Sports charity to help top youngsters

A SUFFOLK-based sporting charity is hoping to see the county's top young athletes through the economic downturn as they strive to make the London 2012 Olympics.

Stuart Watson

A SUFFOLK-based sporting charity is hoping to see the county's top young athletes through the economic downturn as they strive to make the London 2012 Olympics.

With the country currently in the grip of a recession, UK Sport only offered a basic level of funding to eight Olympic sports when Great Britain's London 2012 budget was announced last week.

It is certainly shaping up to be a financially testing period on the aspiring young athlete, but one initiative in Suffolk is hoping to help loosen the purse strings a little.

Launched in December last year, the concept behind the Suffolk SportsAid Foundation is a simple one - prominent local businesses who care about sport can donate money to a central pot in the knowledge that their cash will be distributed to worthy aspiring athletes identified by Suffolk Sport.

The Foundation - a joint initiative between SportsAid, the national charity for sports people, Suffolk Sport and 'Rising to the Challenge Suffolk' - has already raised over £50,000 this year for almost 30 atheletes.

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Research from SportsAid has identified that on average each athlete spends nearly £5,000 per year on equipment, training, travelling and all of the other essentials that are required for competing at the top level, however, more often than not the main or sole source of that money comes from the athlete's family and friends.

Adam Baker, Suffolk Sport's Project Manager for the 2012 Games, said: “At the moment the money we have raised has gone to elite level athletes, but the more we can raise the more we can drill down and help regional level athletes.”

Ski racer Tom Jarrold is one of the 29 athletes to have been selected to receive a grant from the Foundation. The 15-year-old enjoyed an outstanding season on the slopes earlier this year and, as a result, has been selected as the youngest member of England's junior squad (Under-18s) for 2009.

Upon his national selection, Jarrold was informed that the costs for the upcoming season would be in excess of £7,000. Six pairs of practise and race skis coming in at £3,000 alone, plus travelling, training, coaching and other equipment expenses.

During the summer the Framlingham College student's family have also had to fund trips to Loughborough University in order for Jarrold to pass the stringent fitness tests required before he could be accepted into the England Alpine Ski Racing squad and training sessions at an indoor ski slope in Manchester.

In the new season the teenager will be making trips to Norway, Italy and France for competition.

Jarrold said: “I'm very grateful to the SportsAid Foundation because skiing is an expensive business. The money has enabled me to buy one of my new pairs of racing skis.”

Cross-country runner Shaun Webb is another to have benefitted from the pool of money acquired by the Foundation. The 15-year-old - who is one of seven specific athletes to be awarded scholarship status from the Foundation - was ranked 23rd in the world at Under-15 level last season and No.1 in Great Britain.

Having represented a UK schools team in the Czech Republic last year, the Brantham resident has now moved up to Under-17 level and has his sights set on further international honours.

Webb's father Rod said: “Any money is always a help as I don't think people realise how expensive running can be. Shaun competed in Liverpool recently for example and a 500 mile round trip with overnight accommodation soon adds up.

“Because he competes in a number of running disciplines he needs about eight pairs of shoes at any one time which cost around 60 to 70 pounds a time.

“Shaun played football before he came over to running and to start with we couldn't believe how expensive it was at the top level.”

THE Suffolk Sports Foundation's first set of 'gold' sponsors have urged other businesses to follow suit as the project heads into its second year.

The Foundation offers businesses three sponsorship packages - gold (£2,000), silver (£1,000) and bronze (£500) - and has so far attracted five companies to the top level of donation.

Paul Knights of Knights Lowe Accountants attended the launch of the Foundation last year and was so impressed that he immediately put his name down to be the first of the gold sponsors.

He said: “I think it's a great idea for businesses to support local sportsmen and women. My son was a good swimmer and so I know how hard it can be to be committed to training and travelling to compete.

“I helped organise a dinner for the Foundation recently because I think more businesses need to be aware of how much their money can help.”

The University College Suffolk (UCS) are another that have contributed to the Foundation. Dr Peter Funnell, the university's Director of Enterprise, said: “Both the Foundation and UCS are committed to developing young talent and supporting the drive for excellence so it was therefore a natural association between the two.

“I think it's very important that companies work together on initiatives like this because as a collective we can achieve things that each individual part wouldn't be able to on their own.

“What I would say to other businesses is that the package offers excellent value and the return you can see on your investment is hugely rewarding.”

Ransomes Jacobsen are now part of global brand that supplies turf for events such as the football World Cup and the Olympics, however their humble origins first began in Ipswich over 200 years ago. They recently became the latest business to sign up to the gold package.

Spokesperson Peter Driver said: “The Foundation is a good vehicle for us as they can identify the young athletes in the county better than we can. Hopefully our money will give somebody from Suffolk the chance to compete at the Olympics in 2012.”

Other gold sponsors include countryside retreat High Lodge and Customer Service Direct.

For more information on the Suffolk SportsAid Foundation, please visit