Thousands of water enthusiasts have walked through the doors of Danson Park Adventures and now thanks to funding from Active Thames, more young people are being trained up as coaches
Situated within the peaceful green of Danson Park – previously voted the best park in London – lies an adventure centre busier than ever. The joyful squeals and splashes of water arising from both adults and children alike visiting Danson Park Adventures is electric. It is a sound which centre manager Megan Gately undeniably loves.
Megan oversees the implementation of the centre’s activities which includes kayaking, canoeing, bell boating, paddleboarding and dinghy sailing. The centre, which is run by Bexley Council, is often fully booked thanks to interest in watersports being at an all-time high. It offers sessions for anyone over the age of eight.
A £2,000 grant from Active Thames has provided bursary support for young people of Bexley to gain coaching qualifications. Active Thames is an initiative led by Port of London Authority to increase inclusivity and diversity within watersports and allow more people to experience the benefits of London’s waterways.
Three teenagers from Bexley, aged 16-17, have already completed their Level 1 to 3 Royal Yacht Association (RYA) sailing courses and are now receiving funding to develop their skills further to become instructors. In turn, they will deepen their understanding of coaching and gain invaluable experience by volunteering at the adventure centre. Some participants are using the course to complete their Duke of Edinburgh award. The RYA sailing courses equip participants with the knowledge of land and safety drills, including moving the dinghy (tacking and jibing) and learning how to use the powerboats.
Currently, the sport industry is facing shortages in coaches due to a lack of coach development during the height of the pandemic, with many coaches having now left the industry.
Megan managed the activity centre’s participation in the London Youth Games; an annual multi-sport event where boroughs compete against other boroughs. All three teenagers receiving the coaching funding competed in the London Youth Games for Bexley in sailing.
“They showed great initiative,” explains Megan. “They wanted to get involved and then from there, we sat them down and said we have this grant which could help develop your skills further. They were all new to coaching and hadn’t done a lot of teaching so we said we could mentor them and that they would always be with a senior instructor. From the get-go, they showed their own initiative and wanted to get involved with coaching and the club.
“The new coaches are really grateful because you have to have so many different qualifications and certifications to get to instructor level so it can be quite expensive. As a centre we run certain qualifications but some, such as the first aid course, aren’t covered.” Megan explains how other centre managers have offered reduced discounts to any course the young coaches may need.
The activity centre have a general one to 12 coach to participant ratio, and a one to 6 ratio for courses.
During their sailing sessions, they use Laser Pico sailing boats as well as RS Feva and RS Quest dinghies. “They are quite stable,” Megan explains, “but obviously they do capsize. As the young people progress and become more advanced, they enjoy practicing dry capsizing and developing that skill.”
Thousands of participants have enjoyed multiple watersports sessions at the centre through their busy April to October season. “Sometimes we have 90 kids in one day!” Megan says. They have adapted sessions for people with disabilities and train their coaches to adapt their instructions according to the needs, age and experience of the people they work with. Learning disability charity Mencap regularly visits the centre and enjoys the vast benefits of watersports.
The centre also run a completely free school holidays programme for students on pupil premium. Funded by the council, over ten days students receive an action-packed watersports adventure day as well as lunch provided by external catering.
“The parents have been so supportive of our programme,” Megan explains. “Some have said to me ‘I could have never afforded to send them to a full day session, but the kids absolutely love it. We had four Ukrainian children come to our session over the summer. They absolutely loved it and it was so nice to see them playing around on the boats, having fun and playing games.”
The manager and instructor adds: “We’re constantly fully booked on all of our programmes. I have parents asking if there are any last-minute cancellations because the children just want to come back. They are very grateful.”
With young coaches bursting with energy and shiny new qualifications, Danson Park will be able to increase sessions and the number of children and adults that walk through their doors.
As Megan explains: “Our programmes ultimately make watersports more accessible.”
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Active Thames is a partnership programme in place to support the development of watersports on the tidal Thames and inland waterways in London, Kent and Essex.
With over 15,000 football pitches worth of blue space, the tidal Thames is a fantastic place to get active. There is also an extensive network of inland waterways, which provide even more space for people to enjoy, and perfect locations to gain the skills and confidence needed to take on the tidal river.