Yesterday, we were delighted to host the Vice Chancellor of the University of Leeds, Sir Alan Langlands at the Leeds Boat House for an afternoon of inspiration, aspiration and perspiration.
Sir Alan’s first experience? The GB START Yorkshire squad completing another gruelling erg session. These athletes, coached by the Great Britain START coach, Matt Paul are based between York and Leeds. With an increasing number of his team coming from Leeds, the River Aire is fast becoming a second home for Matt’s squad. Whilst these athletes put in the miles, the University of Leeds Boat Club (UOLBC) senior crews were being briefed by coach, Dan Grant. Amidst the whine of the rowing machines, Sir Alan got the chance to ask both coaches about the more technical aspects of the equipment and facilities and how the junior pathways in Leeds might impact on their programmes in the future.
University of Leeds Vice Chancellor, Sir Alan Langlands and Gorse Executive Principal, Leanne Griffiths at the Leeds Boat House
The Leeds Boat House opened in September 2014 with the support of Sport England, the University of Leeds and British Rowing. It is a £1.1m facility serving the city’s three rowing clubs, UoLBC, Leeds RC and the Gorse Boat Club. Such has been the growth of the sport in Leeds, all available racking space has already been filled and, with outside racking and parked trailers now coping with the rapid growth of all clubs, something needed to be done to maximise space. Step in, Mechanical Engineering students at the University who are helping with a sophisticated game of ‘Boathouse Tetris’, redesigning the boathouse racking system and increasing capacity by over 50%. As the Senior crews carried their boats to the landing stage and launched, our Vice Chancellor took the chance to talk with the UOLBC senior committee about their journey over the last few months and their plans for the future. It was a chance to hear about the levels of commitment required in rowing, the costs associated with representing their University, and what might be done to support the club in meeting their competitive aspirations.
UoLBC Novices started to hit the water as Gorse crews returned from their first outing. Coached by UOLBC volunteer coaches, Elliott Hudson College is the post-16 college serving the Gorse Trust. Along with the nearby Ruth Gorse Academy, Elliott Hudson got involved in the RowLeeds programme back in September 2016.
The Gorse programme, developed by RowUK, is already starting to yield results. Taking children from backgrounds not normally associated with a sport like rowing, they learn the benefits of discipline, commitment, respect and hard work. The difference this programme is already making is stark. One Elliott Hudson student who did not have a University place, started rowing with the RowLeeds programme, coached and supported by University volunteers. It gave her a taste for higher education and she has now secured a place with the University of Leeds. What is more, she has already signed up to become a volunteer coach on our schools programme next year. We will share more about her inspiring story very soon.
The Gorse Boat Club became a club in its own right last year. Coached by a full time rowing coach, this Trust-wide programme delivers rowing both in and alongside the PE curriculum. The new Gorse Executive Principal, Leanne Griffiths, joined us later that afternoon and met with Sir Alan to talk through why rowing has become such an important part of life at Gorse. At RowUK, ultimately, rowing is a means to demonstrate what can be achieved through a well-resourced sporting offer in schools serving areas of socioeconomic disadvantage. As we see it, our job is to drive sector-wide innovation, promote aspiration and help support the higher education ‘widening participation’ agenda. RowUK, TGAT and the University of Leeds are still at the beginning of a long journey. The partnership is already a strong and successful. After yesterday’s exciting conversations, it only looks to be getting stronger still.
With the RowLeeds School Indoor Rowing Programme taking place across all other secondary schools in the city, young people from that programme will progress to the water via a Leeds Rowing Club Junior Learn2Row course. So now, with pathways to the water available for all secondary pupils in Leeds, RowUK is helping to shift the balance of the sport by introducing more funded programmes for state schools and, in particular, those in the north of the country.
It was a day where RowLeeds truly came together – RowUK, the Leeds Boat House, Leeds Rowing Club, the University of Leeds Boat Club, GB START and The Gorse Boat Club, all inspiring each other, aspiring to more, and not afraid of a little perspiration in the process. Here at RowUK we are proud to be involved in shaping the future of rowing in Leeds. Rethink everything.