In June 2016 Ben Dunne, then Principal at Penketh High School, and Richard Sinnott of Warrington Rowing Club (WRC), came up with a plan. The aim was simple…
To engage with local pupils who would not normally have access to rowing and take them on a sporting journey with the ambition to change their lives.
The plan neatly coincided with initiatives that were being worked up by British Rowing (BR) and Henley Stewards Charitable Trust (HSCT). These ideas fermented into reality and in September 2016, Phil Lyons began his two years as an HSCT Coach, based at Warrington Rowing Club.
A selection process took place to find Year 9 pupils that would take part. All the rowers would be on The Pupil Premium Register. In total, eight secondary schools from the state sector joined the scheme providing enough athletes for a boys and girls quad from each school.
The Schools: Sir Thomas Boteler Church of England High School, Birchwood Community High School, Cardinal Newman Catholic High School, Bridgewater High School, Penketh High School, Great Sankey High School, Beamont Collegiate Academy, University Academy (to become Padgate High School)
As a Principal, Ben had a direct route into the schools from the top down. This quickly gave the scheme impetus and a timetable was established. The schools deliver their pupils, accompanied by a member of staff, to Warrington Rowing Club for a 2 hour slot. These sessions are during the school day; there is an obvious attraction for the pupils, two hours rowing or double lesson behind a school desk!
2017 – 2018
In September the scheme was broadened to include Year 9 and 10 students. Henley Stewards Charitable Trust took a more direct interest. Richard Sinnott left the Wine Trade to work full time as the Project Leader. At this time Warrington Youth Rowing was established as a Charity (no 1176153) and began to operate independently. Culcheth High School joined the scheme replacing one of the schools that had dropped out.
This academic year saw the WYR consolidate the excellent work that Phil Lyons had done the season before. In that first year Phil had operated on his own with some help from fellow HSCT Coach Sue Palmer. From 2017/18 WYR instigated 2 coaches per water session and this policy has carried on to the present. That winter was particularly severe and a lot of time was spent indoors on the rowing machines. To give the indoor sessions some purpose WYR organised an Indoor Rowing Competition. The Competition was staged at Priestley College and was a great success with 100 pupils from 9 schools (including Woolston Brook) taking part. As well as racing for medals the youngsters were aiming to get selected to be part of the Warrington Team at the National Junior Indoor Rowing Championships in London. This is a huge event, one of the biggest in the world and is staged by our good friends at London Youth Rowing. The WYR team travelled by train to London and had an amazing day, racing hard and making new friends. Ellie Kadir of Culcheth High School even made the medal podium with a fantastic Bronze Medal, a first for WYR. As we moved into the summer rowing returned to The River Mersey and the athletes had a new challenge, the end of year Regatta. This was staged at Warrington Rowing Club and was a vibrant competitive event. The river banks were full of spectators that were seeing rowing for the first time and there were some very emotional supporters, watching young family and friends competing in their new sport.
During the summer holidays of 2018 WYR started the process of getting as many school leads as possible qualified as British Rowing Coaches and Launch Drivers. Six members of staff took up this challenge and are now fully qualified, this gives us greater strength of depth with our coaching team. Some of these coaches are now confident enough to act as one of the coaches for their school session.
2018 – 2019
This year saw a number of changes. We changed our age range to year 8, for a number of reasons. Pressures of the Education System meant that there was a reluctance for schools to release pupils as they got nearer to their GCSE Exams. Other factors weighed in, mainly linked to logistics but it was generally agreed that year 8 would be the way forward. There were changes on the coaching front, Phil had moved on and was replaced by Paul. We also started to bring in more part time coaches to cover the busy timetable of rowing sessions. Our Indoor Competition was going to be a move on from the previous year. We decided to use The Halliwell Jones Stadium, home of The Warrington Wolves. In theory it was a brilliant idea and it did work well but we didn’t bank on it being the coldest day of the year. We were using the corridor area under the grandstands and there was no heating. In the end well over 200 youngsters took part even though a couple of schools missed out due to poor weather conditions. It did though enable us to select another strong team for NJIRC. This event had moved to the Copper Box in the Olympic Park and the new venue really moved the competition on. Ellie Kadir managed to upgrade her bronze medal from 2018 to a silver in 2019. Once again the spring weather enabled us to get back on the river and the pupils went into training for the summer regatta.The 2019 regatta had a new trophy, it was presented in memory of Roger Chicken and it was for the best school in that particular year. Birchwood High School were the first winners. The regatta was a great success and again there were a large number of spectators watching their first rowing event.
