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Unsung hero Liz Hutton and her 40 years of devotion

PUBLISHED: 15:27 07 August 2017 | UPDATED: 15:27 07 August 2017

Liz receiving the Unsung Hero of the Year award

Liz receiving the Unsung Hero of the Year award

Archant

As nominations open for this year’s glittering county sport awards, Steve Cohen talks to the ‘unsung hero’ who has devoted 40 years to one junior club in Bourne End

Olympic rowing legend Sir Steve Redgrave, quite understandably, dominated the headlines at last year’s Bucks & MK sport awards when he was handed a lifetime achievement honour. But a 74-year-old grandmother from Marlow was equally deserving of the limelight on the night after being recognised for more than 40 years of astonishing service to one junior sports club.

Liz Hutton was named Unsung Hero of the Year in front of almost 300 people at a glittering ceremony which is dubbed Buckinghamshire’s sporting version of the Oscars. She was among a host of winners sharing the awards arena at Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre with Sir Steve who was inducted into the Bucks and Milton Keynes Sporting Hall of Fame.

Now, as organisers call for nominations for this year’s awards, Liz appeals for people to promote their sporting heroes of 2017 so others can be given similar recognition.

“I had butterflies in the stomach and I couldn’t believe it was happening when my name was called out,” she recalls. “Just to be nominated and shortlisted is fantastic because it shows somebody has noticed. I was surprised to be nominated because these awards cover the whole of Bucks.”

And she was especially pleased that she was a winner alongside Sir Steve – the man who opened her club’s extension in 1997.

Sir Steve Redgrave CBE DL, a five-time Olympic gold medallist from Marlow Bottom, took time off from celebrating his own achievement on the night to stress the importance of the awards for others, such as Liz Hutton.

He said: “I think this night is very special indeed because awards are normally won by the achievers, not the people who have helped them to get there. This is almost solely about the people who have supported them. That’s the special thing about it.”

Mark Ormerod, Director of Leap – the County Sport and Activity Partnership which co-ordinates the event – said: “We were thrilled to give an award to an icon such as Sir Steve Redgrave, but as he pointed out, the night must focus on the individuals who give their time and services for free, week in and week out, such as our Unsung Hero of the Year, Liz Hutton.”

For mother-of-two Liz, her honour was a crowning glory after more than four decades of dedicated voluntary work for Bourne End Junior Sports Club, a registered charity in New Road, Bourne End.

She has served the club tirelessly as a director, chairman for a total of 16 years, mentor, welfare office and fundraiser, after first joining in 1975 for the sake of her own two young children.

During that time, she has worked on mammoth campaigns, first to build a new permanent site for the club, which was opened by Princess Anne in 1982 – then to fund a new extension, opened in 1997 by Steve Redgrave.

“I started in 1975 by helping the badminton section, because I play badminton. Within a very short time, the person leading badminton said he couldn’t do this anymore and asked me to take it on,” she recalls.

“At that stage, it was held at Bourne End Community Centre and at other local venues, so when this site in New Road opened in 1982 it was absolutely stunning and amazing because we had three courts and lots of space to use as we wished.”

She soon became a section leader and then a director in 1980.

“At that stage, we were doing a huge amount of fundraising for the new building. We needed a focal point because it was a very successful club and, at that point, there was very little around for children to go to in terms of sport. This was before the sports centre in Wycombe was built, so all you had was the outdoor pool at The Rye and football pitches, but not anything more.”

The club believed it needed £100k to build the hall and raised that through grants and fundraising. But when building work started in 1980, swallow holes were found so it cost £150,000, she adds.

“We were £50k short, so we managed to get a loan from Lloyds Bank – it was a bit of a shock, so we had this huge loan of £50k at 16.5% and, for years, we were just fundraising to pay the interest. It took us until the mid-90s to pay it off.”

A real highlight for Liz came when Princess Anne opened the hall in 1982.

“She was here almost the whole day and remained our patron for the next four years. She was introduced to all of us as section leaders – I was the first in the line and she was absolutely charming. When she spoke to me, she already knew that I cycled to the club two days a week to run the badminton section. Somebody had supplied all the info to her office but the incredible thing was she remembered it all. She then flew off in a helicopter on a school field here, which was very dramatic.”

The club, which has around 500 members, is now home to eight different sports including badminton, basketball, canoeing, climbing, football, swimming and table tennis and in-line hockey. It is open seven days a week from 9am until 10.30pm, but only has one full time member of staff, relying instead on a team of around 100 volunteers.

“The club is unique,” says Liz. “When this hall was first built in 1982 it was the only privately-owned sports hall in the UK offering sport for young people. I don’t know if that is still true but suspect it may be, because most sport halls are developed by councils or companies.

“I joined it when my children were benefiting from it and have seen my grandchildren come through it. It is an obsession in a way, but also a passion. It is an amazing facility.”

Liz, who initially trained as a radiographer, is married to Peter, a retired physics teacher. Daughter Wendy and granddaughter Gina are still heavily involved in the running of the club, while both Liz’s grandchildren have benefited from it as members.

Sadly, her son Simon died suddenly aged 30, 18 years ago, from a heart attack, which Liz now believes was due to a congenital defect. She singles out the friends she made at the club for helping her deal with the tragedy.

Liz says of the club: “I think it’s very hard to put into words what it means, but if you walk about the streets there are so many people who know me and the other volunteers and know about the sports club. That community spirit is really important for young people to feel because they don’t get the opportunity in many places to feel part of a community and put something back into it.”

www.leapwithus.org.uk/sportawards

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