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Active Thames

Kayaking allows young people from Hackney to experience London in a powerful new way

Opening up opportunities

Laburnum Boat Club

In an area with one of the highest levels of deprivation in the UK, Laburnum Boat Club in south Hackney are breaking down barriers for young people; offering opportunities that extend beyond the classroom, thanks to funding provided by Active Thames.

By Emma Blackmore

19-year-old Adrianna Wojcik is on her way to Wales when she picks up my call. Travelling from Hackney, she’s about to start her coaching qualification in white water kayaking at the National White Water Centre in Bala. Her course has been fully funded by Laburnum Boat Club, based in south Hackney, thanks to Active Thames.

Adrianna is no stranger to Welsh rivers. It was while watching her Laburnum coaches support children safely down rapids during a trip to North Wales before Covid, that she realised she wanted to train as a coach.

“I found it inspiring,” she says. “I realised I wanted to do that as well. I found myself, really. The club guided me and has helped me develop my skills.”

Adrianna’s coaching qualifications, as well as an increase in training sessions and day trips on the Thames has been made possible by funding from Active Thames, an initiative aiming to increase diversity and inclusion in watersports.

Set up in 1983, Laburnum Boat Club was created to provide social development through outdoor activities including canoeing and kayaking. They run a busy youth club for ages 9-18 years old, who meet twice a week after school and every Saturday, which attracts young people from the local community in Hackney.

“There is a lot of social economic disadvantaged in the local area,” Beth Ettinger, the co-ordinator at Laburnum, says. “This has been made worse by Covid-19.”

Laburnum also has specific sessions for people with disabilities which are quieter, controlled sessions with a higher coach to student ratio. They also have hand grips, a hoist, seat adaptors and a huge range of boats, including double kayaks and canoes, and open single boats to cater for all.

Active Thames has provided a grant of £4815 to support kayak, canoe and stand up paddleboarding day trips on the Thames and the mentoring and qualification pathway running alongside sessions for 16-19 year olds, like Adrianna.

It consists of holistic youth work to “hold people’s hands as they transition into adulthood,” says Beth.  

“It’s important for any young person, to have a mentor outside of the household they can speak to. We tie that in with kayaking and canoeing courses, first aid qualifications and coaching qualifications, which helps young people to feel like they are worthy, that they can achieve and they have a community and a pathway. We are one big family at Laburnum.”

Beth says that Laburnum hopes to enhance the offering to schools and provide a positive impact to young people’s lives. They offer qualifications, which are UCAS rated, and trips away, which haves proved an excellent talking point during interviews. “It gives young people experiences and a foot in the door which maybe people from this area wouldn’t normally have,” Beth says.

Laburnum Boat Club

“I’ve learnt a lot working here. I’ve not only improved in my skills but I’m able to communicate better with adults and younger people” ​
Adrianna Wojcik
Laburnum Boat Club member

Being able to travel outside of Hackney by canoe or kayak is a journey the young people would never normally do, Beth adds. “To do that in a kayak is really powerful.”

Adrianna joined Laburnum Boat Club when she was eleven years old. “My dad found Laburnum. He walked by one day. He walked around, told me about it and then I started coming!”

Adrianna, who is originally from Poland, had only kayaked once before when she joined. “I’ve learnt a lot working here. I’ve not only improved in my skills but I’m able to communicate better with adults and younger people,” the university student says. “I’ve been able to find my passion, I’m able to go on loads of trips, and courses and whether I need help or guidance, Laburnum support me. It’s a very nice club, it means a lot to me. It’s a safe community where I can trust people.”

She has competed in slalom and sprint races and in the London Youth Games – a competition where each borough competes against each other. “That was fun and enjoyable, memories I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t come to Laburnum.

The Club means a lot to me,” she says, “kayaking is good to test out, I would encourage anyone to try it as it could change your perspective in life in a positive way. I have a hobby now that’s also work. If I hadn’t come to Laburnum, I would have missed out on a lot.”

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