Alison Edser and Dave Burleigh run Reflections Angling from Henfold Lake Fishery near Dorking. With just 9% of anglers under the age of 30, the organisation is looking to hook the interests of a new generation. We catch up with Alison to find out more about their work engaging young people and using the sport of angling to support those with autism and ADHD.
Tell us a little more about Reflections Angling, what do you do and how did the project come about?
“Reflections Angling’s main mission is to make angling a reality to all. We use angling as a therapeutic tool for well-being and socialisation, and work with a lot local disabled groups, schools and the likes of Headley Court.
We run it from our tackle shop on Henfold Lakes, so we also get a lot of young people coming through our doors wanting to learn how to fish. Dave and I are both qualified angling coaches, so regardless of how big, small, young or old they are, if they want to start fishing we’ll have a go and make it possible for anyone. Often the knowledge of fishing misses a generation, so we bridge the gap and pass on our knowledge so that it can continue in families or help start people off.”
How does the programme work?
“We believe young people need to be taught the basics – how to fish safely, how to handle the fish, how to maintain the equipment, how to look after the environment, how to choose the right equipment – but we try and get them on the water exceedingly quickly.
We tailor our approach to the needs of each client, especially those with special needs. With fishing there’s no right or wrong. It’s impossible to say ‘This week we’ll do this’ – you have to be flexible. We have programmes but they twist and turn like ivy to get the client to the point they want to get to.
We try to get the parents involved. We’re getting a lot of dads and daughters, mums and sons coming along, which is lovely to see.”
Why is angling such as effective activity for engaging young people?
“For young people with autism and ADHD it’s very difficult for them to participate in competitive sports. Joining a football, netball or cricket club is very difficult because of the social skills needed to interact with their peers. There’s no black of white with ADHD and autism – on that spectrum you have so many different levels. When they are working one-on-one with one of our coaches or volunteers, they’ve got that quality time in a complete and utterly relaxing environment.
You don’t have that over-competitiveness that they struggle with, that’s why angling is so bonding. At the end of the day you can take them down to the lake, they can sit there watching the ripples and unwind after a bad day at school. Quite often after about 15 minutes we’re able to step back and they are completely chilled with the water. It’s what’s going on around them – the natural environment, the type of activity – they have to be patient, they have to be calm.”
How do you adapt your approach when working with young people with autism or ADHD?
“You ask them to do things they can achieve. You tailor it down, because never does one coach work with more than four people at a time. When you’re working closely with them, they have a high level of attention. I try to give explanations on why we do everything so there’s total understanding between me and the client.
The knowledge base, the environment, the flexibility of the project and the fact they are doing something that is achievable and they don’t have to compete with the next person makes angling very effective. It’s a sense of an outdoor activity but within their control.”
What are your plans for the future?
“All the fishing clubs are going or gone, which means there’s nowhere for young people to go to learn the skills. One of my dreams is to set up a fun, family, flexible, accessible fishing club. It doesn’t have to be something you have to belong to – once you’ve been once you can come and go as you please.
We hire and lend equipment as the cost for buying it can be quite high for young people. One of the difficulties we have is that we’ve only got a limited amount as we’re self-funded and haven’t had any grant funding before.
This summer we’re working on more family sessions and are hoping to run a few ladies only sessions. We’re delighted to have been accepted onto Sported’s Girl Unite programme so can’t wait to start!
Whatever happens in the future, Dave and I will be here pushing for the future.”