Rowing programme delivers remarkable impact for young Londoners

A pioneering project aimed at encouraging inactive 11-18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds to take part in rowing has been found to provide a significant boost to the mental and physical health, whilst generating more than £17million of social benefits annually.

The study assessed four years of the Active Row programme, run by London Youth Rowing (LYR), which saw young people from 70 schools across London take part in rowing for the first time. The report was commissioned in collaboration with Tideway, which teamed up with Sport England in 2017 to support with funding LYR’s Active Row project for a four-year period, as part of the Tideway Legacy Programme.

Research indicates that the rowing charity has delivered a positive impact on young people from disadvantages areas and underrepresented groups in its aim to support with narrowing the health, wellbeing and equality gap. 44.9 per cent of participants came from the most deprived areas of London, with 29 per cent eligible for free school meals.

The report found that not only had the charity been successful in increasing participation among its target groups, but that those taking part were now more active than those not on the programme, completing more than sixty minutes per week of physical activity compared to their peers.

Participants, as a result of being a part of the Active Row programme, also showed increased levels of life satisfaction (four per cent increase) and self-worth, reduced anxiety, happiness (five per cent increase) and had seen wide improvements in their physical and mental health. They also demonstrated a six per cent increase in a sense of life being worthwhile, with a significant increase in life satisfaction for those that had been engaged with the programme for up to 12 months.

The wellbeing benefits per person, using HM Treasury Greenbook methodology, are valued at £6,000 per year – nearly double the expected value from being physically active. This doubling of value is explained by Active Row reaching audiences in more need – i.e., inner city, low socio-economic areas, and minority ethnic groups. The report also found that every £1 invested generated £40 of social benefit in the form of improved wellbeing.

Data shows that Active Row seems to be effective in ‘levelling up’ and closing the gap for disadvantaged groups of UK society. Those on free school meals experienced approximately three times the level of benefit from Active Row compared to their non-free school meals peers, while those from Black and Asian backgrounds experienced the highest benefits from Active Row of all participants.

The programme further demonstrates its position as an effective driver of inclusion, with young people from ethnic minority backgrounds experienced more than four-times the level of benefit from participating in Active Row, as compared to their peers.

Active Row, LYR’s flagship school rowing programme, is now delivered across the country throughout Yorkshire, Kent, Nottingham and London. Active Row combines both indoor and on-water rowing, with a firm focus on improving equality, inclusivity and diversity. Of the 11-18-year-olds introduced to rowing by LYR in 2021-22, 57 per cent were from ethnic minority backgrounds, 41 per cent were female and 15 per cent were SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disability) participants.

Matt Rostron, LYR CEO, said: “LYR’s overall mission is to encourage young people who live in areas of deprivation, or who are from communities or backgrounds who do not traditionally participate in rowing, to take up the sport as a means of improving their physical, social, and mental wellbeing.

“What we are seeing from this report is that it’s working. The data demonstrates that by targeting areas of deprivation that need the most support and combining individual impact and large-scale delivery has made Active Row a particularly effective programme.

“People often ask us why we target some of the lower socio-economic areas across the country, and the simple answer is that we believe those are the areas that need our support, the most. We exist to give access and opportunity to those that may otherwise not have the chance to engage with sport and develop their fundamental life skills.”

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