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Walker's legacy in safe hands

3 October 2012

By Tony Dewhurst

A striking marble statue, commemorating the life of Blackburn Rovers' greatest benefactor Jack Walker guards Ewood Park's main entrance.

A simple plaque reads: 'Blackburn's greatest supporter'. And the sense of history is close to overwhelming, when hanging proudly on a wall in the Community office, a giant image of Walker, who died in 2000, clutches the Premier League trophy.

The steel magnate turned football tycoon pumped millions into Blackburn Rovers and in doing so he was credited with transforming the spirit of the town itself.

Those heady days, though, when Walker would sign a cheque at 9am and a Chris Sutton or an Alan Shearer would walk through Ewood's revolving door by lunch-time, has long since passed.

Yet Walker's powerful legacy, and his undeniable contribution to the Lancashire town, lives on through Blackburn Rovers Community Trust.

"Jack Walker was completely committed to the town and the community spirit was always very important to him - we've tried our best to continue and expand that," said Gill Kinloch, Blackburn's Head of Community Affairs.

"Certainly the club has always supported the Community Trust. It was never about how many extra season tickets could the Community Trust sell or have you bought us 50 extra fans through the turnstiles this year.

"It wasn't about that. They saw it early on - it was always about putting back into the community, regardless of your background, or whether you are a football supporter or not.

"We have a very local fan base, you see that on match days, supporters streaming down the hills towards the stadium, and it is certainly reflected in the community involvement."

The husband and wife team of Gill and Duncan Kinloch have grown Blackburn Rovers Community Trust into a multi-million pound business, a source of great pride to them and their dedicated team.

Their office, buried deep in the heart of the Darwen End stand, traditionally the visitors end at Ewood Park, is a hive of frantic activity and one that reflects a strong history of community work in the town.

"People ask me, 'Is it hard working with your husband? Not at all. The Trust gets so much more out of us because we simply don't do a nine to five job.

"We can be sat at home at 11 o'clock at night discussing how to resolve a problem at work, and of course all the good things that have happened, too.

"We treat the community scheme as our baby - it is not just a job - it is a huge part of our lives.

"There's that tight understanding and leadership that has evolved between us in terms of the growth of the Trust."

The roots of Blackburn Rovers Community Trust stretch far and wide now and their many awards are a lasting testament to their work.

"We've had visitors from football clubs all over the world who have wanted to model their scheme on what we have at Blackburn Rovers and that's something to be especially proud of for everybody."

The Community Trust Education Centre boasts four classrooms, and a performing arts studio, while the Trust also manages the Blackburn Rovers Enterprise Centre, with many local organisations using their site as their business base.

Gill was running an after-school club at Ewood Park when Rovers asked her to take the Community Trust helm 12 years ago. She smiles when she recalls those early days that proved a sharp learning curve.

"I've lost count of the number of times I've sat in the car park at Blackpool Zoo in the community bus waiting for the kids to come out - we'd take the kids here and there if the school couldn't afford the transport," she added.

"When the gymnasium at a local school burnt down we offered them the use of the community indoor centre.

"They were in dire need and we helped out. We bussed them down to Ewood Park every day for six months and the school never forgot that.

"It was true community work - about putting something back into the local community for the benefit of the local community."

Five years ago the lift stopped on the first floor - now there are thriving businesses' where once there was an empty space.

"We have young entrepreneurs developing successful companies, side-by-side with the community scheme and it is wonderful to see," said Gill.

"It has proved the first step on the ladder for many local people who have wanted to start a business.

"The purpose of what we do is to invest in the local community and to make a positive difference. Why can't the next Richard Branson come from Blackburn."

Rovers Community Trust team have recently teamed up with Blackburn College to launch a full-time degree in community coaching and sport development.

"This is a two-year degree that cannot be taken anywhere else in the country," said Duncan.

"The degree is tailor made for that person to have all the necessary skills to be a community sports coach.

"There are work placement opportunities at Blackburn Rovers and students are also able to use the performance analysis suite at the first team training ground.

"If we can't offer them a job at Blackburn Rovers, then there are 71 other League clubs looking for the same thing."

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