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Visually Impaired Paddlers in Canoes at Tower Hamlets Canoe Club

Impact Report 2022


Active Thames is a partnership programme supporting physical activity on the tidal Thames and inland waterways in London, Kent and Essex.
It launched in 2021 and is led by the Port of London Authority as a key part of their commitment to the long-term development of the tidal Thames – Thames Vision.

This impact report outlines the progress made between 2021 and 2022, with an emphasis on the grants awarded to community clubs who then went on to deliver hundreds of watersports sessions in 2022.

Through Active Thames, the following partners work together to support growth, diversity and inclusion and maximise the use of blue space.

Active Thames survey

In 2021, London Sport conducted a survey targeted at anyone who enjoys or organises sport on the tideway or inland waterways in London, Kent and Essex.

People were asked about their background, what they think about the potential for blue spaces, and what they consider to be barriers to getting active. The survey was split into two stages; a quantitative online survey, and a qualitative online community consultation.

Sport England recognises several groups that are less likely to engage in physical activity and sport. The same groups were found to be under-represented within the Active Thames research findings across participants, administrators, and coaches. 

With 942 responses, the survey provided a huge amount of insight for the Active Thames partners to focus their attention.

Map showing projects funded

1. Black Girls Hike UK

Black Girls Hike UK provides a safe space for Black women to explore the outdoors. £1000 subsidised summer paddling sessions for 12 women in West London at Paddington Basin and signposted them to local clubs and coaching courses.  

"I loved meeting new people, exploring London in a fun way, and the sense of sisterhood and togetherness that day."

Read more: Black Girls Hike UK

5. Islington Boat Club

Islington Boat Club on the Regent’s Canal provides boating, personal development, health awareness and employment training to children, people with disabilities, schools and youth groups. They also have an Upper Deckers club, which provides potentially isolated older people with free activity sessions. They offer canoeing, kayaking, powerboating, sailing, narrow boating, bell boating and mountain biking, as well as off-site days and residential trips. 2022 was a challenging year for the club as they faced a temporary closure. Their grant of £4943 went towards essential training including GDPR and Safeguarding for their coaches and volunteers. 

“This has been a very difficult time… relying on support from organisations like the PLA. Thank you for your support over the past 13 months.” Sarah-Jane Elvin, Club Manager

2. London Sports Trust

London Sports Trust received £4400 to support a new programme, Changing the Tide. The programme set out to use the proven combination of watersports, positive role models and continued learning opportunities to improve the health, wellbeing and employment prospects of some of the most vulnerable teenagers from deprived housing estates. Kayaking, canoeing and coach development were delivered at Thames-based sites Cremorne Wharf and Fulham Reach Boat Club, and provided a safe place for children to be during the summer. Several children achieved British Canoeing awards and helped out as volunteers at other sessions. 

“You have given us the opportunity to improve our leadership and communication skills by allowing us to support sessions, teaching younger kids new skills.” A teenage participant

Read more: London Sports Trust

1. Dittons Paddleboarding Club

Dittons Paddleboarding Club runs free community paddlesports sessions on the Grand Union Canal and the Thames. £1500 helped train volunteers in first aid and water rescue, so they could increase the number of free sessions on offer. Dittons Paddleboarding Club have a keen desire to make paddlesports a more inclusive and diverse sport and coach Brett Scillitoe has established AquaPaddle; free-of-charge, timed 5km paddles on waterways across the country.

“Funding has enabled us to plan to provide free sessions for those in the community who can benefit from being out on the water, learning new life skills.” Brett Scillitoe, Coach

Read more: Dittons Paddleboarding Club

13. Thames Barbarians Pilot Gig Club

The Thames Barbarians Pilot Gig Club, a new rowing club on the Thames, received £2500 to support club development in the form of cox training, masterclasses, coach development, safety and seamanship. It also supported taster weekends for the local community, introducing Cornish Pilot Gig rowing to the Kent community. The impact of funding on the club was overwhelmingly positive- masterclasses improved the ability and technique of individuals, funding for Level 2 coach development led to more structured teaching, and the coxing course enabled new coxes to steer competently and safely. The combination of taster sessions and learn to row courses increased club membership by 25%.

