Press release

Supporting West Midlands sporting talent

On Thursday 4 November 2021, we were delighted to support our charity partners SportsAid in an event held at Birmingham Town Hall to launch the West Midlands Talent Fund.

SportsAid’s new West Midlands Talent Fund initiative aims to support 100 young sports people from the region each year from 2022-2026, coinciding with the year of SportsAid’s 50th anniversary and the next Commonwealth Games in 2026. The Fund’s vision is to ensure that every young person from the West Midlands nominated to SportsAid for support will benefit from an Award.

Tim Lawler, SportsAid CEO, introduced the event with a unique performance from Birmingham Poet Laureate Casey Bailey. Casey Bailey is a writer, performer and educator, born and raised in Nechells, Birmingham. He joined the event fresh from the annual graduation ceremony for Newman University at the Symphony Hall where he received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Education for his outstanding contribution to education and the local and regional community.

Casey performed his poem, What Next, which was written to specifically celebrate the legacy of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games and SportsAid’s West Midlands Talent Fund.

Take a look at Casey’s inspiring performance here:

We were then lucky enough to listen to speakers on two inspirational panels. The first included Gateley sponsored volleyball player and member of the under-19 Women England team Frankie Frize, Craig Allen, Para Table-Tennis: Member of the GB Para Table Tennis Pathway Programme, Joel Clarke Khan, High Jump: 2020 British Athletics Champion, and Rueben Arthur, 100m: 2018 Commonwealth Games Gold Medallist, aiming to compete at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, from London and part of the SportsAid alumni. 

These young athletes gave an insight into their journeys to elite success, the challenges of funding their sport and the support that they receive from SportsAid and how valuable it is financially as well as emotionally in boosting their confidence. Craig explained that every time he competed internationally he would replace his table tennis bat at a cost of over £200 which, in a year when preparing for the Commonwealth Games 2022 could see him in 9 international competitions, is a significant cost for a family to bear.

Rueben Arthur, elite sprinter and charismatic presenter, delighted the audience with his experience of being called up to compete in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games when a member of the 100m relay team became injured. 

Take a look at some highlights:

We then heard from our second panel which included SportsAid ambassador Rebecca Adlington: four-time Olympic medallist and Britain's first Olympic swimming champion since 1988, and the first British swimmer to win two Olympic gold medals since 1908. She was joined by her mom Kay Adlington who shared her experience of supporting an elite athlete and what it meant for their family. 

Zena Wooldridge, current President of the World Squash Federation, former Director of Sport at the University of Birmingham and a passionate advocate for supporting and promoting sport in Birmingham, was joined on the panel by Commonwealth Gold medallist England Netball captain Ama Agbeze MBE. From Birmingham, Ama is a former captain of the England Netball team who led her country to a gold medal at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. Both Zena and Ama shared their excitement at the prospect of what the Commonwealth Games 2022 and the West Midland Talent Fund will mean to athletes of the future.

The event came to a rousing close with a performance by The Peoples Orchestra of music inspired by superheroes. A recent recipient of the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, The People's Orchestra epitomises genuine equality of opportunity, whereby musicians from every socio-economic and ethnic background, from teens to seniors, come together to share the joy of music making with one another. 

Such a great opportunity to celebrate talent across our region whether sporting talent or within the arts and we were privileged to meet such talented individuals and to hear their inspiring stories. 

Proudly supporting the next generation of athletes

Meet the 10 incredible young athletes that we're sponsoring and find out more about SportsAid.