2019 – 2020
Warrington saw St Gregory’s Catholic High School join the scheme, taking our total to nine schools. There was though a big change: we opened a new site in Liverpool. This has become Mersey Youth Rowing, hosted by Mersey Rowing Club and operating from Liverpool Watersports Centre. Unfortunately the Watersports Centre had to close shortly after we started to be refurbished. This has been a dent in our plans but not a fatal blow, our hardworking coaches now take a bank of ergs to our partner schools. This process will continue till the Watersports Centre reopens in March. Currently we 5 schools involved: North Liverpool Academy, De La Salle, Cardinal Heenan, Archbishop Beck and St Hilda’s.
This year also saw our young people compete for their schools in our annual indoor rowing championships (held at Birchwood High School Sports Hall for Warrington Youth Rowing and Cardinal Heenan School for Mersey Youth Rowing). In total, twenty two schools and nearly 400 young rowers took part and had a great time!
These two days led wonderfully onto NJIRC – the National Junior Indoor Rowing Championships at The Copper Box in London. 26 of our children (from both Warrington and Mersey) got the early train to London to use their newly learned indoor rowing skill to compete at a national level. A great experience for all with some brilliant results – most notably in the Year 8 Boys category with Mersey’s Kevin Dos Santos coming in a fantastic third place!
Sadly, this year also saw us having to temporarily close our doors, along with so many other organisations in light of the COVID-19 global pandemic, during the government prescribed lockdown.
However, this didn’t stop us continuing to make great plans for the future and we were delighted to announce that the Henley Royal Regatta Charitable Trust (HRRCT) agreed further funding to facilitate the launch of Northwich Youth Rowing in September 2020.
2020 – 2021
September heralded the start of a new academic year, one that was to be different in so many ways. Covid 19 had ravaged the country and schools were unsure of the way forward. In Warrington there was an established framework and this enabled seven of our schools to venture back onto the water. By the Autumn Half Term, they were all on the water and progressing well. Sadly, two of our schools had dropped out of the project, citing problems with staffing levels in relation to Covid issues.
Another Covid fuelled lockdown started on the 5th November, but WYR managed to carry on as its activity was deemed to be an Educational Activity. During this time, New Horizons (later to become Kassia Academy), a Pupil Referral Unit, joined the programme. This was a new direction for WYR and one they were keen to explore. During the last week of the Autumn term a Capsize Drill was organised and attended by all the schools.
The New Year brought with it a new lockdown and all school activity was suspended until 8th March. By the end of March, all the schools were back in training and aiming for the summer regatta on 7th July.
The story in Liverpool was changing rapidly. Due to ongoing problems at the Liverpool Watersports Centre, it was decided that the best thing to do would be to relocate to the Birkenhead side of the river and base our operation at Liverpool Victoria Rowing Club. This modern facility would allow us to keep our water and indoor rowing programmes based at the same facility and be a much better experience for the children involved. The move and the situation with Covid meant that three of our original Liverpool schools felt that they could no longer continue to support the scheme. Mersey Youth Rowing was now left with North Liverpool Academy and De La Salle; they were though, in theory joined by Fazackerly High School.
In Autumn 2020 Covid ripped through Liverpool and for a while the city was the worst affected area in the country, the Army was even called in to help with testing protocols. This heightened level of the virus ensured that there was no chance of any of the schools taking part in rowing activities. Indeed, it would be 19th March 2021 before North Liverpool ventured onto the West Float Dock.
