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Mossbourne Academy: Pioneering a New Era of Rowing

It’s a scorching day in May 22’. Mossbourne Academy’s aptly titled boat No Excuses cuts swiftly down the racing lane at Dorney Lake. The crew cross the finish line, rewarded for their determined effort with a silver national schools medal; one of only two State Schools in the final, triumphing over a large list of long-established private schools. The crew is the truest reflection of modern-day Britain at the event.  What makes this success so remarkable, and so decidedly different from the status quo? Not one crewmate, or wider rowing team of 120 students, have had to pay for anything: memberships, kit, training camps, race entries. Their success has been harvested free from the burden of financial barriers for the participants, entitling a range of young people to an equality of opportunity to meet their true potential.

This is what the standard should be – but currently in the world of rowing, Mossbourne & London Youth Rowing stand proudly as a pioneer to this kind of story.

How have we achieved this?

Mossbourne are a community academy based in Hackney. Opened in 2004, its goal was to re-imagine what inner-city, non-selective education could be, in a borough traditionally with wide-spread educational underachievement. Through a partnership with LYR, a rowing academy was established at the school in 2010.

Mossbourne is one of our most competitive branches at LYR, with ambitious performance-based targets.They compete at many regattas across the year, including Nationals, Bedford, Reading, Thames Valley Park and many more, even qualifying for Henley. The programme is stocked with a heavy arsenal of facilities to prepare for these; running across two school bases they are replete with: access to over 50 rowing machines and a strength & conditioning gym equipped with squat racks, lifting platforms, and free weights. At the Royal Docks they have further access to an assortment of vessels in the boat house, further gym equipment & rowing machines in the pod, and rare access to the rowing tank – invaluable for early development with the younger years. Interviewing Head Coach Tom Wilkinson, he boasts proudly of the fact they are one of only two schools in the country with the luxury of exclusive use to a two-kilometre rowing lake – the other? Eton College.

This comes at no cost to the young people. Coach Tom, aformer GB rower, speaks of how different this is to previous schools he has worked at, and his own experience: “When I was at my previous school and it got to the winter we were paying hundreds to row at Dorney where it wasn’t flooded, or hiring rowing tanks – driving to either Oxford or to Molesey – that would be at a cost to the parents and kids so at Mossbourne we’ve got use of that absolutely for free, there’s no charge for any of the kids... You know how much rowing equipment costs, all in ones, memberships, race fees, training camps, transport to regatta; the school is totally covering that for 120 kids for the whole year. Each kid, if you did a normal season of rowing, by the time you’ve done all the regattas, training camps, paid for your all in one, its well over a thousand pounds a year per year per kid, so the school totally covers allthat… it’s a completely different club or school to anywhere else in the country.”

This revolutionary approach to the sport has gained recognition in the area. Mossbourne is a popular school, having recently been awarded outstanding in Ofsted, and aspiring candidates from other schools have the opportunity to be accepted through a rowing selection evening for year 9 and 6th form.

I myself have seen first hand evidence of this: a member of our boat club asked me for advice on her application to Mossbourne, hoping to go there for the opportunities she’ll have access to through rowing. This intake is proving successful; last year two year 9’s part of the National Schools silver winning crew joined Mossbourne through this avenue.

Recognition has not been limited to prospective pupils. Mossbourne have caught the attention of British Rowing, for leading the way indiversity. The current diversity rates in the country for rowing sit low downat around 4% for black & ethnic minorities (BAME).

Mossbourne’s selected squad for the National Schools regatta – the best rowers in the club – was at 30% BAME, much higher than the U.K. average, with an even higher percentageacross the whole club. Mossbourne are the most diverse club in the country. On a British Rowing workshop call, Mossbourne were used as the face for it, as seen below.

Mossbourne’s board have good reason to be invested in the programme, beyond the immediate athletic impact. Sporting success has been leading to academic opportunity; students who have performed at regattas and GB trials going on to receive academic scholarships for leading universities –including but not limited to: Washington, Tulsa, Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial, and Newcastle. With rowing being a lead sport, the universities will pay for rent and other academic costs; opening doors for young people from Hackney that may never have existed before.

To pass the entry exams for these universities is academically challenging, and creating academic excellence is a considerationthat has to be factored in whilst devising a high performing rowing programme.To reach the high targets in 6th form, athletes have to train twice daily. Mossbourne’s school day is long, beginning at 8:15 and sometimes ending at 6 pm. Training has to fit around this schedule, which involves optimising the time before and after school to fit PE lessons in. The year 9 rowers currently do 4 sessions a week; consisting of a rowing machine session, gym session and on water sessions. As the year groups go up the training intensifies, with morning on-water rowing and evening gym sessions included to push for progression.

The effort is proving fruitful. In last years year 13 cohort, three students were successful in earning places at Imperial, Cambridge, and Bath, due to their rowing and academic prowess.


Coach Tom has high aims for the future, including taking a group to the Head of Charles Regatta, Boston.

“It’s kind of like Henley regatta; loads of countries and clubs from over the world go and compete there. Thousands go to watch it, a real spectacle, Boston is also the home of Harvard and Brown university, two of the best in the world, we have connections there that we can go to visit - visit their boathouse, get a tour with the coaches, get a tour of the campus; that will obviously open up a lot of doors to rowing scholarships in America. It will be a brilliant race to go against the rest of the world, but there’s also other reasons in terms of getting into a really good Uni for free”

As British Sport moves to implement frameworks that will result in a more reflective representation of the modern British community, Mossbourne Academy are a shining example of this ideal manifested in reality. Through making a concerted effort to knock down barriers and provide equal opportunities for their students, Mossbourne are reaping the rewards of their revolutionary rowing programme - without a single young person having had to pay a penny. It is exciting to see what will come next.

This success makes you think; when creating equal spaces for young people to achieve their potential – there really can be, as the boat says, ‘No Excuses’.

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James Hyder
Mossbourne Rowing Academy Head Coach
Royal Docks Adventure

Charity Number: 1122941. Company Number: 06243293. Royal Docks Adventure, 1012 Dockside Road, London, E16 2QT.
Tel: 0203 356 7178