Interview: Chairman of Tyne United RC

Tyne United Rowing Club has been recently set up in order to promote competitive and recreational rowing at all levels and ages on the River Tyne in Newcastle. We speak to their Chairman, Barbara Millns and here is what she has to say.

Tyne United is a very new rowing club?  How did it come about?

Tyne United was formed in 2007 and became operational in April 2009.  Five Founding members of the Club had a desire to create genuine affordable opportunities for people from  disadvantaged backgrounds to row. At the time I already had close contacts with Gateshead Council who also had a vision to create rowing opportunities. This encouraged us to look for a site for our new club within Gateshead. The Duke of Northumberland granted us a ‘peppercorn’ lease on land in Gateshead adjacent to the river  and the rest is history as they say…well not quite.

Tell us about the ‘vision’ for your new boathouse and training facility.  Who’s idea was it and what did it take to get to where you are today?

The club Vision

The Club wishes to use the broad range of experiences, skills and talents of its members to provide a base to

  • create a community facility to use rowing to provide life-enhancing opportunities for local people, especially engaging youngsters, including those who may otherwise have become disillusioned, enabling them to achieve success at a range of levels
  • to demonstrate that the skills acquired through rowing, which include the development of social interaction, self-discipline, motivation, organisation, dedication, time-management, goal setting and teamwork, are essentially transferable and may be constructively applied to other areas of life.’
  • · to promote excellence and international success in rowing for all those who aspire to pursue their goals through these means

These three aspirations coincided with the need for Durham University – the designated U23 Performance Programme for the region- to find a permanent base to train from on the Tyne and the desire for Gateshead to provide opportunities for its Community to access water based rowing opportunities. This allowed the formation of a unique partnership between the club, the University and the Council that has as its practical expression the Gateshead Rowing Development Group that meets regularly to monitor progress and to plan future developments.

I am originally a town planner but for many years I have worked in in regeneration with particular emphasis on securing funding packages from public and private sector sources to develop partnership working for the benefit of locally deprived communities. My partner is an architect – very handy. A third founder member was an accountant and our other two founder members work in primary education and in the private sector. The combination of all these skills has produced over £1m of funding within a very short space of time.

The catalyst for the funding came from the commitment of Robert Gillespie (present Chair of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race Committee and a Durham University Alumni who sits on the University Council) who offered us £50,000 We are convinced this leap of faith suggested to other major funders that the club was a serious community organisation. In addition United Utilities offered work in kind and installed our access road. This was beneficial to them as well as they require access on our site to overhead power lines.

The Club has from day 1 had an overall development plan that included the key facilities we aspired to. We secured overall planning permission for the lot. Everything was designed in increments to allow us maximum flexibility to maximise the opportunities to secure grant aid as they presented themselves. We initially secured our access road and river access, closely followed by our 3 boatsheds for ourselves and Durham University. There was enough space within the boatsheds to slowly build a mezzanine floor to accommodate changing rooms etc if we had failed to secure other funding. We then secured Sport England grant for the Clubhouse and finally there was the opportunity through funding from British Rowing to secure the Indoor rowing tank

The strength of the overall partnership must not be underestimated. The combination of a major metropolitan Unitary Council, Gateshead, a leading British University, Durham University and a community club has been significant in helping to secure our success

Why did you want an indoor rowing tank facility?

The Tyne is a serious river with a 5/6 m tidal range. The installation of a tank not only gives us a valuable teaching tool it also maximises opportunities for Junior Rowers who are not allowed to row in the dark to keep improving their rowing during the long dark winter nights.

It also means we can run year round adult and school Learn to Row programmes. We also envisage supporting people with special health needs where going from an indoor rower to the water is a step too far. The tank will provide a safe environment prior to attempting to go on the water.

In addition we also see it as securing revenue income to secure a viable future for the club by hiring the facility to other users.

The Durham Boat tank design does not pump water – why did you choose this?

It’s a no-brainer really. The Durham Boat Tank cost £90,000. Tanks with flow will cost £500,000. In addition the fancier the tank the higher the maintenance and running costs. The Durham tanks are easy to maintain by the use of domestic swimming pool pump and cleaning systems.

Did the installation go smoothly and was it easy for your architect and engineering team to work with Durham Boat?

Durham Boat Company is run by people who are rowers so it was very easy to work with them. Our Architect is a founding member of the club so relations were very easy.

The tank comes flatpacked from the USA. The company, as part of the package send two specialists from the USA to build and install it. The base of the tank is put together upside down and the Club were asked to provide 12 strong people to turn it the right way up.

The only key issue we had was to ensure we had a temperature of 18C within the building to allow the fibreglass resin to set in a reasonable time. We hired gas blowers to do this.

Because this is the first installation of its kind in Europe – we beat a proposed installation in Germany by a couple of months – the MD of the company – Mr Jim Dreher of Dreher Oars and his partner were also in attendance.

We cannot praise the team too highly. It was a real team effort between the company and the club. In fact we anticipate exchange visits to the rowing club in Durham, New Hampshire

Have you got any other observations about the tank and how you plan to use it?

NO not really said it all above. We will be on a learning curve and I’m sure will wuill adapt as we go along.

Any advice for other clubs considering installing a tank?

The tank has to be an integral part of your club development plan, not an afterthought. They take up quite a bit of space and have day to day running cost and maintenance implications. We are lucky as a club to have in-house expertise who could talk sensibly about our design requirements with the the tank suppliers. Having said that Durham Boat Company are very approachable and are happy to try to help, but you can’t beat having up-front expertise to maximise the partnership

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