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An Oarsome Twosome

15th Rhagfyr 2020

Isobel Turner, Community Coach, London Youth Rowing

Lawrence Farquharson, Outreach Community Coach, London Youth Rowing

The Turner Farquharson Rowing Lake (Pinsent/Redgrave Rowing Lake)

Isobel Turner and Lawrence Farquharson

At 27, Isobel Turner recalls lockdown as one of the tougher tests of her career as a young rowing coach. As the only coach among her team who wasn’t furloughed, Isobel was required to keep in contact with the 65 schools that the London Youth Rowing programme usually work with.

The organisation is just one of the many projects that benefit from some of the £30m raised for good causes by National Lottery players every week.

Community Coach Isobel says: “One of my toughest moments during lockdown was being the only coach who wasn’t furloughed for a period of time, feeling as though I wasn’t making much progress. But being able to continue with the work I was doing was great. There are usually five or six coaches and there are 65 schools to stay in contact with. Over a period of time, I was e-mailing all of them.

“Lawrence came back early from furlough because some of his schools said they could have him in. That also made a massive difference having one person back, to lighten the load.

She says: “It has been a challenge but I work quite independently any way. I am the only girl, I stand out like that, but if we are in a room I am probably the quietest and just get on with it. That probably played in my favour when I carried on – I didn’t see it as ‘this isn’t fair’, I saw it as ‘someone’s got to keep in touch with the schools’. I think that’s my personality – I just plough on.

“Being involved in so many different schools, especially when they are so local to you, you feel as though you are making a difference in your community.”

Isobel, from Greenwich adds: “I am a London Youth Rowing junior so I have been involved since I was 13. They taught me how to row and I stayed around until I was 18, then I went off to Uni to study sports science and came back in 2015. I session coached for a little bit and then became a full-time coach four years ago

“The basic premise is we get in touch with schools across the 12 minority boroughs of London and encourage them to be involved. We loan them up to five rowing machines and then we as coaches will go in on a weekly basis and try and involve their students in rowing, setting up a weekly club. It was the same programme that got me into it when I started.

“Lots of sports are about numbers, getting people there and having however many people in one place. If I’ve made two or three kids smile, that’s my reward, I don’t want the big things. I have found so much enjoyment in rowing and it has become my life. I want to share it and I want people to have it.”

Outreach Community Coach, Lawrence, adds: “The whole circumstances around Covid-19 have been the biggest challenge. Throughout lockdown, we were unable to get into schools and couldn’t be as active as we usually would be. We usually go into around 10 schools a week and for me, not having that connection with the kids has been hard. We looked into developing different resources for schools and our coaches have taken part in a few exercise videos which we have shared with them to try and encourage development.

Islington-based Lawrence says: “I live in a block of flats so I was trying to find ways of adapting exercises. Finding ways of using tools around the home was important. I did little videos lifting paint tins, running up and down steps and things.

“As an organisation, there were times we could get together and do some videos which was cool as we were engaging with each other and giving each other energy. Fundamentally, we were trying to get stuff out as an organisation to try and help kids stay active. It was challenging. You can try as hard as you like, but it’s not the same as being there.”

“We have a couple of events that take place – the massive indoor junior rowing championships and our local competitions, so getting responses from schools was a huge challenge, as was getting schools to forward things on to their students.

“Some pupils were fortunate as their schools were able to give them rowing machines to take home. But it was taxing – I’ve never heard the word unprecedented used more in my life. Even little kids would be saying it to us! In-house, we were trying to do a lot of development and courses to grow ourselves.

“From the end of September, I have been able to get into a few schools and they have really appreciated that extra person being in. Having that engagement with kids again has been lovely. Exercise is a massive tool to give kids a boost to their mental health. Being cooped up in their house for so long in lockdown, I think is harder for kids than adults. They need to exert themselves and have fun. Since coming back, I have really prioritised the fun element.”

Lawrence says he was drawn to take up a new career after his father passed away in 2007.

“It was that old saying about ‘giving something back’,” he says. “I was trying to find a way to work with young people. I didn’t want to do it in a social working capacity, I wanted to try a different angle. I was recommended to LYR by an organisation called London Youths and I deliberated for a period of time because I had no knowledge of rowing. I wasn’t sure it was something I wanted to do, but I went along when we had our big annual event – the National Junior Indoor Rowing Championships and about 2,000 kids turned up. It was crazy! I decided to go for an interview after that, accepted the job and I have been here since.

“It’s been really cool. When I came in, I had really good people skills, but I had to learn about rowing. It’s a position that gives you so many opportunities to improve yourself and one of those was for me to do my Level 2 on water coaching. I realised you don’t need to be able to swim, you don’t need to come from a rich background, you can learn it. The people skills were there and the rowing was taught to me. I have found it really fulfilling – I enjoy engaging with young people through sports. I love what I do and I love the organisation I work for.”

Isobel and Lawrence will be celebrated this week as The Regrave Pinsent Rowing Lake is renamed in their honour The Turner Farquharson Rowing Lake – the dedication is in celebration of their work using sport to help in their community during the coronavirus crisis.

Lawrence says of their combined dedication: “We are both really honoured. I did ask about whether we’d keep the plaque – would we have it for six months each?! Isobel, being the mature one, said we should just keep it in the office and that will be a really nice thing to show people that come in. It’s not as if we come into it for prizes and trophies – we are youth workers and we do it because we enjoy it and want to give something back.