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Benedict Tufnell

London Oratory School Boat Club: Fighting to stay afloat on the Tideway.

by Benedict Tufnell

The London Oratory School has had a history of rowing since the late 1960s.  The club was first run by a small group of dedicated volunteer staff and pupils until, in recognition of the growing popularity of the sport at the school, a Head of Rowing was appointed in 2009. 

In 2011 LOSBC moved to Chiswick Boathouse. the home of Thames Tradesmen , where it is now based.  This enabled access to increased boat racking space, changing rooms and improved facilities, with a view to success at the big races of the season.  In 2011/12, the club had its first full intake of J14 boys and with the help of the parents’ support group was able to complete the purchase of its first new VIII. This was a year group which promised big things for the club; a change in dynamic had most certainly taken hold.

… one of the few State Schools in the UK to offer rowing as part of its curriculum

As training became more regular and the boys more committed, the Boat Club purchased new boats and started to win races. The first major stepping stone was Octuple sculls reaching two finals at the National Schools Regatta and the B Octuple winning Gold in 2012, a huge success for such a relatively tiny boat club. The medals began to flow in with a win for the 1st VIII at Quintin Head, which meant that finally there was a photo of the race, proudly positioned next to the rugby photos on the wall in the school gymnasium.

… the J14 and 15 year groups are showing undeniable potential for the years to come, as well as a commendable resilience to the threat hanging over them

From this crew, the club has gone from strength to strength with a string of ‘firsts’.  In 2015, this 2012 intake succeeded in qualifying for Henley Royal Regatta for the first time and then in 2016, won the Child Beale Cup for senior boys 1st VIIIs at National Schools.  This success was unprecedented in school rowing, as The London Oratory School was the first comprehensive school to win the event for 1st VIIIs. The next step was 1st place at the Marlow Regatta, which for the first time meant that the school pre-qualified for Henley, contributing to progressing through to the second round at Henley, after beating King’s Canterbury in the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup on day one .

In the 2016/17 season the club has continued its success, and the J14 and 15 year groups are showing undeniable potential for the years to come, as well as a commendable resilience to the threat hanging over them. To start the winter, the J15 year group secured a second place finish in the coxed fours at the school’s Head of the River, and a top three finish for the J15 VIII.  A J15 octuple took third at the Junior Sculling Head, and the J14s took silver, losing out on the gold by 1 foot. The same J15 four took 1st at Hammersmith Head. Into the summer and the J15 2nd VIII won at Thames Ditton regatta, giving the whole squad a huge morale boost. The J14 “A” octo took Bronze at National Schools, and the J15 1st VIII reached the final, missing out on the medals by a canvas. Despite all this success, the club faces an uncertain future.

That sinking feeling

All this hope and potential is under threat of catching an inelegant ejector crab.

With the increasing demands on school finances and the pressures of budget cuts, the London Oratory School, one of the few State Schools in the UK to offer rowing as part of its curriculum, is being forced to either stop the rowing programme or to find alternative sources of funding as of July 2017. 

The LOSBC Support Group, a registered charity formed to help the Boat Club, is working with the school to ensure the long term sustainability of rowing.  Over the last few weeks, a plan has been worked out to ensure that it can self-fund through the next academic year (2017//18) and then work on the long term funding issues.  There has been a groundswell of support from across the rowing community with British Rowing, Fulham Reach Boat Club, the Kitchin Society and many others offering advice, support and guidance on the issue.

It is very much hoped that the Governors, who are due to make an imminent decision on the matter, recognise the significance of support from the parents, boys and rowing community at large and see a way to ensuring that this success story is given the opportunity to power ahead and win.

For those who wish to support the LOSBC in its bid to stay afloat, please visit their Just Giving page here: https://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/losbc/keepusafloat

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