Partridge opens £1m boathouse in Saltford

The Saltford Rowing Centre, a state of the art rowing complex was opened on Saturday 27th September by Alex Partridge, a multi-medal winning GB rower who learnt his craft at Monkton Combe School. After two years of detailed planning and one year of construction, Avon County RC, the University of Bristol and Monkton Combe School have now moved into the brilliant new facilities which replace a collection of 100 year old buildings which were completely inadequate for current day needs. 

400 guests were welcomed on the day, including many of the sponsors and donors whose generosity enabled the project to go forward, including British Rowing’s Chairman Annamarie Phelps and President Dame Di Ellis. The Mayor of Bath and the Lord Mayor of Bristol (himself a member of ACRC) were also in attendance. 

The day commenced with a row past by crews led by the Bristol Empire Dragon Boat Club and Avon Canoe Club, followed by crews from the Rowing Clubs. The biggest cheer went to an ACRC octuple comprising boys and girls representing eight local schools. 

Before cutting the three tapes of Avon County RC, the University of Bristol and Monkton Combe School, Alex Partridge gave a gripping insight of his experience at the London 2012 Olympic Games. First was the dramatic crew decision to go flat out off the blocks in an all-out attempt to beat an invincible German eight, then the deafening welcome by the London 2012 Gamesmakers as the crew checked in. Then the colossal tension as they sat on the start and the enormous cheer as they took the lead from the Germans, with the crowd erupting with such force in the final dash for the finish that it reverberated through the entire crew. The GB eight finished with a bronze medal in their heroic bid for gold.

The new buildings at Saltford provide a lot more space for boats as well as better access, proper changing rooms and a gym. There is also a large clubroom with a balcony overlooking the tranquil River Avon with a 4 km stretch of the best rowing water in the region. Rowing legend Sir Steve Redgrave won his first trophy racing at the Saltford Regatta when he was at school in Marlow. “The first and the best,“ he says. 

The new boathouses cost £1.1 million and were funded by superhuman fundraising efforts by all three parties who are incredibly grateful to all their many donors and sponsors. British Rowing funded the Club with a grant of £60,000 and Sport England provided £150,000 through their Inspired Facilities programme. The Duchy of Cornwall offered a new 60-year long lease for Avon County on the site and also project managed the building programme, working with ACRC’s President Antony Constantinidi who coordinated the requirements of the three Boat Clubs. 

“This is an incredible development,” he said. “Avon County RC is a community rowing club, but by setting up the partnership with Bristol University and Monkton we have been able to develop far better facilities than any of the three parties would have been able to provide on their own. In addition we have found space for other river users in the form of Avon Canoe Club and Bristol Empire Dragon Boats. This is a really tangible product of the legacy of the London Olympics in 2012. Amazingly our numbers have held up really well considering the demolition of the old boathouses, the severe flooding last winter and the dislocation caused by having to store many of the boats off site. We want to increase our membership by 40% over the next five years – sooner if possible. We’ve already had a lot of interest and are on target to achieve that goal – new members are most welcome. I think we’ll go from strength to strength now. It’s all very exciting.” Avon County celebrates its 150th birthday in 2015. The original Avon RC was founded in 1865 and became Avon County RC in 1973 following a merger with Bristol RC.

The University of Bristol BC has been based on the Saltford stretch for about 90 years, but has sometimes found it hard to recruit elite rowers because of the inadequate facilities. “We can now set out our stall in a far more effective manner,” says Bristol Director of Rowing and former NZ international rower Gordon Trevett. “My aim is to drastically increase our success in national competitions for both our men’s and women’s teams. The new Rowing Centre will have a big impact over the whole area.”

Meanwhile at Monkton Combe School, Matt Wells a four times Olympic rower with Team GB has taken over the helm of the Boat Club. Monkton has punched way over its weight in rowing success for years, providing no less than 10 very successful GB rowers in the Olympic Games and World Rowing Championships. “Our home stretch of the Avon is incredibly pretty and great for teaching boys and girls to row.  What it’s not so good for is training them for high performance racing at top level. That’s what I’m hoping to improve now. Our best athletes will be based at The Saltford Rowing Centre with much better rowing water, on-site land training facilities, and a clubroom where the crews can build team spirit. The kids love the teamwork of rowing and it sets them up for life.”

The last word goes to Avon County RC’s Jim Dawson, a member of the development team. “We created a little piece of history when we tested the showers. It’s the first time in living memory that anyone from our Club has been able to enjoy a hot shower at the river”.

If you’d like your club’s news to feature on the British Rowing website, please contact [email protected].

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