“Rowing is a very sociable sport and the ethos of the club is one of inclusivity and conviviality, so everyone is made to feel welcome.” Rachel Hedley, Co-Founder

Read more: Thames Barbarians Pilot Gig Club

17. Bluetits Chill Swimmers

The Bluetits Chill Swimmers is a social enterprise committed to empowering a community of cold-water swimmers. The Whitstable Bluetits were awarded £940 to provide training for the founding members to gain open water coaching awards, and help the club tackle their very long waiting list. 80% of the group are female and over half joined in order to experience the health benefits of cold-water therapy and sea swimming. Active Life Ltd provided the training and helped support the club's development, which by the end of the project exceeded 1200 people.

"The sea has had an amazingly positive impact on both my fibromyalgia and to help clear my head. I completed the cold water therapy course and attended the open water champion training by Julie. I’ve met a load of new people that also swim… and we’re now organising swims for people to come and join us."

Read more: Bluetits Chill Swimmers

12. Danson Park Adventures

Danson Park Adventures received £2000 to provide bursary support for coaching qualifications, enabling six young people to become sailing instructors. Previously a lack of instructors meant the centre had struggled to provide as many watersports activities as they would like to at the park, particularly during the summer months. Introductory sessions are delivered at the park and, when ready, budding sailors experience the tideway at Erith Yacht Club. Funding has helped support the long-term ambition for the site to reach thousands of young people every year. 

“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.” Megan Gately, Centre Manager

Read more: Danson Park Adventures

13. Gravesend Rowing Club

Gravesend Rowing Club desperately needed an engine for their safety boat - an essential tool when coaching beginners over the winter and when working with children. A grant of £3300 enabled the club to purchase an engine and deliver rowing courses over the winter, providing good safety cover and close coaching for their sessions with local schools and community groups. The club could also put people in smaller, more technically challenging boats, knowing that the safety boat was nearby in the event of any capsizes. 

“With two launches out during the session, I’ve definitely noticed the difference. The coaches are able to dedicate more time to helping us learn, including moving into smaller boats, and I feel a lot safer with a coach always available to help if needed.” 

Read more: Gravesend Rowing Club

9. Globe Rowing Club

Globe Rowing Club is diversifying their club by attracting and retaining more people from ethnic minorities, young people and women. Like many clubs, they did not have enough coaches to achieve their goal of providing more introductory learn to row courses, in order to new audiences. £4000 enabled Globe RC to attract, retain and develop coaches and volunteers and reach new communities. Over 200 hours of volunteering by club members helped make this project a big success.

“This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” One coach's pledge to make rowing more accessible

Read more: Globe Rowing Club

18. Herne Bay Sailing Club

Herne Bay Sailing Club is an RYA Sailability and Training centre with proven success in working with people who are visually impaired and with people who are deaf. With a grant of £5000 in recognition of their ambition to introduce more people to sailing, the club purchased some new equipment and could provide subsidised membership. Delivered entirely through volunteers, Herne Bay Sailing Club held an open day for 20 deaf and hearing-impaired children and their families which had fantastic feedback and led to some people signing up as new members. They also held an open day for children from all backgrounds and supported a Canterbury Scout group, too.

“We had an amazing time on Saturday! Felt like we were on holiday! It was great for us to experience something new and different. My daughter was apprehensive at first but at the end said ‘Can we come again?’ Thank you for the opportunity and for creating a lovely memory for us!” Parent from the Kent Deaf Children Society

Read more: Herne Bay Sailing Club

16. Blue Therapy Active

Blue Therapy Active used £5000 to purchase kayaks, safety equipment and clothing and provided weekly paddling sessions at Southend on Sea, Two Tree Island, Shoeburyness and Chalkwell. They reached 185 people- over two thirds of which were female- and encouraged many of them to become coaches. The club worked with people signposted from local mental health organisations who were looking to return to exercise and improve their overall health and mindset. 

