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Getting to know...Lea Rowing Club

July 26, 2018

We've recently selected three new beneficiaries, who are making a difference in women's sport.  We spoke to one, Lea Rowing Club, to find out a little more about them and help you decide where your 5% donation will go.

Describe the purpose of the project:

The Lea Rowing Club is a community organisation in Hackney, East London.

In its current incarnation as the Lea it has been there since 1980, but it is an amalgamation of the existing clubs that were using (and sharing) the boathouse at that time – there has been rowing on the Lea from the site of the current boathouse since at least the 1860s. The Lea is one of the “original” female participation rowing clubs (as Stuart Ladies RC, immediately prior to the unification as the Lea,though the earliest local newspaper credit goes to the Upper Clapton Ladies Rowing club in October 1895. Little is known about them except to say that this was the year before Doctor Furnivall founded the ‘first’ Ladies sculling club in Hammersmith) and number many extremely successful female athletes amongst our alumni, including several Olympians and a winning Head of the River crew to name just a few.

We currently have over 450 members (of whom more than half are girls and women) and as such are one of the largest rowing clubs in the UK. Our members are aged between 12 to 85 (or more) and come from all walks of life, united by a love of rowing and of the Lea.

Who is the club run by?

The Club is run by the membership, who are all volunteers!

Almost everything is done on a voluntary basis – by members for members – we have a very small number of paid posts in the Club – the vast majority of our coaching team, for example, is made up of volunteers, as are the board and the various committees responsible for the running of the Club.

What are your goals / ambitions for the club?

We aim to be an active community club as well as to produce locally, nationally and internationally competitive athletes and have a wide and varied membership, ranging from juniors who have competed as part of the GB team, Henley champions and Olympians, right through to recreational rowers, social members and almost everything in between.

Our success is measured in many ways – through our many GB and England vests, Henley (including Women’s Henley and Henley Masters) wins and local, national and international regatta successes and participation, through our recreational activities – including, for example, participation by our Masters Women this year in the 44th Vogalonga event in Venice, multi-day rows from Hackney to Henley and recreational “exchange” expeditions with other local clubs, through our new “indoor rowing” programme and through our place in the local East London community.

We are really passionate about what we do for women in rowing at the Lea, but maybe even more so, for women in sport generally and in the community.

We’re a fantastically supportive and friendly squad, with the elite women mixing in with the brand new novices both on and off the water for example, which is hugely inspiring.

What will you put your Boudavida donation towards?

Although the Lea has a big part in the history of women’s rowing, as little as 5-10 years ago, there were probably fewer than 20 women in the racing squad and, thanks to our strategic recruitment and successes, that has now bloomed to well in excess of 160 regular racing members (including more than 50 juniors), ranging from people who have learned to row this year right through to women and girls who have represented GB and England and won events at Women’s Henley and Henley Masters regattas and other high profile events, and who are at all ages and stages of their rowing careers.

With the squad having grown so much and so rapidly, we find ourselves very short of dedicated equipment and resource within the Club with many of our athletes having to train with very old and inappropriate equipment and, for example, to train on land when they would be better served on the water, as well as often having to coach themselves.

This means that the women’s side of the club is really in very great need of funds, for new boats/oars and refurbishment (there is some equipment that can be, and is, shared, but mainly due to the differing weights/shapes/sizes, it’s often not practical or even possible for men and women to share) but also, very significantly, to recruit a head coach to oversee the women’s squad in order to maximise our potential.

We would very much like to keep growing the women’s squad, both in terms of size and success, but right now, we are having to turn people away, as the numbers and demand simply outstrip the resource.

What has been the greatest success of the project so far?

It’s almost impossible to pick on a single event or achievement here, but we are desperately proud of the fact that we have been able to grow athletes that have never been in a boat before into winners of Women’s Henley and beyond, but maybe even more so of the fact that every year, the Club attracts women that have NEVER participated in any kind of sport/activity before and transforms them into successful, enthusiastic and happy athletes - it’s really pretty amazing!

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