Squash and academia partnerships in the UK
By ROSANNA RADLINSKA – Squash Mad Columnist
As a parent of a sixth form student/squash player, I feel it is the right time to explore the opportunities of combining squash and studies in the UK. I have had a look at the University of the West of England and the Elite Squash partnership that has been in place for eight years, as well as a new, very promising project at Bangor University in Wales.
Who is behind both? One person: Richard Bennett, former director of Sports at UWE and current director of Sports at Bangor University.
EliteSquash and UWE
It started with the idea of using sports facilities that universities offer, a scheme of scholarships, and a world-class coaching academy to attract professional players to study in Bristol.
I have experienced it through my elder child, Konrad, who could combine his studies of Architecture and Environmental Engineering with squash. Tough combination but it worked to some extent.
What really amazed us during his time at UWE (2010-2014) was the squash team. The UWE team went from strength to strength to finally be at the top of BUCS (British Universities and Colleges Sport) with the following pro players: Mohamed Elshorbagy, Marwan Elshorbagy, Lucas Serme, Joshua Masters, Roshan Baros, James Peach, and Tom Ford.
Thanks to this, Bristol has become an established squash centre that is now attracting pro players from different countries to train under Hadrian Stiff’s guidance.
Bangor University and Wales Squash and Racketball:
After leaving UWE Richard Bennett did not abandon the idea of forming a partnership and as a director of Sports at Bangor University he has worked to form one. From September 2016 the project was launched as Bangor University had formed a partnership with Wales Squash and Racketball.
Sports facilities are very good and improving, a scheme of scholarships, and a world class coach Andrew Evans are in place, too. I had a chance to explore Bangor University in February this year and I was very impressed. What struck me there is this student centered approach, and if you are a sports person you can count on tailored to your needs programme.
Bangor University has been shortlisted for 10 out of 12 awards in the 2017 Whatuni Student Choice Awards with Student Support, University of the Year, and Uni facilities among them. Tesni Evans trains there and her brother Emyr will start his course in September 2017.
Following my visit to Bangor University, I took time to ask Richard Bennett about both programmes, and here is his response:
“The UWE programme was born out of a fortunate series of event that started with conversations with Hadrian Stiff and Mohamed ElShorbagy, who was ranked about 20 in the world at the time.
“There was no way we could let that opportunity pass and to this day I will be grateful for both of them joining what was an entirely new programme at the time and required a leap of faith by all parties. The growth of that programme speaks for itself over the last few years.
“The programme at Bangor started from with a very different ethos and is a product of longer term strategic discussion between Bangor University and Wales Squash and Racketball.
“Historically, the best young players in Wales moved away in order to find the best training and competition opportunities. While there were individual benefits for players, the quality of squash at a national level in Wales was constantly being diluted.
“I started a new role at Bangor in 2012 and immediately made the strategic decision to invest in a small group of sports that correlate well our institutional strengths.
“In addition to a phenomenal location (Lonely Planet listed North Wales as one of the “top 10 places in the world” in 2016), we have award winning student friendly staff and flexible learning opportunities, key assets for working with elite young players.
“Alongside a generous bursary scheme, we are able to accommodate athletes on site within a few hundred yards of the squash courts and a few minutes’ walk from most lectures.
“We have invested in our facilities in order that we can meet the expectations of players and coaches as well as bringing in Andrew Evans as our Head Coach, which has had an immediate impact on our student squash club.
“We installed a 17-inch tin in 2016 and this has been a great help for players such as Tesni Evans, who are now able to train locally without having to travel to England or South Wales. You may also have noticed that we are sponsoring Tesni and she is flying the flag for Bangor University on the PSA tour.”
If you want to find out more be sure to follow various twitter accounts @BangorSport, @Bangorsquash and Richard’s own personal account @BangorSportDir, or find us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/CanolfanBrailsford/
I have not heard of any other squash specific partnerships in the UK, but I am sure they will develop in time.
However, if you are a squash player and considering combination of studying and squash in 2017, these two exciting projects are worth exploring.
Pictures from Squash Mad archive and Bangor University