Pictures: Charity helping to make a splash on the rowing scene

Young girls encourage Olympic medalist Mark Hunter in the Rowing Challenge at UEL Sports Dock

Young girls encourage Olympic medalist Mark Hunter in the Rowing Challenge at UEL Sports Dock - Credit: Archant

Could you follow in the footsteps of Newham’s Olympic champion Mark Hunter and become the next rowing success?

Youngsters compete at the Rowing Challenge in UEL Sports Dock

Youngsters compete at the Rowing Challenge in UEL Sports Dock - Credit: Archant

London Youth Rowing, based on the edge of the Royal Albert Dock, is aiming to boost participation in the sport, tempting youngsters away from the television and onto the water.

The charity was founded 10 years ago by Jim Downing, who was inspired to open up rowing to all after noticing the lack of diversity at the Henley Royal Regatta.

But rowing isn’t just the great outdoors.

The University of East London recently played host to the University Indoor Rowing Challenge, attracting 530 students from schools across the capital.

Youngsters compete at the Rowing Challenge in UEL Sports Dock

Youngsters compete at the Rowing Challenge in UEL Sports Dock - Credit: Archant


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The day wasn’t just about rowing; the organisation’s talent scouts were out spotting potential participants for their high performance programme, while students could also pick up career advice from the charity’s partners.

Mark, who was there to support the participants, said: “It can be a real challenge to engage young people in physical activity when they hit a certain age.

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“This year’s UIRC not only achieved that, but also gave them access to some of the biggest and most exciting employers in the capital.”

With the rowing challenge taking just a few minutes to complete, the idea to hold a careers fair alongside it stemmed from the charity’s desire to use rowing to open up opportunities.

Youngsters compete at the Rowing Challenge in UEL Sports Dock

Youngsters compete at the Rowing Challenge in UEL Sports Dock - Credit: Archant

“The University Challenge gives them something to work for; it turns indoor rowing into a sport,” explained Layal Marten, the charity’s head of development.

“We want to move on and use rowing to help them in education and employment.”

While most of the youngsters in the high performance programme started out on rowing machines, there’s a big difference once they hit the water.

“Indoor rowing, unless you’re in a relay, is an individual thing while out on the water you’re usually in a team, and you’ve got the challenge of the tide as well,” she said.

Youngsters compete at the Rowing Challenge in UEL Sports Dock

Youngsters compete at the Rowing Challenge in UEL Sports Dock - Credit: Archant

“We train them up as a crew so they can enter events like Henley, and we’ve got three people attending GB trials.”

London Youth Rowing also runs two academy programmes providing pupils in inner city schools with the same opportunities as their public school counterparts.

The charity requires about £1 million each year, which helps the 16 full-time coaches work across a variety of programmes.

“We want to provide opportunities to children in boroughs that aren’t traditionally rowing hotspots,” said Layal.

“We work in all 31 boroughs trying to teach skills such as teamwork and discipline.”

With Mark now working for the charity, what is it like to have an Olympic champion onboard?

“It’s great to have him on board, both for the children and our commercial partners,” she said.

“He’s come back to where he started to try and give others the same opportunities in rowing.”

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