HARDWORKING staff are continuing the legacy of an historic sports shop by giving families across Oxford the chance to get out and exercise.
Since July, Covered Market store Blue Blood Sports has been working with charity Access Sport to drop off equipment to under-privileged areas.
About 200 families have benefitted from the partnership, which sees the shop create a wish list of products and deliver them to hubs across the city.
Dale Harris worked in sports retail in Oxford for 20 years before becoming one of Blue Blood’s three directors and he has been spearheading the link with Access Sport.
He said: “We want to keep smiles on faces and gives people the equipment to be able to do that.
“It’s had a great impact on us as staff.
“The last four or five months have been quite negative, so it’s been fantastic to get that positive kickback.”
Blue Blood want to keep the partnership going after surviving a difficult period themselves.
From left: Dale Harris, Ben Cook and Rich Bowerman
Another director, Ben Cook, was shop manager at former Turl Street store Elmer Cotton Sports for a decade before he helped open Blue Blood in February 2019.
Business was steadily growing before lockdown hit just over a month later, with the store closing along with the rest of the Market on March 20.
Mr Cook said: “We were in a tricky time where we didn’t know if we’d have a business to come back to.
“Much of lockdown was spent phoning customers up and making sure we could keep fulfilling orders.”
Blue Blood waited a week until after the Market reopened before welcoming customers again and has been boosted by the return of schools, with Christchurch Cathedral School and St Philip & St James in Jericho among those it supplies.
This has been a huge relief for a group of staff who have a deep connection with Oxfordshire sport.
The third director, Steliana Stefanova, boasts more than 13 years’ worth of experience in the sports industry.
As well as the trio’s long association with the store, their colleague Rich Bowerman worked for Elmer Cotton for 40 years before moving over.
Meanwhile, Mr Cook played cricket for Oxfordshire, with older brother Simon going on to have a long professional career with Middlesex and Kent.
The siblings visited Elmer Cotton themselves as youngsters, so know how invaluable it can be for rising sports stars to have access to the right kit.
Battling giants like Sports Direct and Decathlon has not been without its challenges, but for Mr Cook it has definitely been worth it.
He said: “It was the right thing to do and we’ve gone from strength to strength.
“The big chains are all about discounts and it’s tough at times to compete.
“It’s been a learning curve, but we love it.
“I love seeing youngsters come in and buy their first cricket bat.
“I’m Oxford born and bred and I did exactly the same.”