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Stratford upon Avon Boat Club is all about collective spirit and the attitude - ‘anyone can row’ -  is what makes them Parasport Club of the Year.  

Adaptive Head Coach Mark Dewdney has been the driving force behind the section’s growth from two rowers in 2015 to six or seven different boats serving a squad of more than ten today.  

The West Midlands club has been awarded Parasport powered by Toyota’s very first Club of the Year award after winning a public vote encompassing all 11 Club of the Month winners.  

The Club of the Year award aims to shine a light on a truly sensational inclusive opportunity to get active in the UK, in doing so hoping that other clubs can learn from this community role model to improve their own range of inclusive offerings.

And Mark, who couldn’t be prouder of his club, believes Stratford’s success is down to their team ethos and determination to make anything work.  

“Everyone’s very proud to win the award, and I’m proud of them,” Mark said. “Given it’s a public vote, it’s very special.  

“The whole team have been campaigning for votes and really getting behind the effort, and I think that shows what we’re all about.  

The boat club really pulled out all the stops in their humours campaigning efforts
The boat club really pulled out all the stops in their humorous campaigning efforts! (Photo credit: Stratford Herald)

“Winning this award shows that together we are more than the sum of our parts. Any team with that ethos is going places.  

“A club’s only as strong as what the members are prepared to contribute to it. We’ve got a strong team that works together.  

“We were genuinely surprised to win. All the clubs we were up against – you could read every one of their stories and be mightily impressed with what they do. If any of them had won instead they would have been thoroughly deserving.  

“It’s a privilege to be associated with all those other clubs, they are doing great work for disability sport.”  

Stratford were named Club of the Month back in October for the exceptionally inclusive environment which they have cultivated.  

Mark says "There is no selection criteria for joining. If we can make it safe and you are willing to give it a go, we will try to make it work for you"

However while Covid-19 has delayed the club's ability to celebrate the award, Mark hopes that the Club of the Year award can inspire other clubs to develop their adaptive offering.  

“One of the biggest benefits of being Parasport Club of the Year will, hopefully, be more funding and perhaps a bit of sponsorship,” Mark added.  

“I think it’ll also be good for adaptive rowing. The numbers are generally still small and it’ll help us spread the message.  

“What I would like to end up seeing is that it becomes an everyday thing, that every club has one or two – or however many – adaptive rowers. Disabled people should have the same opportunities as everybody else.”  

What is the secret to Stratford’s success? Mark believes that accepting you have to walk before you can run as an organisation is key.  

Mark added: “Our trick – and probably as a result of us learning from previous mistakes  – is that it’s important that every aspect of running the section comes along together.  

“It’s better to do a good job with ten than a bad job with 15. It’s important to deliver, and make sure you  can deliver on an ongoing basis.

In recognition of their achievement, we’re planning a celebratory event to award the club their prize – more on that soon!  

But what will the future bring for Mark and the team beyond that?

“One thing I’m keen to do is start an adaptive junior section,” Mark said. “At the moment we’ve got disabled rowers aged 17 to 57, but I’d like to start an offering for teenagers

“We’re going to have to increase the kit we have, we’re going to have to expand the volunteers we have, build up the logistical side of things so we can cope with the increased numbers.”  

There are challenges ahead but in every possible way - Mark and Stratford upon Avon Boat Club are prepared to meet them. 

If you’re lucky enough to live in the Stratford upon Avon area, get in touch with Mark to get involved!

Have you been inspired by the brilliant inclusive work undertaken by our fabulous Club of the Year and Club of the Month winners?

It's never too late to start making sport and physical activity more accessible and, by registering on Parasport, your club could too be in with a chance of winning Club of the Month in the future.

To register CLICK HERE.