The amazing couple who have given hundreds of kids a fresh start by getting their skates on.. and how they are now facing a battle for survival against the council
Dynamic duo Ruth and John Fry have transformed the lives of hundreds of children in Saltley. They’re not politicians or social workers, but former skating stars who have proven time and again that sport can dramatically change the trajectory of a young life. John is the chairman of Birmingham Wheels Roller Speed Club and Ruth is secretary. The club has nurtured and trained an amazing number of champions from the surrounding areas. John says: “I grew up here so I know what the kids are up against. The first time they come here they might be very shy or on the flip side streetwise and brash. They might not have decent role models and the club to a certain extent provides that.” Despite being chairman, when I catch up with John he’s loading the car with stuff for a fund-raising boot sale before mowing the grass at the club. It’s a not-for-profit organisation, so raising funds is crucial. Many of the talented kids who compete at national and international level don’t have passports, have never left Birmingham and come from families for whom forking out for air travel is the stuff of dreams.
John and Ruth are adamant that a promising skater shouldn’t miss out because they can’t afford to travel or buy the necessary kit. “We ensure that the kids get there. We approach local businesses, beg, borrow and steal and by hook or by crook they get there,” says John. “Birmingham Sports Partnership has been really helpful introducing us to local businesses too.” To give the success of the club some perspective, seven of the current national squad of nine skaters is from Birmingham Wheels RSC. This incredible couple don’t consider themselves heroes and performing general ‘dog’s body’ tasks certainly isn’t a chore. “Skating is our life really. Watching a troubled nine-year-old flourish and grow into a confident young adult regardless of whether they compete at a high level or not is just brilliant.” John and Ruth and the rest of the club are facing their biggest competition to date taking on Birmingham City Council. The council would like to dismantle their beloved rink and develop the land. Naturally, the club is fighting the proposal and while this might be their toughest competition yet, with John and Ruth championing the cause who’d bet against them?