“If what we are doing helps just one young person, it’s worth it. For me changing a life is a very important thing – it’s what gives me the energy to go the extra mile, because I know it makes a real difference. I can see the change in people’s lives.”
This is Pana, a long-term volunteer at Sported member, Surrey Canoe Club. Operating off the banks of the River Thames in Laleham, the club has built a reputation for making canoeing accessible to all.
It was founded in July 2010 by Albert Donovan, one of the highest qualified disabled coaches in UK canoeing, in response to the lack of clubs providing opportunities for disabled people. As Pana explains, “Unfortunately what still often happens today is that disabled people are offered special sessions, they’re put into canoes and kayaks, taken up and down the river and that’s it. We wanted to be different – to offer inclusive sessions for people with impairments alongside everyone else.”
Surrey Canoe Club developed from there, always with its members’ needs at its heart. “We don’t judge people. We’re not going to criticise or exclude. We support young people with learning disabilities, but also mental issues like anxiety. For example, we provide a special place for people to change if they have anxiety issues and special one-to-one coaching if they need it. We make adjustments” says Pana.
On the water the club operates a buddy system, whereby young people who need additional support have someone with them. All its volunteer canoe and kayak instructors are specially trained on different disabilities, mental health, and how to identify, deal with and speak to young people in a way they can establish a rapport. In addition, the club has a special pontoon to help people get in and out of the water, and have a range of specially adapted canoes and equipment.
Off the water they offer a mentoring scheme and also run a hub providing educational support for young people with learning difficulties. “We make it known to people that if they need help with anything, to approach us. If we are unable to help ourselves, we signpost them to other local charities and organisations.”
If this wasn’t enough, the club also makes time to support neighbouring communities. In 2015, when the river burst its bank and flooded the next door static caravan park, it was the club which came to the rescue, taking the elderly residents to safety in their canoes. Ever since, the club runs regular social events to raise funds and support those living on their own and in isolation.
Despite the club’s success and reputation, the club is still struggling for funding to build a new classroom. “We get the money to run education programmes and apprenticeships, but what we’re missing is the classroom! We have a container to store the canoes and have converted another into showers and changing rooms – all done by volunteers. It restricts us from running what we want to.”
Reflecting on the need for support, Pana says “When we saw Sported started we were very encouraged because we thought there’s somebody out there who can see how sport can help people. Before when we were putting it into funding applications, people weren’t taking it seriously.”
For more information about Surrey Canoe Club, please visit: https://surreycanoeclub.org.uk/
To support the club with building a new classroom, you can donate by visiting: https://bit.ly/2RIz0om