Rowing clubs always need more money. Membership subscriptions are generally set at a level to cover the day-to-day stuff but when a club wants to buy more boats or develop its clubhouse, extra initiatives are required.
And while t’was ever thus, the WAYS clubs have raised money has changed over the years. Nowadays applications to grant-making bodies, bake sales and selling advertising space on the club’s boats or trailer are common methods, as are sponsored rows (on the water or the ergo – which really didn’t exist until the late 1970s) and auctions of promises.
Earlier generations had other ideas that were products of their time but can seem both incredibly quaint and awfully hard work for very little gain. Here’s a selection that raised much-needed cash for clubs and also for the Women’s ARA’s International Fund that paid for GB crews to compete abroad in the ’50s.
Jumble sales were the absolute stalwart of women’s rowing clubs’ fundraising, especially in the 1960s when charity shops were still relatively few and far between and clothes were relatively expensive.
Pauline Churcher remembers United Universities WBC running numerous jumble sales to raise money for boats. They would leaflet nearby streets to get stock and also advertise the sale. They quickly got wise to the fact that traders would try to get there early and bag all the best stuff, and refused to sell to them. When UU was incorporated into Thames RC in 1973, she says, they did run one sale but, “The men didn’t understand the concept, and it didn’t really work there.”
Stuart Ladies RC also learned about the challenges of running them. “The first one we did,” Barbara Benzing recalls, “We’d got it all set out, the tables, all the clothes done, all the labels on with how much you wanted and all the old girls came in, flattened us against the wall, looking for clothes and not one person wanted to pay the price that was on it. It was hilarious! But everything went!”
Edinburgh University Women’s BC held a whist drive in the Autumn of 1955, “Which was most successful and raised a considerable sum towards Boat Club fund.”
A quiz-tastic effort
Starting in 1955 The Oarswoman, a simple, typed and copied newsletter that was “the Official Bulletin of the Women’s Amateur Rowing Association,” ran nearly annual quizzes to raise money for the WARA’s International fund. Entry sheets cost 6d (so far so good) but each contained over 80 questions which took the hard-pressed Editor of the newsletter, Joyce Sagar, an enormous amount of time to compile, and the answers (which weren’t about rowing at all) took up what really a disproportionate space in the Association’s only communication channel with women rowers.
As an editorial strategy, if that is what it was, it did rather lack focus. However the first three quizzes did make about £13 each and given that blades were £10 apiece around that time the effort was arguably worth it.
Grace Harvey, the WARA’s Regatta Secretary, won all of them.
In what today seems the most bizarre of initiatives, the WARA ordered a large stock of match books (cigarette lighters were not common then gas stoves often didn’t have built-in igniters so matches were an everyday necessity) in 1956 with the intention that women’s rowing clubs would sell them to raise money for the International Fund. WARA Secretary Joan Filkins wrote in Rowing magazine in April that, “The book matches were delivered fairly early in the year so it was possible to hand out supplies at regattas during the season. In this way the matches reached many of the clubs in the provinces to whom it would otherwise have been very difficult to send them, as of course matches cannot be put in the post. The clubs which have taken supplies of matches have done very well with them and it is hoped that clubs which have not yet had any will take some as soon as they can. There is still a good stock in hand.”
The Desborough Players
The Desborough Players were a Weybridge-based music and drama society – which still exists today – which was initially formed by Amy Gentry and other members of Weybridge Ladies with the aim of raising money for the rowing club by putting on performances. Although the social benefits of the Players were far greater than their fiscal contribution, they did put on two special performances in 1954 – somewhere in London – of their ‘Old Time Music Hall’ in aid of the WARA International Fund. Rowing magazine’s unidentified reporter at the show may have been overdoing it, though, when he – or she – commented, “[The rowing ladies’] presentation of the Can-Can could not be bettered in the West End.”
More tea, rower’s mother?
In 1955 a discussion took at the WARA’s AGM came up with the idea that members might get their mothers to hold bring and buy teas for their friends.
Less genteel, perhaps, was the “Grand National Draw” which raised enough money to buy a new set of blades for the eight that competed at the first Women’s European Rowing Championships in 1954. This was repeated in 1956 with the Derby added to the card as well. In 1957 the Derby sweepstake produced £39.7.5 which probably doubtless required a lot less effort than the three quizzes that raised a similar amount.
Painting for numbers
The same year the WARA’s Vice President Mrs Vernon donated a colour print of a painting by her husband, Karl ‘The Bean’ Vernon – a former Olympic oarsman and Thames RC stalwart, who was actually an architect and so was an accomplished draughtsman – as a raffle prize. It may be that he produced more artwork than they had walls to display it on at home because his sketches were apparently often used as regatta prizes too. Anyway, this raised another £7.12.6 for the International Fund.
In the 1970s, squad member Sue’s Handscomb’s mum sold Webb Ivory greetings cards, initially to contribute to Civil Service Ladies RC’s coffers but later to support squad training camps in Nottingham.
The long walk to fundraising
180 girls from Matthew Arnold Secondary School in Staines did an eight-mile sponsored walk in 1975 which raised nearly £600 for the GB women’ squad which included one of the school’s former pupils, Rosie Clugston. This was a very substantial sum: to put it in context, the squad had just bought a new coaching launch for £225, and the ARA’s equipment allocation was only £85 per person.