WALLINGFORD Rowing Club has launched a £300,000 appeal to build a new weights room and gym in time for the 2012 London Olympics.

The 280-strong club, which sent three members to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, needs to replace a rusting, asbestos-ridden shed in the Cattle Market car park used as a weights room since the 1970s. It has submitted a planning application to South Oxfordshire District Council for a two-storey, red-brick building to house the gym and weights training equipment needed to help the club continue to compete at the highest level.

The club’s shack has no heating, a leaky roof covered by a tarpaulin and suffers from damp which has started to damage the equipment.

Club committee member Atlanta St John, 23, who hopes to compete in the 2012 Olympics, said: “The club wanted to do something about this ten years ago, but it never really took off.

“Now we are trying to push it forwards. We want to do it as quickly as possible, but we need to raise the money ourselves without taking any from the club.

“We want it built before the Olympics in 2012.

“It is the big event coming up which will put sport in everyone’s minds, and it is a realistic target.”

If the club gains planning permission next month, the building would be a metre taller than the shed, with a basement sunk into the ground to give it two storeys.

Miss St John said: “We are on tenterhooks until we know whether we have got planning permission, but we have never got this far before. When we start fundraising, we want to get the public involved as much as possible.”

The 62-year-old club is forging closer links with Wallingford School to encourage as many young people as possible to take up rowing.

Up to six of the club’s members could compete in the 2012 Olympics at Eton College’s Dorney Lake, near Windsor. In Beijing, the club had three members competing — Alice Freeman was part of the women’s coxed eight, Paul Mattick competed in the lightweight men’s four, and Helen Casey rowed in the women’s lightweight double sculls.

Ben Townsend, 29, who coaches Olympic hopeful Ertan Hazine, 18, said: “As a coach, the 11,000m between Benson and Cleeve Lock is the best stretch of non-tidal river in the country. It gives you the perfect length to row on to get everything you need out of it. But between November and March, there will usually be four or five weekends where we cannot go on the river because of flooding. We need a good gym and a weights room to do the training that keeps us competitive.”

Mayor of Wallingford Dee Cripps said: “The building is so derelict this project just needs to happen.”

She said it would give a “fantastic boost” to promoting leisure on the river.