Jillie Cooper moves mountains to help kids

Buckstone Primary School introduced Jillie Cooper to badminton and she went on to play for Scotland in two Commonwealth Games and win Scottish National and Open titles. Now sheis giving back by helping advance the sport in schools on the other side of the world.

Jillie Cooper with one of her school groups in the Colombian mountains. Picture: Elspeth Burnside
Jillie Cooper with one of her school groups in the Colombian mountains. Picture: Elspeth Burnside

The Edinburgh player announced her retirement after the 2014 Games in Glasgow and, a few weeks later, she went to Colombia where, in return for Spanish language lessons, she helped out at the local sports clubs. “They taught me Spanish and I taught them badminton,” she explained.

She did more than teach. She got in touch with the French-based badminton charity – Solibad – and arranged for rackets and shoes to be sent to South America. She then got involved in another project.

“The poorest kids live and go to schools in the mountains,” she explained. “They couldn’t afford the 25p to get the bus to the club.

“So I got lots of equipment through Solibad, painted the lines for the courts, and badminton really kicked off. When they got the kit, the reaction was amazing. It was like lots of Christmases all at once.”

The 28-year-old returned to Scotland last year and, already armed with a BSc degree from the Open University she completed an Executive Business scheme through the Saltire Foundation.

Now based in London and working as a business development executive for Scottish distillers, William Grant and Sons, she remains committed to the Colombian project.

On Sunday, she will be running for Solibad in the Edinburgh Marathon and she has been granted a visa to return to Colombia.

“Going there completely changed my life,” she said. “The children write to me and we keep in touch all the time. I really want to go back and see how they are getting on.

“Theclub at Buckstone 
Primary was the reason I got into badminton and it has done so much for me. It’s lovely to be able to help other schoolchildren get involved.”

Cooper has also worked with the Winning Scotland Foundation as part of the Champions in Schools project and has helped out through the Dame Kelly Holmes Foundation, working with underprivileged teenagers.

“Sunday is going to be my first marathon and William Grant and Sons have agreed to match however much I make,” she said. “I’m looking forward to it.”