Social rowing taking off across the UK

L to R: Chris Dixon, Paul Davis, Alan McMurdo, Rob Grose, and Max Heron

As well as a series of presentations and workshops delivered by British Rowing officers, volunteers and staff, attendees at the 2011 British Rowing conference were also treated to presentations from five club representatives from around the country.

Speakers from five inspirational rowing projects across the country – representing Truro, Twickenham, Oundle Town, Tynemouth Rowing Club and the Whitlingham Boathouse Project – delivered stirring talks about their efforts to further participation in rowing, and received a warm reception from the gathered delegates on the opening day of the conference.

Oundle Town Rowing Club

The first guest speaker to take to the stage was Dr. Alan McMurdo, founder of Oundle Town Rowing Club.

Since forming the club as a school rowing association in 2000, McMurdo – headmaster at Thomas Deacon Academy – has overseen its growth to encompass some 81 members.

Consisting of little more than a ramshackle boat shed on the River Nene, Cambridgeshire, 10 years ago, the club now aims to hit 135 members by the start of the 2011/12 season – and McMurdo put the club’s continuing success down to its fun and friendly environment and the help of Explore Rowing.

Still volunteer-based, Oundle Town remains some distance from hiring professionals as it continues to grow, but McMurdo expressed his enthusiasm for the impact that Learn to Row courses in stable boats and the presence of Henley Stewards Charitable Trust coaches has had on the club.

Oundle Town celebrated the launch of its Explore Rowing project on Sunday 11 September, and is looking forward to continuing success and increased participation over the coming year.

Tynemouth Rowing Club

Next to take to the stage was Chris Dixon, representing Tynemouth Rowing Club – based at the mouth of the River Tyne in the North East of England.

Described by Dixon as ‘a drinking club with a rowing problem,’ Tynemouth pride themselves on being friendly, fun-focussed, and challenging the elitist perception that rowing sometimes attracts.

The 144-year-old club has stopped trying to compete with its river-based neighbours, offering Learn to Row courses in recreational rowing, in a picturesque setting where the River Tyne meets the North Sea.

Its focus is now on encouraging newcomers to try rowing as a positive lifestyle choice, on the understanding that people will stay in the sport longer if it fits in with their lifestyle.

Tynemouth has doubled its membership to 30 over the last few years, and the club hopes that its fleet of stable Explore Rowing boats will help it reach 70 members in the next three years.

The club co-hosted Explore Rowing’s Great Tyne Row this summer, and Dixon believes that the annual event will help the club to continue its growth.

‘I firmly believe that the Great Tyne Row will become one of THE events on the rowing calendar,’ he said. ‘It was a terrific day.’

Truro River Rowing Club

Following Tynemouth’s engaging presentation; Rob Grose of the Truro Gig Club took to the stage to discuss Gig Rowing.

Truro have increased their membership by 70 per cent in one season alone, and have managed to retain a staggering 95 per cent of their members – despite not owning a club house.

Just three years ago, the club was stagnating, with aging members and boats. However, a combination of factors has seen a complete reversal in Truro’s fortunes, with social rowing once again at the forefront of the revolution.

The club purchased a new Gig and refurbished its two other competition boats, before launching an ambitious campaign to re-establish the historic club at the heart of the community.

Grose helped instigate new rowing pathways – offering taster sessions to identify competitive and casual rowers, and ensuring that the needs of both groups were fulfilled with development crews and social rowing squads.

They offered these taster sessions to schools, Sea Scouts, and local businesses; all the while ensuring that their events were covered in local media and parish magazines.

The club is now thriving, both socially and competitively, and they even have a new ‘club house’ – a gazebo in club colours on the beach.

Twickenham Rowing Club

From Cornish Gigs to traditional river racing, and few clubs enjoy as rich a history of traditional rowing as Twickenham Rowing Club.

Paul Davis – the 152-year-old Thames-based club’s representative at the conference – said the club’s traditional mantra had always been: ‘We are Twickenham. We row.’

The downside to a complete focus on competition, Davis said, was three-fold: elite rowers lacking the boatmanship skills that sculling encourages, inflexible crew selections as rowers became too comfortable in specific seats, and poor retention rates as rowers struggled to reconcile busy working schedules with the rigours of elite rowing.

Following a change of approach at the club and the introduction of an Explore Rowing project the results have been particularly encouraging.  So far, 50 new rowers have graduated from Twickenham’s Learn to Row courses, of which 45 have gone on to join its novice squads.

Davis cites the attractive Explore Rowing boats – of which the club has four single sculls, two doubles, and two quads – as at least part of the reason for this, giving newcomers an easier introduction to the sport without forcing them to learn in ‘tubs’.

Running corporate rowing afternoons, challenging tours and trips along the River Thames, embracing adaptive rowing, and reviving community events such as the Charlie Shore Children’s Regatta has also helped propel the club to a 90 per cent retention rate for new members, and ensures that the future is bright – and inclusive – at Twickenham Rowing Club.

Whitlingham Boathouse Project

The final presentation of the afternoon was given by Max Heron – a trustee and Project Leader of the ambitious Whitlingham Boathouse Project in Norwich.

The project was established to create and operate a rowing and canoeing facility for communities – working in partnership with Norwich Rowing Club, Norwich School Boat Club, Norwich High School Boat Club, the University of East Anglia Boat Club, and Norwich Canoe Club.

With an ultimate target of one million pounds, the project has currently secured funding of over £740,000 including a £200,000 grant from British Rowing. The first phase of building – including a fully usable ground floor with storage for rowing and canoeing boats – already completed.

The project has 400 members today, 50 more than last year, and is ‘growing fast’ – putting multiple generations in boats together to encourage whole families to participate in rowing.

The project is also very active in the community, working with local schools and Sea Scout groups – and aspires to attract another 350 members over the next four years.

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