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 Royal Regatta Charitable Trust (HRRCT). 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!
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.
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.
Warrington saw St Gregs Catholic High School join the scheme, taking our total to 9 schools.There was though a bigger 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 Hildas.
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.
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 7 of our schools to venture back onto the water. By the Autumn Half Term they were all on the water and progressing well. Sadly 2 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 it’s 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 till March 8th. By the end of March all the schools were back in training and aiming for the summer regatta on July 7th.
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 3 of our original Liverpool Schools felt that they could no longer continue to support the scheme. MYR was now left with North Liverpool Academy and De La Salle, they were though, in theory joined by Fazackerly.
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 March 19th 2021 before North Liverpool ventured onto the West Float Dock.
Northwich Youth Rowing was scheduled to start in September 2020 with 6 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 on the River Weaver in early October 2020. Negotiations have carried on with other schools in their catchment area and there is a lot of interest for September 2021. NRC have been gearing up and with the generous help of Swift Boats they have 2 recreational quads. Bristol City Rowing Club also kindly donated a recreational coxed double. They can now boat 13 youngsters and are well placed to maximise the opportunities for the schools as they join the programme.
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.
In addition, Liverpool John Moores University launched a study into the effectiveness of the Youth Rowing Project. They have been interviewing pupils, coaches, teachers and school principals with regularly over the last year. The first evidence of their results will be released in October 2022 at the second Rocking the Boat Conference.