COLUMN: 'Expansion' the future for Ely rowing club
- Credit: ISLE OF ELY ROWING CLUB
I’m writing this after the University Boat Races - the exciting rowing event which happened in the Ely area over Easter weekend.
Of course, for many readers of the Ely Standard, this was a non-event.
None of us were able to watch it from the banks because of coronavirus restrictions.
It was exciting to watch it on TV: both races were very close. Personally, I was pleased that Cambridge won both.
For us at the Isle of Ely Rowing Club, there was a little buzz from being able to help in a small way though, like you, we couldn’t watch it live.
We wanted to be good neighbours, and so some months before the races we volunteered to help.
Our role was confined to three tasks. As you read in a previous edition of the Standard, some of our teenage members were lucky to be able to help by holding the stern of each racing boat at the start.
A small army of adult volunteers from our club helped to provide a park and ferry service across the river.
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Parking facilities at the CUBC Boathouse are minimal in any event but were reduced even more so due to working within the Covid-19 restrictions for broadcast equipment and the Oxford marquee.
Some of us acted as marshals and others drove the launches.
As you know this isn’t the first time the Boat Race has been rowed on the Queen Adelaide straight.
But it is the first time a TV audience has been able to see the glorious River Great Ouse from cameras at river level and from drones and helicopters above.
And it’s the first time it has been rowed here since women’s rowing gained such prominence.
I’d like to think the Boat Races would stimulate an increased interest in the sport of rowing, and in our wonderful area, our river, and its surrounding landscape.
So what is the outcome of this big national sporting event happening in our City?
Few of our readers may want to aspire to row for Cambridge University, though some (or at least their children) may have the benefit of rowing at Kings School Ely.
If the focus on our beautiful river has got you thinking how you too can get involved in rowing locally then the best route into our wonderful sport would be to join the Isle of Ely Rowing Club.
We are a club which aspires to serve all sections of the community, whether you’re absolutely new to rowing or whether you rowed in the past and are keen to get back in a boat.
Our membership subscription is affordable; and we run regular 'learn to row' courses for adults and juniors.
We have built up a strong working relationship with Ely College and offered rowing as an extra-curricular sports session to a group of their students until the Covid-19 pandemic obliged us to stop.
We hope to resume this very soon, possibly involving Witchford Village College too.
The club has a good reputation locally and nationally. In normal times we run two British Rowing events each year: The Great Ouse Marathon (22km) in September and the Ely Head Race (5km or 3km) in November.
During the lockdown, our members have won medals at a number of virtual Indoor Rowing championships; before that we were successful in Head Races and Regattas around the region and beyond.
So the first answer to my question ‘Where now for rowing in Ely?’ is that the future lies in the continuing development and expansion of the Isle of Ely Rowing Club.
You may not think you are cut out for this sport; but we cater for all ages and fitness levels.
We have younger members from age 13 upwards. However, many of our adult rowers took up the sport in their forties or fifties. We have some regular scullers who are in their seventies.
Rowing doesn’t have to be all about competition, it is a great way to get or keep fit and there’s a great social side to being part of a crew – it's just a wonderful way to enjoy our beautiful river and have some fun.
You may be surprised that as a thriving rowing club we have less than luxurious facilities.
All our boats are stored outside, and our other equipment is in shipping containers and a couple of portacabins.
We don’t need quite such a luxurious and well-equipped building as CUBC, but our vision is for a building where we can store most of our boats, changing rooms and toilet/washing facilities, a social area, a space for a small gym and workshop.
We cannot engage in fundraising or even grant applications for a permanent building until we have permanent tenure (either freehold or a long-term lease) on a suitable piece of land.
All other things being equal we would be quite happy to stay where we are, next to the Country Park.
We are currently in negotiation with our own landlord and the owners of other sites in the City in an attempt to establish ourselves on a more permanent basis.
So for the future of rowing for the community in Ely to be assured, we need to resolve the land issue soon.
We should be glad of any support in this endeavour from local councils and businesses. We are in this for the long term.
To return to the Boat Races, this event has shown that the Ely area and the River Great Ouse are capable of staging such a high-profile event.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, after the current pandemic is over, we could run a similar racing event which the public could watch?
This would raise Ely’s profile and bring revenue to the area; and if our club and CUBC cooperated to organise the event it could have potential benefits for us both. We hope to make a start on planning this soon.
The Isle of Ely Rowing Club has come through the pandemic in a pretty healthy state.
There is a great deal of enthusiasm among our membership for the return to rowing which is currently under way after the end of the latest lockdown.
Nearly 50 people have signed up for our latest series of adult Learn to Row courses and we have nearly 20 on the waiting list for our junior group.
So we have good reason to be optimistic about the future. We should be glad of Ely Standard readers’ support to make our vision a reality.