“Since the loss of my husband I have felt lonely and suffered terribly with my mental health, along with the bereavement I have had to deal with. Discovering Blue Therapy while at the beach one day has been life changing and has given me a whole new pool of friends.”

Read more: Blue Therapy Active

15. Sea-Change Sailing Trust

Sea-Change Sailing Trust provides residential voyages on an engineless sailing barge – the Blue Mermaid – out on the Thames Estuary, working with young people who have experienced some disruption or disadvantage in their lives. When onboard, young people live and work together; learning to handle the sails, steer the barge, climb the rigging, cook, and clean. As well as nautical skills they also develop skills like resilience, teamwork, respect for others and communication. A grant of £3500 provided bursary support for a residential for disadvantaged young people from the Young Lives Foundation, and also provided staff training to support the succession plan of the Sailing Trust. Here is a write up of the experience of children from the Young Lives Foundation.

"He hasn’t stopped talking about the trip since he came home, clearly he had a great time." A parent

Read more: Sea-Change Sailing Trust

6. Laburnum Boat Club

Laburnum Boat Club is a multisport charity in Hackney working with disadvantaged and disabled young people. £4815 supported kayaking, canoeing and stand-up paddleboarding day trips on the tidal Thames and inland waterways, with a mentoring and qualification pathway running alongside sessions to support the overall wellbeing and development of each child. Funding also supported eight coaches from under-represented groups (women and girls, and people from lower-socioeconomic backgrounds) to gain new qualifications. The club feels that diversifying the workforce of coaches has a positive impact on their participants, through seeing a qualified leader who is like them. 

“LW passed her Paddlesport Instructor qualification. Not only has this re-invigorated her passion for watersports and the waterways as a whole, but she has reported an improvement in her mental health, largely as she feels less isolated.” Beth Ettinger, Coordinator at Laburnum Boat Club

Read more: Laburnum Boat Club

13. Gravesend Sailing Club

Gravesend Sailing Club is committed to making sailing more accessible to the local community, and one of the ways they do this is through organising regular taster sessions in dinghy sailing. £2000 supported the training of new sailing instructors, which in turn helped the club to increase recruitment for leading the taster sessions. It also meant they could offer sailing opportunities to local Sea Cadet groups, and the club is now more equipped to support people with disabilities to enjoy sailing, through the RYA Sailability scheme. 

“We will also be able to offer more places on our courses next year and run an extra course. This will increase opportunities for the community, and it will further the skills of participants. It also helps improve the retention of club members.” Sean Coomber, Instructor

Read more: Gravesend Sailing Club

11. Newham Ability Camp

Newham Ability Camp is a pan-disability multi sports club that runs three sessions a week for young people with disabilities. Sports offered include cricket, basketball, badminton, archery, football, boccia and softball. A grant of £742 supported the club to access rowing sessions, provided by experienced coaches at London Youth Rowing. Many parents had reported a worrying deterioration of their child’s mental health during lockdown; depression, becoming withdrawn, and behavioural issues associated with extreme anxiety. Being back together in the club and taking part in sporting activities like rowing helped the children rebuild their confidence and mental wellbeing. 

“One of our members struggles with numerous health conditions associated with his Down’s syndrome and inactivity. An hour’s rowing is vital exercise for him and his family can’t emphasise enough how important this is in trying to keep him healthy.” Paul Archer, Club Founder

Read more: Newham Ability Camp

2. Fulham Reach Boat Club

Fulham Reach Boat Club provides rowing for all. £2500 helped fund learn to row courses for secondary school pupils in Hammersmith and Fulham, broadening the appeal and accessibility of rowing and the great outdoors now and into the future. The grant, although delayed, had a positive impact by funding winter sessions where young people could benefit from the mental, physical and social health benefits that the river and rowing provides.

