In the days after the closing ceremony of London 2012, frequently hailed as “the greatest games ever”, few could dispute that the nation was thoroughly seduced by the sporting event.
National pride was riding high and perhaps more importantly, so was an interest in sport. But how do we keep that momentum going after memories of the summer spectacle have faded and nurture that sporting interest to produce a new crop of athletes for future games?
THE sporting legacy of Northampton Swimming Club is already pretty impressive, counting three-times Olympic swimmer Caitlin McClatchey among its life members. But in order to continue nurturing its pathway to success, it would like to see more money going into the sport at a grass roots level.
Jacquie Marshall, director of the club, said: “It’s not that there’s not lots of pools, there are a decent amount we are able to use in Northampton, and there is the 50-metre pool in Corby, which is fantastic for competitions.
“What is really important is that we keep promoting swimming to attract up-and-coming swimmers and funding access to swimming.
“We have been successful in getting access funding for disability sport which is great, but the cost of swimming is something we need to look at.
“We are a not-for-profit organisation. We have top swimmers in our club who have 22 hours available a week in the pool, which is what top performance requires, but they have to pay for that and it costs them £115 a month to train.
“We get something from the Champion’s Fund, but that doesn’t cover half the costs of the athletes, and we are producing top talent who are going on to swim for England or Great Britain. Even the hire of school pools in the current economic climate can be hard and then there’s the fuel costs to get to places.
“We find it really hard to find sponsorship and I think, for the longevity of the sport, the funding needs to be more at grass roots level.”
SOME of the most exciting moments of 2012 happened in the Athletics’ Stadium . . . Mo Farah’s double golds, Ennis’s glory or Bolt’s defence of his titles to name but a few. But do we have the facilities to nurture that kind of talent in Northampton?
Bryan Acford, team manager at Rugby and Northampton Athletics Club, says vital investment is needed in the town’s athletic facilities.
“There is a long-running saga over the track in Northampton, but the key point for us is that although we have a home in Northampton we do not have the facilities to hold meetings. The track we have can only be used for training not for competition.
“Over the years it has deteriorated, has cracks and it now needs significant investment. You would have to spend at least a quarter-of-a-million on the track to bring it up to standard. I think it was laid in 1999 so it’s about 12 years old. You really need to resurface a track every 10 years and to do preventative maintenance every two years. The other props also need replacing. We really need investment.”
A POPULAR spectator sport during the Olympics, even Royals, such as Prince Harry, joined the cheering crowds, but how popular is it in Northampton?
Tina Perkins, from Northampton Volleyball Club, said: “Since the Olympics we have been inundated with inquiries of women who want to join.
“It’s quite a technical game and they may not all stay, but it is also a great social sport, so we may have to think about how we are going to support this new influx of players.
“We pay about £250 to the national league and then there’s balls and equipment, clothing, hall rental . . .
“To be honest, we have tried to apply for any funding in the last few years but when we start up again on September 4, with extra players we may have to look into that.
“The most important thing for us is to keep encouraging an interest in the sport.”
Northamptonshire Trampoline Gymnastics Academy is one of the fastest-growing clubs in the county, with 941 people passing through its doors last year, but it hasn’t seen significant funding since 2005.
Tracy Whittaker-Smith, performance director at the Academy, said: “The last funding we were given was in 2005 to build the centre and since then some of the athletes have been on the world class programme.
“James Higgins is number one in the country, but because Great Britain didn’t qualify for the Olympics, he had his funding cut-off.
“At the moment he has support from the company he works for – UK National Grid – but without the lottery programme or the governing body he will be forced back to full-time work. It is like a chicken and an egg situation; you have to get good enough to get funding but you have to have funding to get good enough.
“From the youngsters’ point of view there is no funding. I think having grass roots funding at junior development level to develop elite athletes is needed rather than all the money going to the top of the sport.
“The successful sports, like rowing and cycling, get a lot more funding. I think the way funding is allocated needs to be restructured.”
INVESTING IN A SPORTING FUTURE FOR THE COUNTY
LONDON 2012 provided plenty to inspire people, and for youngsters it gave a whole host of sporting stars in many disciplines to look up to.
But is enough being done to help sustain this new interest?
The good news in our county is that funding has been successfully secured to ensure the Northamptonshire School Games can continue for another three years.
In July, around 1,000 young athletes – aged five to 15 – competed in the inaugural Northamptonshire School Games.
The Olympics and Paralympics-style event saw youngsters from schools across the county take part in 17 different sports, including five disability sports.
Councillor Heather Smith, cabinet member for customer services and chairwoman of Northamptonshire Sport Executive Board, said: “London 2012 has shown us all how inspiring and rewarding getting involved in sports can be.
“The first school games event was a tremendous success. Moulton College was a fantastic venue and it was great to see so many young people take part and compete in the various events.
“I am pleased that we have been able to secure further government funding to ensure that thousands more children and young people can enjoy this spectacular event over the next three years.
“And I hope schools who couldn’t take part this year will now feel inspired to include their pupils next year.”
The event was organised by Northamptonshire Sport and funded by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and Sport England. Further funding from the Government has now been guaranteed to continue the games until 2014-15, giving thousands more children the opportunity to take part and get involved in competitive sport.
This is not the only project that Northamptonshire Sport has been involved in to encourage activity in Northamptonshire. Jackie Browne, the organisation’s sport and physical activity manager, said: “We have already been delivering programmes for the last 18 months as part of the Sport England’s Legacy Programme, Places People Play, which has been about creating a legacy from the games and inspiring people.
“We also have Sportivate which is aimed at 14 to 25-year-olds, who currently aren’t playing sport in their own time and helping them
to find a sport that they enjoy.
“We get local clubs on board and it is a great way of supporting them too.
“We have had £96,000 per annum and next year we will get another £96,000 as well.
“This has been extended to 2016 so there is funding out there to try to attract that age group into sport.”
But this is not the only age group that Northamptonshire Sport is trying to attract.
“We want people of all ages to take up sport,” said Jackie. “We have been working with the health sector to get more people who have a sedentary life-style taking up activity.
“A really big success has been the Parkrun, which is a run that people of all abilities can take part in.
“This has just been growing and growing,” said Jackie of the event, which last Saturday saw 140 people of all ages pounding the paths around The Racecourse in Northampton.
“It has brought in people who may never have thought about doing sport . . . there are regulars there in their 80s.
“You are never too old to take up sport.
“You can even do things like adult gymnastics in the county . . . there are lots of beginner opportunities.”
To find out more about sporting opportunities visit www.northamptonshiresport.org