INSPIRATIONAL Henry Gaspard has been blazing a badminton trail for well over three decades.
Gaspard, 61, is the founder and chairman of Dagenham-based Black Arrows Badminton Club and has helped revolutionise the region by giving the community a sporting lifeline.
He’s spearheaded the club’s growth and now, almost 40 years on from when he first set Black Arrows up, has been recognised in the form of a major royal gong.
Gaspard has been awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) in The Queen’s Birthday Honours 2021 for his services to community sport, with his dedicated badminton exploits firmly establishing the sport on the north and east London map.
Gaspard set the club up to provide the local community with the opportunity to enjoy the numerous benefits of badminton both socially and competitively.
And he’s never looked back since, pioneering the club’s expansion that now sees them host over 30 coached sessions a week with their 14 qualified level two coaches.
Black Arrows was initially founded as Tottenham Black Arrows, with the name proudly representing the diversity and wide range of ethnic backgrounds its players derived from.
The club rapidly set about securing commercial funding and after their first four seasons of playing competitive badminton, established a well-recognised and respected reputation as one of the top clubs in the Middlesex County League.
Gaspard’s unwavering commitment, passion and enthusiasm has been integral and the Dagenham resident said: “When I first received the email, I thought someone was pulling my leg!
“But when it sunk in, because I had a phone call with the Cabinet Office, it dawned on me that it was real and I just felt very pleased to be recognised and a little bit emotional, to be honest.”
Black Arrows pivoted its focus towards junior development in 2004 and now helps nurture the next generation of burgeoning badminton talent.
It delivers its programmes across schools, colleges and universities and has continued to keep in contact with its members through innovative technological methods in lockdown.
WhatsApp and Zoom calls have replaced face-to-face contact as Gaspard and his team have worked tirelessly to monitor their members’ wellbeing.
More broadly, Gaspard has been the driving force behind developing long-term partnerships with the likes of Badminton England, Greenwich Leisure Limited, the University of East London and Arsenal Football Club and has heavily invested in encouraging volunteers to become coaches.
And that’s helped culminate in the staggering volume of coached sessions that now take place at the club, with an average of around 450 people taking part in them across north and east London each week.
Black Arrows are now finally getting back to some long-overdue normality and Gaspard, who was also named Volunteer of the Year by London Sport in 2016, told the Barking & Dagenham Post: “Because of the lockdown situation, a lot of the venues we use for our badminton clubs are still closed because of Covid restrictions.
“A lot of our sessions, we’re not really engaging as yet with members, so I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised to hear the news.
“It’s only now, in this current term, that we’ve been able to go back into some of the schools and start delivering again.”
Image courtesy of London Sport