Saturday, 25 September 2021
PARALYMPIC swimming champion Graham Edmunds opened a new £5 million sports centre at the Oratory School in Woodcote.
The 40-year-old, who won gold at Athens in 2004 and in Beijing four years later, unveiled a plaque in the building's entrance hall on Tuesday.
Mr Edmunds grew up in the village and attended Langtree School before he was injured in a motorbike accident on the A4074 in 2000.
He could not walk for three months afterwards and permanently lost some mobility in both his ankles.
He had been a swimmer before the crash so returned to the sport as part of his rehabilitation and later trained in the Oratory's old 22m pool.
The new centre has a 25m, five-lane swimming pool with showers, changing rooms, a viewing area and café as well as an improved gym.
Half of the old sports complex, which was built in the Eighties, was knocked down to make room for it. The school has also put a new roof on its existing squash and real tennis courts and repainted and resurfaced them.
Most of the facilities are open to the public apart from the gym, which has 30 pieces of exercise equipment for exclusive use by pupils.
The new building is named the French Sports Centre after Chris French, a school governor and chairman of its property committee.
About 200 guests attended the opening ceremony, including Henley MP John Howell, Rt Rev Robert Byrne, the Bishop of Birmingham, and Woodcote parish priest Father Antony Conlon, the Oratory?s former chaplain.
Also present were Mr Edmunds' mother Pauline Walker, who was a housemother at the independent boys' boarding school from 2002 to 2013, and Adrian Wyles, who is taking over from Clive Dytor as headmaster in September.
Following the brief ceremony, guests enjoyed lunch and were entertained by the school's jazz band.
Mr Edmunds said: "I don't usually get invited to events like this so it?s a real honour to be here.
"I think a pool is the most important facility a school can have because it teaches a life skill - it's the only sport that can save your life in certain situations.
"It's also something that can complement your training for other sports, especially if you?re injured, as it puts less stress on your joints.
"It was the first thing I went to when I was able to walk again. I hadn't lost my technique so it was just a case of getting my fitness back up."
The project is part of a £25 million overhaul of the Oratory's facilities that started in 2000.
This has included new boarding houses, improved classrooms and a new theatre and drama department, which opened last year. Mr Dytor said: "Out of all the work we've carried out, this is the jewel in the crown.
"It's also a huge asset to the community and, as Woodcote's biggest employer, we're pleased to be giving something back.
"People have been very excited in the run-up to today. It's great news for the boys and for the community and it's great to be able to hand something like this over to my successor."
Mr French, a former pupil, said: "This is the proud culmination of many years of planning.
"It's very gratifying that it will be used by the community as well as the school and I?m very flattered that the headmaster and governors decided it should bear my name."
• Next month, Langtree School in Woodcote will open a floodlit artificial sports pitch for use by pupils and villagers. The £200,000 facility was partly funded by an Olympic legacy grant from Sport England.
13 May 2015
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