London Sports Trust continues to provide a safe space and opportunities for disadvantaged young people to stay active in West London and build key life skills, thanks to funding from Active Thames
A West London charity are breaking down the barriers by offering free, inclusive kayaking sessions in an effort to engage disadvantaged young people with London’s waterways.
London Sports Trust, established in 2002, aims to inspire positive change for young people through sport by enhancing life skills and improving health, wellbeing and employment prospects of vulnerable children and teenagers.
The charity delivers twice-weekly kayaking sessions at Cremorne Gardens and Fulham Reach to provide local families the opportunity to have inclusive after-school activities on the Thames. This is alongside other programmes which include ball sports.
“We’re a charity that focuses on helping underprivileged children,” explains operations manager and watersports instructor John Kain. “Kayaking is part of our charity, but we also go into schools, clubs and youth clubs and help unlock a child’s potential. We have over 20 years of experience that provides us the skillset to deliver watersports to underprivileged and vulnerable children in London.”
A grant of £4,400 from Active Thames has helped with the implementation of kayaking sessions. The funding has supported the charity’s programme and provided key coaching development. Active Thames is an initiative led by Port of London Authority aiming to increase inclusivity and diversity within watersports.
Through twice-weekly sessions, coaches instruct participants on the fundamentals of kayaking, learning both flat and white water kayaking. Some participants progress through the British Canoeing Paddle Star award which involves understanding water and rescue safety, paddle techniques and being considerate to the environment and other water users. Participants achieve a certificate with the scheme.
“It’s really an introduction,” says John. “We aim for the kids to regularly attend to make the sessions feel like a club. When they come every week, our coaches can work with them and teach them particular skills to progress.”
In partnership with Active360, London Sports Trust also undergo Paddle and Pick sessions where participants in large, open top Canadian canoes use a litter picker to remove rubbish that has ended up in the water.
“We always try and teach the children about the environment and climate change during our kayaking sessions,” John explains, “especially the importance of eradicating pollution in the river.”
One way the charity engages with the local community, including many children living in social housing, is by offering free Safe Camps to give young people the chance to be active during the holidays. Ranging from ten to sixty participants at any one time, the charity mixes multi-sports and watersports to allow children and teens aged 8 to 16 the opportunity to meet new people, make friends and get involved with the environment. These sessions can be vital in improving a young person’s stamina, strength and overall fitness. They provide a daily purpose over the holidays and most importantly, a safe space.
“If you grow up on a housing estate, then the opportunity to do something like kayaking on the river is very welcome, because opportunities to do so are normally limited,” says John, who has worked at the charity for over five years now. He has witnessed how kayaking provides such growth in confidence and focus in young people.
Often the young people who begin their kayaking journey with them train up to become a junior coach and complete their British Canoeing Level 1 and Level 2 qualifications. This involves modules on practical coaching, rescue skills and coaching assessments. The Active Thames grant has funded these coaching qualifications.
“The young people receive their qualification for free and they then volunteer as a junior coach. They are able to feel part of a group and gain responsibilities, as well as a formal qualification that makes them employable. It’s a very good outcome.”
Reflecting on their kayaking and coaching this season, one junior participant said: “I have been given the opportunity to improve my leadership and communication skills by supporting sessions and teaching younger kids new skills in watersports and on-land activities.”
London Sports Trust also provide opportunities for trips outside of their Canalside Activity Centre in an effort to widen the variety of the kayaking sessions and provide young people the opportunity to travel. Most recently, the charity visited the River Nene for white water kayaking. “One impact of the pandemic was that young people were forced to stay in their homes,” John says. “Now that we’re able to open back up fully, you can tell just how excited the kids are to go out on trips and to go out on the Thames.”
One young participant fully agrees, explaining they always found the sessions engaging and interactive. “There were always skills that I was able to build on and improve. The staff are very helpful and welcoming and always answer any questions that I may have.”
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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.