Reducing the gap in opportunities across London and beyond is at the heart of LYR’s mission. LYR believe that given access to the right resources, coaching & mentorship, and experience, young people can have a transformative effect on their own lives. What better example is there than LYR’s Alternative Provision (AP) Programme, a programme that seeks to improve the life skills of young people Londoners from Alternative Provisions or Pupil Referral Units who have been excluded from mainstream schools by bringing them on the water.
The AP programme runs over 12 weeks, consisting of 1 on-water session per week. Funded by The Vintners’ Company, it aims to improve the key life skills of staying positive, problem solving, leadership, aiming high, and teamwork. Each life skill has a session dedicated to it, with an introductory session and end session making up the other two weeks. Throughout the academic year a number of cohorts come down to LYR’s bases at the Royal Docks, Olympic Park, and Surrey Quays to try out water sports most of them have never had access to before. Whilst it is predominately rowing based, the students also have access to kayaks, paddleboards, and bell boats. Over the last two years the AP programme has worked with over 10 different Alternative Provisions across London, with a number of cohorts coming from each. In addition to the on-water sessions, each school signed-up to the AP programme gains access to Active Row, with rowing machines delivered to the school for students to make use of. This year we saw many of our AP schools sending teams to take part in LYR’s national competition NJIRC. Many teachers have already reported back on the satisfaction both themselves and the students took from the event, pledging to sign up for next year’s competition already.
When students initially come down there is often a lot of resistance to engaging. On the face of it this can appear as disinterest, but when you dig deeper it often is a result of fear. Once certain students are on the water the bravado disappears as they face up to a new challenge. Many of these young people have suffered lots of trauma in their short lives; physical/emotional abuse, exposure to gang-related violence and drugs, and mental health issues. Having the facility to expose them to a completely different activity, develop past their initial fears and coming away with a new sense of achievement can be extremely beneficial and therapeutic.
Jonah, a student from Cavendish School, says: "It’s a very good place to express myself, to put all my energy into positively instead of negatively and getting in trouble; I find it very useful for my mental health”.
The key to working positively with these students is patience. Many times, students will try to test the boundaries. It is important to establish rules for safety, but it is also important to have a degree of flexibility in your attitude towards general behaviour. Ultimately, in this role as a coach, your job is to provide people with a positive experience that they can use to add to their sense of self-esteem. Good behaviour is certainly rewarded with extra privileges (being able to go out alone in a boat for example), and we encourage this behaviour to be as participant- led as possible. Recently, we were coaching a group from New Rush Hall School. Two of the boys were very good friends but they picked on one of the other boys. Their teacher suggested we try distance them as much as possible. It so happened that these three were the best rowers. After a few weeks of coaching, we asked all three if they thought they could work together in a boat – that way they could go out together without any teacher or coach accompanying them. They all agreed and had a great time out on the water working as a team. A few weeks before it seemed like that would have been impossible.
The impact the AP programme can have on young people can be measured in numbers, but some of the biggest wins are more often ways but can also be made up of unquantifiable wins.
An obvious example of a big victory is a young person who is reintegrated back into mainstream school. In the last two years we have had many students make the transition back to mainstream who benefited greatly from their time on the water. Each participant is tracked on the progress of their life skills, with most engaged participants showing a development.
Mr Donnelly, head of PE at Cavendish School, had this to say.
“I think the LYR programme teaches confidence, being part of a team, leadership qualities. It ticks all the right boxes, and it’s a sport that not all of these young people are going to get the opportunity to do, so to get it is brilliant. We’ve been working with LYR for about a year and I’ve got to say it’s one of the best organisations that have come in and done work with my young people at Cavendish school. Because they’ve warmed to them: the coaches, the managing staff, the activities we do. It’s been top drawer, I can’t big them up enough.”
Then there are the examples of progression that can only be seen through a prolonged period of work with a young person. Kelson is a student from New Regents, who I first met during his 12 weeks on the programme last year. I often found it difficult to engage and connect with Kelson, and he was one of the more difficult members of the cohort. This year Kelson returned, and his progress has been evident. He commanded a positive influence on the other members of the group and generally behaved well. Participants hanging up their own buoyancy aids at the end of sessions is a rule I have tried to implement, with varying success. One day, Kelson came in and left his on the trolley instead of hanging it up. I asked him if he could hang his up and he said he had already. I asked was the one on the trolley his and he said no. I asked would he mind hanging the one on the trolley up anyway. Kelson initially said no and went to leave the room, before turning around, saying ‘okay sir, no problem’ and hanging it up. It was a small moment of positivity that displayed enormous progression. I know last year, Kelson would have left the room and I would have hung up the buoyancy aid.
It is these minor displays of improvement in behaviour that brings the most satisfaction when working on the AP programme. In the core of it, all of these young people are characters who want to develop and be given opportunity. Many have faced incredible hardship and to be given a chance in an environment that is totally novel, where they can push their own personalities to ingest new experience and learn, is something that through time and persistence they will do given the chance. LYR are delighted to be the people to give that chance.