A FORMER student at Bury's Holy Cross Sixth Form College will take part in this year's iconic Boat Race after securing a place on the Oxford University team.

Martha Birtles, 20, who is currently a third year student reading English, had never rowed a single stroke before going to Oxford, but tried rowing out during freshers events with her own college, Mansfield.

Martha, who is originally from Rossendale, will now take part in the 75th women's race which takes place on the River Thames on Easter Sunday and is broadcast live on BBC One.

"Holy Cross were instrumental in her going to Oxford with their magnificent encouragement and faith in her abilities," said Martha's mum, Claire Birtles. "She took to it like a duck to water and in her second year was invited to join the university development squad.

"She was an amateur among largely seasoned rowers who are, in effect, athletes. "She has worked very hard to achieve her place in the 1st eight team and we her family, as well as friends and locals and parishioners at St. James-the-less are immensely proud of her."

Martha was quick to praise her former college for all the support they had given her.

She said: "During my time at Holy Cross I was pleasantly surprised to find that the chaplaincy was a real source of regular positivity and a reminder of the important things that could get lost in the business of day-to-day study.

"It also helped me realise through the melting pot of people it took under its wing that faith can express itself in lots of different ways and, importantly, that it can be enhanced in sharing it with others.”

A spokesperson for Holy Cross Sixth Form College, said: "We would like to wish former student Martha Birtles the very best of luck when she will be part of the Women’s Oxford team in the Boat Race on Sunday, April 4.

"Considering Martha only stated rowing at Oxford two years ago, this is an outstanding achievement. Both Oxford and Cambridge, as with many universities, offer brilliant opportunities like this that students can engage in and succeed at."