FIVE-TIME Olympic gold medalist Sir Steve Redgrave officially opened the new Lea Rowing Club boathouse in East London on Saturday with the ceremony coinciding with the Paralympic Rowing Regatta at Rio 2016.
The club, which has been rowing on the River Lea since the 1840s, had received donor funding of £770,000 which has allowed the boathouse to double in capacity, and the new facility includes a boathouse for junior and recreational rowers.
Lea Rowing will also be launching an adaptive rowing programme for people with disabilities and Sir Steve, who rowed at a Lea Regatta as a boy, is delighted with their progress.
“It is great to see grassroots sport thriving at The Lea Rowing Club and I am delighted to be opening the new Jimmy O’Neil Boathouse,” he said.
“This will particularly help support the junior rowing section of the club, something very close to Jimmy’s heart, having been responsible for coaching so many aspiring young Lea rowers over the years.
“I fully expect to see even more Lea crews out on the water and racing at regattas all over the country, representing Hackney and East London in their distinctive bright orange kit.”
The boathouse was named after O’Neill, who passed away in 2013 having dedicated a lot of his spare time as a long-standing member of the club.
They have a proud heritage with members aged eight to 80 from the local community, all over London, and beyond.
Lea Rowing Club captain Richard Ellis said: “The GB Rowing team had inspiring success in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and Paralympics. We now have a real grassroots legacy of the Olympics in East London to inspire future generations to take up the sport at all levels.
“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the funders without whom this would not be possible.”
Funding for the new facility was provided by Sport England, British Rowing and Mayor of London Sports Facilities Fund, administrated by the Football Foundation, London Marathon Charitable Trust, Youth Experience in Sport and the Colgan Foundation.
Members and friends of Lea Rowing Club raised more than £400,000 to support the site and its facilities.
Charles Johnston, Sport England’s property director, said: “Sports facilities are a vital part of grassroots sport and we know people have a better experience of sport when they can be active in good quality facilities.
“We are pleased to offer £400,000 of National Lottery funding to Lea Rowing Club, which will to help new and current rowers lead more active lives.
“This investment being made through our Improvement Fund will make a big difference to the rowing and local community, ensuring people have a place to get active and enjoy rowing all year round.
“The opening of the new Jimmy O’Neill Boathouse facility will inspire the next generation of rowers and new club members of all abilities.”
Former member Maddy Badcott, from Holloway, was in the winning women’s boat in the Oxford-Cambridge Boat race for the last two years, illustrating the success that the club has achieved.