Northwich Youth Rowing was scheduled to start in September 2020 with six schools showing initial interest. This number reduced as Covid rampaged through the country and became the number one priority in school life, putting our programme on the back burner. Knutsford Academy though were very keen and made a start at Northwich Rowing Club (NRC) on the river Weaver in early October 2020. Negotiations carried on with other schools in their catchment area and there was a lot of interest for September 2021. NRC geared up and with the generous help of Swift Boats they had two recreational quads. Bristol City Rowing Club kindly donated a recreational coxed double. They were able to boat 13 youngsters and were well placed to maximise the opportunities for the schools as they came on line.
2021 – 2022
September in 2021 was almost a fresh start for our Youth Rowing Projects. The cloud of Covid, although still lurking in the background, was starting to evaporate.
Embarking on their 6th year in the scheme the Warrington Schools swiftly got back into the swing of things. The youngsters were soon back on the river Mersey, learning a new set of skills that would hopefully, enhance their lives further down the line. Two of our schools valued the scheme so highly that they requested a second session for their new year 9 pupils as they had a Covid interrupted year previously. We were pleased to enrol The Kings Academy, Woolston into our ranks; they are a welcome addition as their school is located within a short distance of WRC.
Mersey Youth Rowing was almost a relaunch with a new cohort of schools taking part. This included a couple of SEND Schools, Clare Mount who are within a mile of the Vics boathouse and Clifford Holroyd based in Liverpool. The location of Clifford Holroyd means that it is quicker for them to get to Warrington Rowing Club and they are enjoying their sessions on the Mersey but they are very firmly under the MYR banner! North Liverpool Academy continue to be strong believers in our project and opted for three sessions a week. The coaching team for MYR is our youngest and they continue to amaze with their energy and willingness to adapt to new ideas and challenges. One of the challenges they face is working on a commercial dock and it’s not uncommon for rowing activity to be stopped to allow for ocean going ships to be docked.
Northwich Youth Rowing was virtually a relaunch with a new group of schools taking part. These new schools included Sandbach Lodge, a unit that works with challenging children. One group of pupils they presented us with were Afghan Refugees. Needless to say, language was a problem, but the coaching team managed to find a way and the smiles from a group of lads that had arrived from the desert was just reward. Knutsford continue to be very enthusiastic and their reward for finding a way to continue in the previous year, was to be awarded the 2021 Roger Chicken Trophy for the best school in the Youth Rowing project.
The year also included negotiations to start Greater Manchester Youth Rowing to be based at Agecroft Rowing Club. This exciting addition will begin in September 2022 and will aim to work with six local schools.
As a charity we were involved in a conference to encourage the development of further outreach rowing projects. It was called Rocking the Boat and was a collaboration between Henley Royal Regatta Charitable Trust, London Youth Rowing and ourselves. It was a great success and the waves it created will be felt for years to come. Details can be found on the Henley Regatta website.
Liverpool John Moores University have launched a study into the effectiveness of the Youth Rowing Project. They have been interviewing pupils, coaches, teachers and school principals over the last year. The first evidence of their results will be released in October 2022 at the second Rocking the Boat Conference.
Our competitions were back on the calendar after the havoc wreaked by the pandemic, with both indoor and outdoor events attracting large numbers of competitors. The Indoor Championships, based at Birchwood, saw almost 300 youngsters from 19 state schools taking part, including our 2 SEND schools.
Under normal circumstances we would have taken a team to the National Junior Indoor Rowing Championships in London. This amazing event is organised by our good friends at London Youth Rowing (LYR). Sadly, they did not feel confident enough to stage the event given the shadow of Covid that was still lurking. They did though organise a virtual event that eventually attracted well over 7000 entries. All of our schools took part, with Padgate entering well over 100 pupils, and it was a great success. LYR also ran their indoor rowing league for schools anywhere in the world and it was good to see Padgate regularly in the top 3 schools.
The end of year regatta took place at Warrington Rowing Club with 19 schools taking part. The day itself was very busy, but the children thoroughly enjoyed it. It did though highlight that we need to drastically re think the event and plans are already under way for a different type of competition. At the regatta, we award the Roger Chicken Award for the school that has had the best performance during the year. The 2022 award went to North Liverpool Academy.