“The rowing sessions bring a smile to the young people’s faces every Friday. They all find it frustrating at first and I think when they learn to persevere and come along for a few sessions they get great satisfaction from learning new skills, and seeing London from an angle that they wouldn’t otherwise get to enjoy.” Teacher from Hammersmith Academy

Read more: Fulham Reach Boat Club

8. SportWorks

SportWorks and The AHOY Centre developed an innovative partnership, engaging disadvantaged groups who had never participated in sailing before. £4762 allowed Sport Works and The Ahoy Centre to deliver sailing sessions for disabled people. Participants enjoyed sailing on the Thames and were recruited from local special schools and adult day centres, and through local councils. 

“A key success has been the smiles on everyone’s faces when they leave the session... the impact we make on each and every one of the participants.” Ernest Ako, SportWorks

Read more: SportWorks and The Ahoy Centre

4. Phoenix Canoe Club

Phoenix Canoe Club and Outdoor Centre is located next to the Welsh Harp reservoir, bordering Barnet and Brent. They offer kayaking, sailing, canoeing, SUP and bell boating to a range of community groups including Mencap, Mind, disability groups, and organisations specialising in disadvantaged and ethnic minority participants and refugees. £5000 supported the continued delivery of sports sessions, reaching 302 young people. It also provided autism training for staff. 

“I never thought I’d have the chance to do this. It was amazing!” Israel

Read more: Phoenix Canoe Club

14. Chelmsford Canoe Club

Chelmsford Canoe Club received £4,672 to purchase new boats: sit-on-top kayaks. The club reported that this meant that less-active people could enjoy paddling, because they could get on and off the stable boats more easily than a traditional kayak. This had a positive impact on the local community and created a leap in interest in joining the club. 

“It has been a privilege to work with the Active Thames Team, thank you again for your patience, understanding, professionalism and support!” Steve Moule, funding applicant 

Read more: Chelmsford Canoe Club

10. London Youth Rowing

London Youth Rowing (LYR) provides opportunities for disadvantaged young people to experience the benefits of rowing through a range of coaching, inclusion, and health programmes. With a new full-time location for delivering watersports, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London, LYR were keen to create multi-skilled watersports coaches, helping address the shortage of SUP trained coaches in East London. A grant of £8010 supported coach development and provided equipment in order to help open up watersports with a particular focus on young people, people from minority ethnic backgrounds and people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. 

“This course has made me realise just to never give up…sometimes I think I’m not getting it…The more I’ve done it, the more confident I am.” Coach Sam Ogundana

Read more: London Youth Rowing

11. Royal Dolphins Rowing Club

The Royal Dolphins Rowing Club is an adult’s disability rowing group based at the Royal Docks Adventure in Newham. A grant of £3172 helped upskill new coaches and provide taster sessions for disabled people across East London. The club wanted to grow their membership and, although not initially successful in doing so, club members worked together to create a well-thought through process for introducing new members, re-designed their website, and advertised the sessions both locally and to Bart’s hospital group. The clubs members are supported by the Royal Albert Dock Trust and London Youth Rowing. 

 “The impact on me has been profound. My physical health has been enhanced by the rowing and gym training and stretching exercises. My emotional health too has benefitted, just by being on the water as part of a rowing team and contributing to the healthy banter between us. Further, and most importantly, I am in awe of the effort and commitment of all the members, who accept the challenges they face and get on with enjoying life.”

Read more: Royal Dolphins Rowing Club

7. Wapping Youth FC

Wapping Youth FC received £5000 to support paddling sessions at Shadwell Basin Outdoor Activity Centre, a charity in East London. Working with partnering communities from low socio-economic backgrounds and with the council to identify at-risk young people, Wapping Youth FC created an inclusive paddlesports group that had fun on the water, and also focused on initiating conversations about mental health. 

“I didn’t think it would be this fun, I was quite nervous before I got on the water but I’m getting better and more confident the more I practice and attend.”

Read more: Wapping Youth FC

7. Tower Hamlets Canoe Club

Tower Hamlets Canoe Club launched a new programme for blind and visually impaired adults at Shadwell Basin. £5000 supported coach training, equipment and provided bursary support so that sessions were provided at a low cost to individuals. The club worked with Metro Blind Sport and British Canoeing to attract new members and promote the offer, successfully resulting in finding 14 new participants.

