New panel celebrates Southwick's sporting heroes, from professional footballers to boxing stars

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The village has produced sportspeople who've excelled in a range of fields.

From a Victorian rowing club and 1950s netballers to a current day champion weightlifter and boxers, Southwick's sporting heroes have been celebrated in a new panel.

Launch of the new panel with past and present sports people at the front and committee and family members at the back.Launch of the new panel with past and present sports people at the front and committee and family members at the back.
Launch of the new panel with past and present sports people at the front and committee and family members at the back. | sn

The fascinating insight into decades of sporting success has been installed on the wall next to Heron Foods on Southwick Village Green.

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It's the latest installation by Southwick Village Green Preservation Society (SVGPS) who've made great strides in honouring and preserving the heritage of one of Wearside’s most ancient communities.

Led by SVGPS chairman Peter Gibson, committee members, sports people and family members of those honoured on the panel gathered for its unveiling.

Among the members present was Christine Fletcher whose husband, John, passed away suddenly in July.

Southwick resident, Stevie Brown, had noticed the committee working on the green and had suggested the next project should celebrate sport and when John died his daughter, Melanie, asked for donations to be made for the panel instead of flowers, with donations flooding in via a GoFundMe page.

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Christine said: "It's emotional to see the panel in place. It's all down to Peter's hard work and his dedication to Southwick."

The new panel is next to Heron FoodsThe new panel is next to Heron Foods
The new panel is next to Heron Foods | Sunderland Echo

Weightlifter Zoe Chandler, who competed in the GB Women's Team at the 2023 European Championships, is among the athletes honoured on the panel.

Zoe's gym, Weights & Cakes, is nearby on The King's Road and is Sunderland’s only affiliated British weightlifting club for children, teenagers and adults. Zoe said: "It's amazing I feel really proud to be part of the history of Southwick. It shows young people the amazing things that people from Southwick have done and helps to raise aspirations. It's a great community to be a part of."

Another weightlifter honoured is the late Nixon Rowell who was born in Low Southwick in 1904. Due to ill health, his mother was told he wouldn't live past 21, but he went on to be a British weightlifting champion in the 1930s, with Weights & Cakes now running an annual Nixon Rowell Memorial Cup in his name.

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Nixon's daughter Sylvia Hargrave said: "Dad couldn't play football or run because of his health, so he turned to weightlifting and had great success from 1931-35.

"He was such a lovely man, a wonderful father and husband and we are so proud of him. Dad was also a socialist who took part in the Hunger March of 1936. He was also a feminist before his time and I'm sure he would be proud to be included next to female weightlifters on the panel."

Included in the football section is Ronnie Brown who played professional football for Blackpool FC, Plymouth Argyle and Bradford City in the 1960s and 70s.

Ronnie, 78, recently moved back to the area and said: "It's absolutely brilliant to be recognised. When I was young, Southwick was a great place to be, you had the pit, the shipyards, its own cinema, pubs - and it's great to be back."

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Modern day sports stars featured include Layla Straughan, 15, who fights out of North Star ABC, who is four times national champion and fellow national champion Riley Gunn.

Southwick Village Green Preservation Society Chairman, Peter GibsonSouthwick Village Green Preservation Society Chairman, Peter Gibson
Southwick Village Green Preservation Society Chairman, Peter Gibson | Sunderland Echo

The sporting panel is the third to be installed on the green. The others being a panel marking Southwick at War and a pictorial panel of yesteryear images of village life and industry.

In recent years, the committee has also created a Blue Plaque Heritage Trail, with 10 plaques throughout the village tracing its history.

Peter Gibson said: "Since the committee was formed four and a half years ago, I think we've really made a difference to Southwick and there's more to come in 2024."

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Southwick is one of Wearside's oldest villages with its first mention in historical documents in 1072. It didn't become part of Sunderland until 1928 when responsibility for the village came under the jurisdiction of the Corporation of Sunderland.

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