AS Olympics year dawns, one Chester-based team is determined to help leave a lasting local legacy from London 2012 with a bold vision of sport for all.
The Chester Academy, a not-for-profit organisation based at Chester Racecourse, has been training anyone and everyone across a range of sports over the past six months.
Activities have targeted those looking to compete in future Olympics or Paralympics, seasoned athletes, as well as those starting out in sport, those returning to sport, or those who just want to get more exercise and be healthier.
There is also the opportunity for coaches to get involved in new sports, with funding available for training.
The Academy recently received a cheque for £19,530 from Sport England to match £20,000 in private sponsorship it has received from local organisations.
Claire Wilson, chief executive of Chester Academy, is clearly fired up to use this backing to maximise all that 2012 can achieve.
“The Academy is about open access to all, not just Olympians,” she said. “It is about creating opportunities and giving people in the area the chance to take up a sport they might not normally get to do, especially with the Olympics in the UK.”
While operating from Chester Racecourse, the Academy has also developed a successful partnership with the University of Chester, using the facilities there and having the opportunity in return to embrace educational opportunities such as sports science.
The university’s pool is used regularly for training by the Academy’s swimmers while Academy coaches work with the university’s swimming team.
The section does not operate as a typical swimming club. Members arrive already boasting a good standard and receive performance-level training. They can compete in events for their own swimming club while still under the Academy umbrella.
The Academy is also offering to create new opportunities in schools by introducing children to different sports under expert guidance.
“We went to Queen’s Park High School in Handbridge to teach fencing to one year group for two sessions a week for a couple of months,” said Claire. “Everyone there was so impressed with it.
“We brought the equipment to them with coaching by Great Britain fencer David Gregory, one of the Olympic hopefuls for 2016.
“The result is now a couple of members of their staff are being trained so they can teach fencing to the whole school in future, and that in essence is what we are trying to help achieve. I really feel we have made a difference there.”
The Academy has spent much of the past six months getting its infrastructure in place to deliver on its goals on providing inclusive sports.
Claire added: “We have had to bring in coaches as although the facilities are there across Chester and the wider area, we need the people.”
But they do have big names on board.
Keith Hancock has coached athletics at national level and is actively involved in school sport and Sportshall Athletics. He will soon be delivering a sports leadership course at Queen’s Park High School.
Barry Healey, the head swimming coach, has previously worked with the Canadian Olympic team.
And this Saturday former England rugby captain Phil de Glanville, Head of Delivery at Sport England, will visit the Academy to take part in a regional performance training session.
Chester Academy also offers opportunities to participate in modern pentathlon, shooting, running and equestrian events. Coaches are also looking to introduce touch rugby and golf.