Honour for Haslingden squash hero

Bernard Pickup on court

Bernard Pickup on court

First published in Grass Roots news

BERNARD Pickup liked squash so much he built a sports centre.

That probably isn’t exactly true but, in essence, that is what he did - working on a committee that helped a pipe dream become a reality.

But the fact is Haslingden Sports Centre, and the two squash courts it houses, would not have seen the light of day had it not been for his sheer determination..

Despite being one year shy of his 70th birthday, he is as committed to the sport now as he was in those days back in the 1970s.

And it has been that willingness to work with others, that enthusiasm to promote and raise the profile of a sport he clearly loves that has seen him named the BBC’s North West Unsung Hero of the Year.

Now Bernard will join 15 other regional winners and the likes of Jessica Ennis, Bradley Wiggins, Mo Farah and Andy Murray at the Sports Personality of the Years at the ExCel in London next week.

“If you are going to go the Sports Personality of the Year Awards then this is the year to do it,” said the 69-year-old. “It has been an incredible year for British sport and even I don’t win, just to be there will be such an amazing experience.”

“I still can’t believe I am going,” he added. “I didn’t think I even deserved to win the Rossendale award as I was up against others who “I thought were worthy winners. I then won the Lancashire Sport lifetime achievement award and while I knew I was to be nominated for the North West award, I didn’t expect to win it.”

Bernard has been a disciple of squash ever since converting from tennis in the early 1960s.

It was the unpredictable summer weather that drove him from the outdoor courts of tennis to the inside courts of squash.

And, as is often the case, Bernard was hooked.

He continued to play tennis, as well as a bit of badminton, but it was squash that was the racquet sport that took his attention.

“I used to play tennis at Park Wood when it was based in Rawtenstall and, typical of our British summers, we had many games called off,” said Bernard who used to run a sports shop with his brother David. “A few of the members used to play squash so one day I decided to join them.

“We used to play a game called hand fives when I was boarding at Oswestry School in Shropshire. It was very like squash but you used your palm rather than a racquet. So when I started playing squash I was hooked.”

Bernard continued to play squash and tennis but then, along with fellow members of the Haslingden Sports Council, set about trying to obtain funds to build an indoor facility in the town.

Something small was the idea, nothing like a sport centre for example!

“We didn’t have anything in the area so we came up with a plan to try and get something built,” he said. “It was something small at first but the idea grew and grew and before we knew it, we had plans to build a sports centre!”

Bernard and his fellow committee members worked alongside borough and county council officials and also the North West Sports Council who provided funding.

But there was a pot to be found locally too and the Haslingden Recreational and Development Organisation (HRDO) was established in 1970 to raise £40,000 for the building of Haslingden Sports Centre.

It turned out to be a labour of love for Bernard but he made sure squash courts were on the plans.

“I thought if I am working so hard to get this sports centre built, then I want my squash courts,” he said. “Originally, there were four but due to costs we had to cut it down to two.”

Funds were raised by staging Superstars and It’s A Knockout competitions – one such event attracted 5,000 people in Victoria Park in Haslingden.

“Those programmes were massive in the 1970s and when we held our events the turn out was incredible.”

The centre eventually opened its doors in 1975 and Bernard is the sole surviving trustee of HRDO.

“I’m getting a lot of credit but basically I am the last man standing,” added Bernard. “I’m very proud of what we achieved, knowing that thousands of people have used the centre we helped build.”

Bernard is still heavily involved in what goes on there though. He has coached hundreds of junior and senior squash players. Most have gone on to play in club squash leagues and many play throughout the divisions in the North West Counties League.

And he is also honourary president Haslingden Squash Club which was formed in 2010 and is now thriving. It was developed from from the Haslingden Squash League which Bernard formed 30 years ago.

It’s some achievement for a man who only took up squash because the British summer weather drove him indoors!

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