LEADERS at a rowing club set up to involve youngsters from all backgrounds fear they could be grounded unless it finds £18,000.

Hinksey Sculling School has to raise £18,000 to buy a boat by July to continue to bring the “elite” sport to city youngsters.

The club at Godstow, near Oxford, was set up in 1998 to involve those without the financial means to take part.

Interest and members are soaring, particularly among teenage girls, but the group is facing funding difficulties.

Boating firm Oarsport loaned them a boat earlier this year and it has given about £200 a month as a small token of their thanks.

But the boat must be bought by July for the club to continue using it.

It comes as the school has formed a Women’s Junior 16 8+ team – a team of eight rowers and a cox – for the first time, mostly from state schools.

Director of Rowing Amelia Wright said: “To keep the boat we need to find £18,000 by July and that is a huge challenge.

“We have applied for assorted grants, and the kids have also been raising money themselves. But we are now hoping that people will come forward and sponsor one or more of the nine seats in the 8 for £2,000 per seat.

“If any local companies want to pay to have their sponsorship on the boat and our website, we would also be happy to do that.

“But if we can’t find the money, our talented eight might not survive next year. It is a worrying time.”

She said: “These girls are from schools all over the area, including Wheatley Park and Cherwell, and they are going great guns in their competitions and have great potential.”

The group began with 15 girls from Headington School in 1991, and set up as a club in its own right 1998.

It now has 130 paying members aged 10-18 – the bulk of which are 13 to 16-year-olds – inclusing pupils from Wheatley Park, Cherwell, Oxford Academy and Matthew Arnold schools.

Former members include Alice Carrington-Windo, who is set to row for Oxford University at this year’s Women’s Boat Race for a second time.

Cherwell School pupil Megan Cooke, 16, is part of the Hinksey’s Women’s Junior 16 8+ team.

She said: “It has been really exciting to have this opportunity to row in an eight, as it gives everyone in our squad a chance to be a part of the same crew which feels more inclusive and it’s nice to all be working towards the same goal.

“I really enjoy rowing with Hinksey, because I have a lot of friends at the club, it keeps me fit, and the coaches make sure that although we work very hard, we have lots of fun too.”

To contact the group, email amelia@hinkseysculling.org.uk