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Table tennis brothers the first of 10 budding sports stars to receive funding from Mary Peters Trust bursary

Mary Peters insurance fund will help 10 young sportspeople in 2021


Lady Mary Peters with brothers James (left) and Max Skelton and Harriet McCandless of Hughes Insurance

Lady Mary Peters with brothers James (left) and Max Skelton and Harriet McCandless of Hughes Insurance

Philip Magowan / Press Eye

Lady Mary Peters with brothers James (left) and Max Skelton and Harriet McCandless of Hughes Insurance

Ten young sportspeople will each benefit from a £500 bursary to further their development in a partnership between Hughes Insurance and the Mary Peters Trust

The first two athletes selected are representative table tennis players, Bangor-based brothers, Max (15) and James (16) Skelton. Both play for Ormeau Table Tennis Club in east Belfast.

Lady Mary Peters, whose Trust has aided thousands of young competitors since her 1972 Munich Olympics pentathlon gold, said: "Northern Ireland is fantastic at producing sporting talent and access to funding is vital. The dedication and hard work of these pre-elite athletes can often be underestimated so it is wonderful that Hughes Insurance is supporting the Mary Peters Trust.

"This bursary programme will go a long way in helping our selected athletes to reach their goals and I am delighted Max and James have been recognised - they are an excellent example of the dedication and perseverance of all our young athletes."

The brothers are currently in training for their next event - representing Ireland at the European Youth Championships in Zagreb in July - a competition both have been eagerly anticipating as it was cancelled last summer due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Max Skelton said: "I feel very honoured and privileged to receive this bursary from the Mary Peters Trust and Hughes Insurance. To know that they are behind me is great and I feel very appreciative for being chosen out of the large number of candidates.

"As I have now moved up to the under-18 age category, the next few months are really important in my journey as an athlete. Both James and I are hoping to get selected for the European Youths in Croatia this year as well as the Commonwealth Games next year and the financial support will help us with travel and training costs.

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"I enjoy everything about table tennis, but nothing beats the atmosphere at tournaments so I'm looking forward to getting back to that in the coming months."

James Skelton said: "I started playing table tennis when I was nine years old, so I have been playing for around seven years now.

"To be recognised by Lady Mary Peters and her Trust, as well as Hughes Insurance, makes me feel very proud of the effort I have put in. It feels great to know that our hard work has been acknowledged.

"There are so many opportunities for young people in sport such as representing your country at international tournaments and making new friends around the world.

"Playing alongside my brother and being able to share the excitement of being selected for the bursary is the best, though. Being in similar age categories, Max and I tend to compete against other a lot so it can get competitive - this celebration of our shared talent makes for a nice change."

The pandemic has resulted in significant challenges for young sporting talent. Training sessions were cancelled, access to facilities restricted and competitions postponed.

There is also a greater financial burden associated with being an athlete as private Covid testing must be carried out before and during any competitions or training camps.

Harriet McCandless, Senior Marketing Manager at Hughes Insurance said: "Our partnership with the Mary Peters Trust is a fantastic fit for us.

"We say we are 'here for the journey' of our customers, and we know how much work the Mary Peters Trust does to support athletes on their journeys.

"It's inspiring to meet the athletes and hear first-hand of the difficulties they've had to overcome in the last 12 months. We hope our support helps them continue their journey to reach their potential and we look forward to watching them develop in the years to come."

The Mary Peters Trust is the only province-wide organisation providng support to young athletes from all recognised sports over five decades

The further eight successful bursary recipients will be announced throughout 2021.

To keep up to date with the selection, follow Hughes Insurance on social media, @hughesinsuranceni and Lady Mary@MaryPetersTrust

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