If you’re reading this, you either already know what a life-changing experience rowing can be or you’re curious to know more.
For anyone lucky enough to have picked up an oar - and especially if they did so growing up – they will remember the experience of being on the water with friends and that gradual progression towards technical fluency. They will also remember the agony of the erg test and the disappointment of defeat.
But a rower will be able to look back on the cold winter mornings when the rest of the world was asleep, the revision rammed in between training sessions, and the miles and miles of steady-state paddling and know that these were the vital experiences which made them who they are.
You might have been lucky enough to have parents willing to get out of bed to drive you to training, or you may have been enrolled at one the few schools in the country where rowing was offered. You won’t need telling how fortunate you were to have such support. You will know what rowing has given you and you will remember the many dedicated coaches, teachers, parents and volunteers who played a part in making it all possible.
In many communities across the UK, however, many families wouldn’t even consider that rowing is something for them, even if they did know where to look. That is why we have started setting up programmes in some of the country’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
Tom's life has been changed by rowing. Listen here as he tells us how it started, what he's doing now and where he wants to take his career into the future. An inspirational young man.
We start with after-school indoor rowing clubs and, through our team of volunteer coaches and an exciting competition framework, we have built pathways to on-water rowing for those who want to get down to the river. At each of these steps, sadly, there are barriers to participation.
In many schools, the purchasing of two rowing machines will wipe out annual PE budgets. Teachers might be willing to stay around after school to run a club, but they have little knowledge or love for the sport. RowUK is in its fourth year of running one of the fastest growing school sports events in the north of England, but the meagre entry fee still turns some schools away. And lastly, the biggest hurdle is when a young person wants to progress to rowing on the water. For households getting by on less than £16,000 per year (Pupil Premium qualification), kit, membership and race fees are not even faintly within reach.
At RowUK, we wanted to do something about it, so last year we established our Foundation to raise funds to allow any child, irrespective of their school or family background, to have all the opportunities we were fortunate enough to enjoy ourselves.
Andy Triggs-Hodge and the GB Rowing Team dropped into the RowUK RowLeeds Indoor Championships in a bid to find future Yorkshire rowing Olympians. Watch the report. Credit: BBC Look North - Sally Hurst
The RowUK Foundation Trustee and Olympic Gold Medalist, Paul Bennett defines 'Greatness'
Five problems and five solutions…
The RowUK Foundation is raising money to make sure that cost is no barrier for any child wanting to take part in this sport we all love.
Rowing Machines: With the generous support of our partners, Concept2, we are building a fleet of ergos to loan into schools wanting to set up an after-school indoor rowing club. Without this critical first step, there is no access to the sport for the schools and young people we are seeking to engage.
Volunteers: We have a team of volunteer coaches, made up of members of local university and community rowing club members, who we pair with participating schools and local rowing clubs. Great role models who want to give their time for free and pay it forward. These volunteers need training and support with their travel expenses.
Events: We run an exciting Indoor Rowing Championships each year with three events at the end of each term in December, March and July. This includes races for young people with a disability. We always need sponsors to make this event free at the point of use.
Boats and Equipment: This is the next big bottleneck. Clubs and schools will always need more boats and blades. Quite simply, more seats means more young people enjoying our sport.
Widening Participation: Membership fees, race fees, kit, travel, accommodation and trials…any rowing parent will tell you that this all adds up. For many children it adds up to too much, so we have created the Widening Participation Fund to support those families and children training hard and trying to make ends meet.
BBC Look North feature on RowLeeds
Andy Triggs-Hodge and the GB Rowing Team dropped into the RowUK RowLeeds Indoor Championships in a bid to find future Yorkshire rowing Olympians. Watch the report. Credit: ITV Calendar News
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Ben Cox, Chairman
After five years in the independent education sector and 10 years with London Youth Rowing, Ben Cox moved back north to where his rowing career began, bringing similar opportunities to young people outside the capital. He started RowUK, building programmes and events for schools and clubs in Yorkshire. In 2020, RowUK is focusing heavily on a ground-breaking research project in partnership with the University of Leeds. Ben established The RowUK Foundation in 2019 to help reduce the barriers to participation for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Paul Bennett, Trustee
Hailing from Leeds, Paul retired from international competition after winning gold at the Rio Olympics. Paul now works for Citi Bank and is an inspiration for the young people on our programmes, visiting schools and sharing his experiences about what it takes to reach the top. At 6’10”, and once he gets the obvious “how tall are you?” question out of the way, Paul has a unique ability to make any child feel like they can follow in his footsteps.
With a background in management consultancy, we wanted Michelle’s ability to read organisations and understand what we need to do support them to become a part of The RowUK Foundation story. A data specialist with a great eye for detail, Michelle always makes sure the numbers add up.
Registered Charity no. 1182687 (England and Wales)