Former England cricket captain Mike Gatting, champion jockey Colin Brown and Olympic medal-winning equestrian Jonnelle Richards were among the big names at Marlborough Sports Forum’s inaugural fundraising dinner on Thursday.
But as the forum’s chairman, town councillor Andy Ross, reminded the sell-out event at Marlborough’s Town Hall, the forum was about grassroots sport, as well as giving a helping hand to the stars of tomorrow.
“When I was mayor, I chose youth and sports as my theme for the year,” said Councillor Ross. “I wanted to recognise and publicise the incredible work our clubs do in introducing sport to young people.”
He said Marlborough Rugby Club was attracting 260 young players to its youth and colts teams, while Marlborough Cricket Club boasts around 80 academy members.
“The figures are astonishing,” he said. “It requires a huge commitment in time and effort to bring sport to our young people.”
Now just over a year old, one of the forum’s jobs was to fight for better facilities. “Clearly lack of facilities in the town is a constant theme,” he said. “
“The junior football club were desperate for an additional pitch. The forum made a request to the Town Council to consider re-installing an old pitch on The Common.
“Now, the pitch is prepared and posts are up and 120 youngsters are now training every Saturday morning using the excellent facilities of the rugby club.
“The coach tells me he is watching the youngsters playing football and rugby and switches them to where they show their greatest aptitude, so we now have some 400 young people playing football or rugby on The Common each Saturday and Sunday.
“I call this a result.”
The forum was also helping the town’s sports stars of tomorrow to fulfil their potential. Cricketer Duncan Lorraine was one of the first three recipients of £1,000 grants from the Sports Forum, and updated the 160 guests on his progress and that of the others.
He told how a grant had enabled hockey player Will Seward to join the England squad on a Four Nations Cup tour to Holland, where he scored twice. Will has now been selected to play for the Wessex Leopards under 18 squad, and will be taking part in under 18 England trials.
Basketballer Pip Armitage used her grant to help with travelling costs to attend matches across the UK and to Prague, Poland, Sweden and Belgium. She is now a member of the under 16s England squad.
Duncan’s grant funded a tour of Dubai. “Those nine days in the desert were probably the best experiences in my life so far,” he said. “We played four matches, and won three. As for my own performances, I kept wicket and took two catches and two stumpings.
“Dubai was an expense my parents had not known about or budgeted for and I am extremely grateful for the grant given to me from the Sports Forum
“This year has brought sport to the fore front of our lives and young children watching athletes excel in the Olympic and Paralympic games can only be inspired and it’s great to know that opportunities are out there for us.
“As a country we want our youth to achieve but the reality of it is our parents still have to pay and organizations like this help massively.
“I’m sure that the Sports Forum will help many other local children achieve their dreams.”