What’s sport to do with heritage? Showcase Oxford

This blog post is co-written by Felicity Crawford, Oxford Preservation Trust’s sporting guru, and features interviews with Chris Freeman, Oxfordshire Sports Partnership, and Sarah Richards, Oxford Brookes University.

© Oxford City Football Club - Oxford City Football Club

With less than a year to go until the world's finest sportsmen and women will descend on London, Oxford Open Door's theme for 2011 had to be Sporting Heritage. To make this happen, Felicity has been helping Oxford Preservation Trust find lots of people in and around Oxford to become involved and open up their doors. Felicity is a bit keen on sports herself (she plays football for Oxford City Ladies!) and is interested in the legacy that events such as Roger Bannister’s record breaking four-minute mile at Oxford's Iffley Road Track or Matthew Pinsent’s Olympic rowing gold medals in 2000 and 2004 have left in Oxford. Through her research she has uncovered some of Oxford's hidden sporting histories. For instance, did you know that University Cricket has been played at the Cricket Pavilion at University Parks since 1881 or that Oxford City Football Club is Oxford’s oldest football club, celebrating its 130th season this year?

Felicity and I have also been out and about talking to some of the people directly involved with sport and communities around Oxford, and interviewed Chris Freeman (CF), head of Oxfordshire Sports Partnership, and Sarah Richards (SR) from the School of Health and Life Sciences at Oxford Brookes.

Could you tell us a little more about your work?

CF: Oxfordshire Sports Partnership brings together organisations within the county to achieve our vision of getting everyone in Oxfordshire more active and achieving their potential in sport. Participation in sport and physical activity in England is remaining stubbornly static and our view is that by working more collaboratively we stand a greater chance of increasing participation. It seems to be working as we have the leading participation of any county in England based on the latest national survey.

SR: The Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at Oxford Brookes University brings together the teaching and research expertise of two former Schools; Life Sciences & Health and Social Care and the Department of Psychology. We have a long-standing reputation for the quality of our teaching and research, with a warm and supportive environment in which to learn, providing foundation, undergraduate, post-qualifying, postgraduate and research study opportunities across a wide range of subject areas including biological and medical sciences, environmental sciences, health and social care, psychology, sport, exercise and nutrition.

Have you got any great stories from your work with communities around Oxford?

CF: Since we started we’ve had over 300,000 attendances on activities supported or led by groups within the Partnership and lots of inspirational stories. GO Active has been a key project. One of our attendees, who had unfortunately been widowed, found a new lease of life by becoming part of a team. One of our annual events - the Parallel Youth Games at Blackbird Leys Leisure Centre is particularly inspiring. Children with disabilities from throughout the area take part in a range of new sports and activities. We also support coaches and volunteers who are the lifeblood of local clubs and activities. One person who we have supported is now in the process of setting up his own coaching business, which obviously helps the local economy.

SR: Our department has good working relationships with local communities. Local schools come on visits to the Human Performance Laboratory to take part in exercise tests which would typically be used in undergraduate teaching. There are also work experience opportunities in our laboratories for local school children. Oxford United Football Club has come to the University’s Centre for Sport to participate in circuit training classes as part of their physical conditioning programme.
Some of our students volunteer to work alongside cardiac exercise physiologists from the John Radcliffe Hospital with Phase III cardiac rehab patients and the Clinical Exercise and Rehabilitation Unit (CLEAR) brings together people across Oxford and further afield who have either suffered trauma or have a particular medical condition which requires close supervision during exercise therapy. The CLEAR Unit also organises Olympics - the Summer and Winter games are a chance for children who experience movement difficulties to take part in a series of activities over 4 days. And the Human Performance Unit has strong relationships with Oxford University Boat Club and is very involved in exercise testing during the run up to the annual Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. The results from physiological and metabolic testing are fed back to the Oxford coach.

What do you think about the links between sport and heritage? Do you think sport can be used to encourage people to take an interest in their local culture?

