Lea RC’s ‘I Am a Rower’ exhibition now open at the River and Rowing Museum

The photographic collection aims to challenge and inspire a wider understanding of what it means to be a rower


The Lea RC in Hackney, east London has a large membership ranging from recreation rowers to Henley winning crews. A driving force of the club’s ethos is to promote access to rowing for all – a natural extension of its working class roots, inner city location and multicultural local community.

“The Lea RC is on a mission to have greater representation of our local ethnically and culturally diverse communities. We want people to be able to walk past our club and think ‘I can belong here’ #IBelong.”

One of the many initiatives the Lea has developed to increase diversity within its squads has been its ‘I Belong’ access project, designed to encourage local people to try rowing. This contributed to the Lea RC winning the Club of the Year Award at the 2022 British Rowing Awards.

In recognition of their diversity work and commitment to increasing access to rowing, the Lea RC was asked to contribute National Sporting Heritage Day in September 2022, which had a theme of celebrating diversity. To do just that, the club created I Am a Roweran installation of photographs and stories for 8+ ‘boat’ members. This showcased the many routes into rowing as well as the myriad benefits, motivations and aspirations of our rowers and to show that rowers come in all shapes, sizes, ages, genders, ethnicities, sexualities, goals, and backgrounds – to help more people to see themselves as potential rowers in waiting, to help diversify the sport.

Lea RC volunteers mounting the exhibits Lea RC volunteers played a key role in putting up the exhibits

Photographer Chris Baker took picture portraits of nine club members in kit and in everyday clothing, which were displayed alongside written and audio stories created by journalist Anna Melville-James. Each one sets out to challenge and inspire a wider understanding of what it means to be a rower.

Sara Cinamon, Diversity Working Party Lead at Lea RC explained, “Although we launched the I Am a Rower exhibition initially at the club, we always knew we wanted to find a space it could be seen by a wider audience later in the year.”

“The National Rowing and River Museum in Henley was a natural choice for us, and when we approached Cate Tren about the possibility of showing it here we were thrilled that the museum agreed to host it, and to contribute to the inclusion conversation. We have been thrilled to collaborate with such a prestigious exhibition space on this and with the great feedback we have got from those who have seen it.”

Greg Searle and Steve O'Connor Greg Searle and RRM Director Steve O’Connor at the ‘I am a Rower’ exhibition

Soon after the exhibition opened, it was visited by triple Olympic medalist Greg Searle MBE who said, “It was lovely to visit the River and Rowing museum and enjoy the ‘I Am a Rower’ exhibition. I say ‘enjoy’ because it was far more than looking at the images and reading the stories. It was very special, and innovative, to be able to listen to each rower’s unique story in their own words by using the QR code. The stories powerfully demonstrate how rowing is reaching a wider community and giving more people the opportunity to enjoy the sense of freedom, challenge and team spirit that is fundamental to our sport.”

The I Am a Rower exhibition is now on display at the River and Rowing Museum in Henley until 11 December 2023. The museum is open Thursday-Monday (closed Tuesday and Wednesday) from 10am to 4pm.