“It’s brilliant to get out on the water, I absolutely love it. Alex is great and he really, really cares. We’re learning things properly, really getting to grips with how to move the boat. Being on the water really makes me happy.” Nathalie

Read more: Tower Hamlets Canoe Club


Coach development

42% of coaches named the cost of training and qualifications as a top barrier to being an effective coach. So, to act on this, funding specifically listed coach development as one of its objectives.   

14 of the projects received funding for coach development, resulting in new skills and qualifications for at least 104 coaches and volunteers. Aside from the immediate impact of upskilling the coaches, we know that this will have long-term impact on the ability of clubs to grow. Not having enough watersport coaches, particularly during summer months, is a common problem throughout many areas of the UK. The tidal Thames can also be a particularly challenging waterway, requiring local knowledge and understanding- an additional skillset needed by many coaches.

Here are some examples of the impact which investing in coach development has had:

Danson Park

6 NEW SAILING INSTRUCTORS developed their sailing, confidence and communication skills. As well as allowing the park to expand their summer programmes, this also supported local Thames-based sailing club, Erith Yacht Club, as the instructors could gain employment at both venues. 

Globe Rowing Club

said DEVELOPMENT OF  2 OF THEIR COACHES benefitted the club as a whole, as it helped motivate people to keep active and engaged. They also saw a significant increase in volunteer hours.  

Sea-Change Sailing Trust

Reported that the FUNDING HELPED SECURE THE SUSTAINABILITY OF THE CHARITY as they began to develop a sailor that could one day take over as Bargemaster.  

The Thames Barbarians

PUT TWO MEMBERS THROUGH THE CLUB COACH AWARD which led to better structured teaching across the club, and they ran a coxing course which enabled new coxes to learn the skills required to steer a gig competently and safely. The club said that the impact of the funding on the club was overwhelmingly positive.

London Youth Rowing

9 COACHES DEVELOPED THEIR PADDLING SKILLS enabling the charity to grow their watersports offer. They said they were “extremely grateful to have been able to upskill their staff, something that non-profits sometimes struggle with due to funding tending to focus on outcomes and delivery outputs rather than the building blocks that help improve those things.” 


There were several challenges faced by clubs including:

This information helped inform the criteria for grants in 2023. 

Shared learning

There were many positive outcomes achieved through the funding. 

One project in particular, the Tower Hamlets visually impaired paddlers, had so much interest from other clubs that we hosted an online webinar to share learning from the project, hearing directly from the paddlers and their coaches. Click to view the recording.

Several clubs also shared their learning through quarterly meetings, and through the Active Thames case studies written by Emma Blackmore.


42% of clubs told us that they did not feel confident in their marketing skills.

To help tackle this, we created the Active Thames website and began to work with Played, an all-in-one booking platform designed for community sports. Played are experienced in helping organisations make their sports programmes, sessions and facilities easier to discover and book online and can even process payments. They use Open Data to enhance the reach each club can have and work 1:1 with clubs to help them work through any booking system challenges. They are part of a national movement called Open Active. More information about this can be found here.

Through the grants, Active Thames encouraged clubs to open up their data for any sessions open to the local community. 

Since 2022, the majority of clubs offering sessions open to the local community have opened up their data and are promoting themselves online, a significant step forward towards being digitally inclusive and raising awareness of watersports.

Summary from programme manager

"It’s been fantastic to see so many clubs developing their coaches, reaching new communities and promoting their offer digitally. Being active on and by the water can have a tremendous benefit to the health of people and we know that there are many clubs which provide welcoming, inclusive communities. The Active Thames partnership look forward to building on the learnings of the first year of this programme, and will continue to work together to tackle inactivity, improve inclusion, and raise awareness of the opportunities on the Thames and inland waterways."

Jenny Cooper, Sports Manager, 
Port of London Authority. 

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