Boats Not Bars

Posted on Thu, 1 Aug, 2019

Over the last few months, FRBC has been running an indoor Boat Club as a pilot project with HM Young Offenders Institute Feltham.  Following the incredible life story of our Ambassador, John McAvoy, we’ve set out to see if we can use the sport to help change the lives of convicted youths by changing their environment both whilst they’re in prison and once they come ‘through the gate’.   

The plan is to set up a series of Indoor Clubs across the prison network allowing them to compete against each other on a weekly basis.  This will help bring focus, ambition and a sense of belonging which is often so needed by these young men.  Following their release, we would then like to bring the young men down to a Boat Club and onto the water to help them change their environment, open up a new pathway and ultimately help reduce reoffending.

The pilot has proved a huge success with an indoor regatta being run on the final day where we were joined by members of both Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Clubs as well as Olympians Debbie Flood and Mel Wilson.  It was particularly special to have Debbie attend given her previous role as a Prison Officer.  The pilot has also been incredibly lucky to have double World and European Champion, Imogen Walsh, running the sessions and working with the boys on a weekly basis.  The highlight was when two of the boys came down to Fulham Reach Boat Club during a day where they were taking part in Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) and we are able to go rowing on the Tideway.

Some of the feedback from the boys included:

“It was amazing to meet, row and race alongside Olympic Rowers and show off our learnt skills. Their achievements show us what is possible with hard work and it’s really motivated me to do my best.”

“Having read John McAvoy’s story it was amazing to see his film and to then meet him. He is an inspiration and has shown us what really can be achieved if you want it bad enough. I’m really grateful of the opportunity to try rowing and then have my family come in and see what I had accomplished in the ten weeks.’

“Imogen was really understanding and patient with us. She was really encouraging and her feedback gave me motivation to push on even when I felt like I had no more energy.”

We are now aiming to begin the roll out of the project to another five prisons over the next 12 months and will find out if we really can help these young men choose Boats not Bars.

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