2022 – 2023
The new academic year that started in September 2022 was yet another step forward. Greater Manchester Youth Rowing, based at Agecroft Rowing Club sprang into life. Else where it was a case of sustaining and growing our current sites.
The schools in Warrington, some of them now seven years into the project, soon got to grips with things and most of them where active by early October. We lost two of the schools for various reasons and they took a year out but promised to return next year. We did, though, gain two new schools in the shape of Penketh High School and St Gregory’s Catholic High School. The coaching team at WYR is now well versed in the way we do things. They continue to impress with their dedication and willingness to adapt and improvise. The coaching team at WYR was bolstered by the addition of a British Rowing Grow Coach in the shape of Quin Dunne.
Action on The West Float Dock continued at a pace with plenty of action on the water. North Liverpool Academy increased their sessions to three per week and three other schools increased their sessions to twice weekly. We were delighted to be able to introduce two new schools to the Mersey programme. South Wirral High School and Dixons Broadgreen both joined the fold during the spring term. Our student based coaching team at Mersey are performing well and are always up for a challenge, especially as they work on a commercial dock. I’m sure we will all miss the navy ship, that has now moved and was an interesting feature on the skyline.
The river Weaver saw plenty of activity with local schools continuing to participate and utilise the modern facilities at Northwich Rowing Club. The enthusiasm of the schools in Northwich is always rewarding to see and unsurprisingly they did very well at the Youth Rowing Regatta in July. Winsford High School capped their year by winning the Roger Chicken Trophy as the best performing school over the year. The number of schools increased as we lost one but gained Hartford and Rudheath. Kev Jump leads a well-established group of coaches at Northwich, and they have developed a very inclusive and caring style that works well with our youngsters.
Agecroft Rowing Club now play host to Greater Manchester Youth Rowing, and it is interesting to see the youngsters working alongside athletes that are on the GB pathway. Six schools eventually signed up with five of them coming from United Learning, a large trust with schools all over England. Our coaches at GMYR are by in large young adults and some of them are on the GB pathway. Its great to see these coaches passing on the skills that they have been learning, whilst being coached themselves by GB coaches!
The popularity and growth of Youth Rowing carries on and we have started planning for our next site to be based at Runcorn Rowing Club. Onward we march!
Rocking the Boat, the outreach conference that we help to organise with London Youth Rowing and Henley Stewards Charitable Trust took place in October and I’m delighted to say that we played a major part, organising several speakers. Scott Whitfield from LJMU was able to highlight his work and his study into our work and I’m pleased to say it was a big hit with the audience. Rocking the Boat 3 is in the planning stages.
We managed to hold our two Youth Rowing competitions this year, despite a teachers strike on our original regatta date. The indoor competition was held at Birchwood High School on 25th January. We had our biggest entry to date with 375 young rowers taking part. In July we eventually held our regatta with a slightly reduced entry due to a teachers strike on the original date. We were pleased to welcome along Siobhan Cassidy, Chair of The Boat Race Company as a guest and she was delighted to see so many youngsters taking part in a regatta for the first time. It was a radically altered format and in general it worked well. Knutsford and Winsford were the winners on the day.
Based on the results of the indoor competition we were able to select a team to take part in the National Junior Rowing Championships at The Copper Box Arena in London. All four of our areas were represented and we sent the largest team to date, comprising 40 rowers and 35 adults.
Henley Stewards Charitable Trust continue to be our principal sponsor and we are very grateful to receive this cornerstone funding. They also give us valuable assistance at the time of Henley Royal Regatta, and this enables us to invite school leaders to attend the regatta and experience what is possible for their youngsters.
The Boat Race Company have also provided funding and we even got a mention on the BBC with their live coverage of the Boat Race.
Our old girls Iffy and Elle continue to do us proud with their rowing scholarships in the USA. Iffy at Tulsa University and Elle about to start at Washington State.