The countdown is on as Sheffield prepares to host the first-ever national Invictus UK Trials.
The event for wounded, injured and sick veterans will take place at venues across the city between July 22 and 26 and act as qualifying trials for next year's Invictus Games which will be held in The Hague, Netherlands.
It will start with an opening ceremony at Sheffield Arena on Monday, July 22 featuring performances from a star-studded line-up including Alfie Boe, classical artist Laura Wright, pop-sensation Heather Small, Suggs from Madness and Game of Thrones actor Charles Dance.
Then, around 475 athletes will compete in nine sports – archery, athletics, cycling, indoor rowing, powerlifting, sitting volleyball, swimming, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby at four venues across the city.
Gary Clifton, Sheffield Council’s major events manager, said: “We are definitely ready. Branding is starting to go up across the city, including outside the Winter Garden and Central Library.
“It’s an interesting event to host because it’s the first time it's happened and it’s a big one. It’s tested us but we are ready and looking forward to it.”
A number of sports will be held at the English Institute of Sport Sheffield, Ponds Forge, and the Sheffield Hallam University City of Athletics Stadium.
And a cycle race will be held in the city centre around Pinstone Street and Arundel Gate on Wednesday, July 24.
Mr Clifton said: “The city has got a proud military history. We’ve already had the Mi Amigo and Lancaster flypasts this year and Armed Forces Day and there's a lot of civic pride in the city for the forces and quite rightly so.
“A lot of people across the city and our partners including Sheffield International Venues, Stagecoach Supertram, Sheffield Hallam University, Cutlers’ Hall and Sheffield BID have all gone out of their way to make the event happen and make it a special week for the athletes.”
The sporting action will get underway with a multi-sport event at the English Institute of Sport, Atterclife, and atheltics at the City Athletic Stadium, Woodbourn Road, on Tuesday, July 23.
Wednesday will see action continue at the EIS and the city centre cycle race and on Thursday, swimming will be held at Ponds Forge while EIS continues to host a number of sports.
On Friday, an indoor rowing competiton will take place.
But Mr Clifton said it wouldn’t be just the sporting action on offer, with a week of activities planned around the city centre.
A recovery and rehabilitation symposium will bring military injury and recovery experts together to discuss various aspects of the subject, including the long-term needs of those affected by military service, at the University of Sheffield’s Diamond Building on Monday, July 22 and Tuesday, July 23.
There will also be an employment forum at the City Hall on Tuesday, July 23 and Wednesday, July 24 where former service personnel can discuss getting back into work.
And on Thursday, July 25 Devonshire Green will be transformed into a military village with tanks on display and a chance for youngsters to explore what people experience in the forces.
A celebration of how art can aid recovery will see performances of the West End show Soldier On at the Oval Hall, City Hall, from award-winning theatre company The Soldier’s Art Academy CIC on Tuesday, July 23 and Wednesday, July 24.
Continuing the art theme, exhibition Art in the Aftermath will showcase the work of former servicemen suffering from mental and physical health issues, including local artists Dougie Adams and Stewart Hill, hosted by charity Style for Soldiers and with support from its ambassadors, actor Charles Dance and British model David Gandy at 15 Barkers Pool, Sheffield, S1 2HB.
International children’s charity Never Such Innocence is running an arts competition combining poetry, art, song and speech to engage competitors’ families and young people from across Sheffield to play a creative part in the trials.
The project is open to all young people aged nine to 18 and winning works will be showcased across the city.
Throughout the week the Royal British Legion will host the Poppy Quest; a family-friendly exploration of Sheffield’s history across the city taking in Weston Park, and Sheffield Cathedral.
Antony Baines, director of operations at the Royal British Legion and Invictus UK Board Member, said: “Behind every Team UK member, there are friends, families and carers who have helped get them to the start line.
“A life-changing injury or illness has a huge impact on both the individual and those around them. The wider programme will complement the sports at the Invictus UK Trials and engage those loved ones in other activities alongside the local community who we have had so much support from and are keen to involve.”
Rear Admiral Jim Macleod, head of Invictus UK, said: “Invictus UK is supported by a number of partners all helping Team UK competitors to reach their potential. With the support of BAE Systems, the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust and others, the 475 Veterans and serving personnel registered to compete at the trials have been offered the opportunity to take a big step forward in their recovery journeys.
“We are delighted to be working with organisations which share our values in providing the best possible experience for our wounded.”
Coun Mary Lea, cabinet member for culture, parks and leisure, said: “Sheffield is the very first city to host the Invictus UK Trials, and this goes to show just how fantastic Sheffield is.
“With world class facilities, and a wealth of central venues, there is no better place to host such an extraordinary event. We are an inclusive and diverse city, a city of sport with a rich military history and the perfect fit to represent the values of these important national championships.
“I look forward to welcoming competitors and their family and friends from across the UK and hope that they have a memorable experience in Sheffield.