SR: I believe heritage and sport are heavily linked. Often sporting heritage dictates the popularity of sports regionally and therefore impacts upon culture (i.e. the values and practices that characterise a group) and/or community on many levels. This may be particularly important where an athlete is associated with a particular geographical location, e.g. Chris Hoy, Edinburgh, Sebastian Coe, Sheffield, and Roger Banister, Oxford. Sport in the personification of someone local, either pounding the streets or ploughing lengths up and down the local pool give a community a strong sense of identity. Sport is a fantastic link into all sorts of areas that may not normally be considered in this way, and may therefore attract people to look at local heritage in a different light. The variety of sports - and especially with London 2012 coming up - means that there is huge appeal, and as sport often stimulates a high level of energy, this will certainly spill over into enthusiasm for the local culture. It is certainly a unique theme, which undoubtedly will reveal lesser-known parts of Oxfordshire's heritage and current work.

CF: Definitely, did you know the Olympics used to give medals for cultural activities? There will be a large cultural element to the Legacy work with for example Oxford Inspires running the Tree of Light project which should be very inspirational and will involve a giant sculpted tree of light powered by rowers and cyclists.
Events like Oxford Open Doors and nationally, Heritage Open Days, play a big part in linking sport and culture. History and heritage play a big role in creating this connection. 

Oxford Open Doors is about celebrating Oxford’s people and places. Is there anyone from or anything in Oxford you think has helped to shape sport nationally or even globally?

SR: Of course Roger Bannister's sub four-minute mile put Oxford on the map, globally and nationally, in terms of sporting achievements for the city. That was the catalyst for other athletes like Herb Elliot (Australia) to repeat what was thought previously unattainable. Our continued excellence in rowing, producing World and Olympic medallist, also raises the region's profile from the perspective of sporting excellence. Also Andy Gomersall (ex Oxford Brookes University) played scrum half for Harlequins and England!

CF: If you get the chance to see the Oxford University Rugby Club Pavilion on the Open Doors weekend you will see the pictures of sporting students since the last century. They went on to work all over the world bringing a part of Oxford sport to far flung pitches and courts. The pavilion is also next to the famous running track where Sir Roger Bannister made history, and his collection in Pembroke College shows how much he was a global ‘celebrity’ before the word was even used in today’s context. After his running career he obviously also has a parallel career as a national sports administrator with the Sports Council which has done such excellent work for sport in this country.

You must be very excited about the Olympics next year.  How is Oxford Brookes and Oxfordshire Sports Partnership taking part in the run up to the Olympics?

SR: We'll be hosting a series of events in the run up to 2012, such as Varsity series and Sport Relief Mile, and will no doubt be showing the opening ceremony on big screens at the Centre for Sport (exact details and dates of schedule to be confirmed by October).

CF: Yes, we have shrugged off the disappointment of not getting all the tickets we wanted as a family and I must say the excitement is really growing.
We are central to securing a legacy for Oxfordshire following the games and are running Sportivate, which aims to get more 14-25 year-olds into sport, and Sport Makers, which aims to secure more volunteers for sport. We are also a leading part of the Oxfordshire School Games, which should be a massive project next year involving thousands of young people and culminating in large festivals, probably in the summer of 2012, 13 and 14. Full details at www.oxfordshiresport.org We are also key supporters for the joint 2012 legacy work with tourism, business and culture led by the County Council. Details on which can be found at www.oxfordshiregameon.com

And finally if you were taking part in the Olympics what sport would you participate in and why?!

CF: At my age probably one of the sitting-down sports we are so good at and which gets the Australians worked up about! Seriously, I would aim for a sport that enables me to do 5 sessions of 30 minutes activity a week which is the recommended level of activity to keep you healthy. That said I have always fancied playing handball.

SR: Given that one had the innate ability of others at Olympic level, the 400 metres track event. A single circuit around an athletics track, the event combines strength, power, speed, endurance and at the top flight grace and fluidity of movement. The track would be surrounded by people shouting encouragement and I am sure someone who competes in such an environment would have lasting memories.

We hope that this will stimulate some ideas and discussion for community projects in your local areas. Sport is essential, not just for health but as a way to strengthen a community’s identity. It can also be a great way of promoting your local heritage. Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums have an amazing Sporting Heritage project too. Visit www.twmuseums.org.uk/playedintyne&wear to take a look. 

To find sporting events during the Heritage Open Days weekend, use the Type drop-down menu of the event directory's Advanced Search.