools encouraging pupils to give the sport a try.

Yet international success could come even sooner.

Norwich's Tim Pendle, 21, is in contention for a London 2012 berth and 17-year-old Albert Hicks, also from Norwich, has already won a World Cup race in Rome – while the club has another five internationals at junior and senior levels close behind.

It is a similar story at the city's rowing club where James McKelvey, William Moorhouse, Sybren Hoogland and Harry Neale have all impressed.

'The new boat house has brought all of the five organisations together – previously they had all functioned separately, but now they are really working very closely together – and that is the key,' added Ashcroft.

'We are becoming more and more successful, phenomenal success, but the buzz and inspiration here of people working together is actually superb. We have a phrase which goes with our logo: 'It's as one... we can do it.' That is exactly it.'

With phase one complete, the committee is now aiming to raise the �400,000 necessary to update the remaining internal facilities, including toilets and changing rooms.

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