Toby Bryant |

‘Those teachers put the kids of key workers at Blue Coat before some of their own families’

Rowing coach and teacher Tim Liversage talks to Toby Bryant about his Covid experiences, as part of our key worker series

When British Rowing catches up with Tim Liversage, it’s early December and he’s just arrived home from shepherding 20 schoolboy rowers in his first session as newly appointed Director of Rowing at Emanuel School.

He says: “It was my first session with them and we went out in big boats. I almost didn’t care what we did. We were all side-by-side on the water and had a great time.”

“It’s what it all boils down to,” he adds, reflecting on the turbulent year that 2020 has been.

With on-the-water moments like that at such a premium this year, it’s no wonder it’s left Tim beaming. His new role at Emanuel comes after two stints as boatman at Reading Blue Coat School (RBCS) in Sonning.

At RBCS, Tim worked under Head of Rowing Allan French in a partnership that helped the school to their most successful ever Henley showing in 2019.

“Allan French has been a huge influence in how I approach coaching,” Tim reflects. “Allan was behind the success of Blue Coat rowing at HRR and one of the best coaching mentors I’ve had.”

In March of this year, the RBCS rowing team were busy plotting their way to another successful summer of competition when the first Covid-19 lockdown began.

“The school was fantastic in getting into virtual learning,” Tim remembers. “One of the best things about RBCS is the amount of support they have for staff and kids. When Covid happened, the first thing they said to staff was that this is going to be tough and to just do what you can.”

“When they said that staff really mobilized, like troops, knowing we had the support. We knew there would be struggles but the ethos was to keep going and help the pupils.”

“RBCS also made the news when a mask-making initiative kickstarted”

Tim’s role went from “just managing the equipment to really supporting the kids”, and he stayed on the grounds to look after the children of key workers unable to stay at home. Between four to six pupils across different years would work remotely in the library as staff members came in to help out.

“In some ways, those teachers put the kids of key workers at Blue Coat before some of their own families. I don’t have a young family at home and I’m there fixing boats anyway – but for them, that wasn’t the case.”


During lockdown, RBCS also made the news when a mask-making initiative kickstarted from their design technology department in collaboration with nearby schools. Working closely with Leighton Park School, RBCS made PPE for NHS staff at the local Royal Berkshire Hospital.

“It was mundane work,” Tim recalls. “They started at eight o’clock and finished at six and would get through making around 400 masks a day. One of the staff members turned it into a competition at one point to keep morale up.”

Amidst the virtual lessons and care for key workers, Tim and the team also had to ensure the boat club was adapting in the unprecedented times. In one such initiative, Allan French challenged the boat club to cover the distance from Land’s End to John O’ Groats on foot, bike and ergo (which the boat club managed to complete three times over) to keep morale up whilst raising money for the NHS.


Back in March, planning with such clarity was more tricky. “When Covid started to happen, we had a meeting and said, right, we need to get the ergos to kids,” Tim says.

“Initially we thought, since all clubs were going into lockdown, it could be a springboard to gain an advantage over others. We soon realised it was for the long haul and the priority had to be mental health. We had to have a platform where we were checking in and keeping them engaged with the sport. Regardless of whether or not they’re doing the training, that they are alright.”

“Things like addressing weaknesses, skills and mobility via Zoom. We had a session where we did a video analysis of the guys’ rowing and a mobility sit and reach test.”

“I know some schools, like Emanuel, had weekly virtual sessions where families joined in. Those were run by my predecessor, Hannah Blaikie, who kept the entire club going virtually whilst being Head of Year and Senior Girls Coach.”

“Rowing with your mates is something you just can’t replace virtually”

When lockdown did begin to lift and water sessions were possible, Tim and staff at the boat club had new logistics to contend with.

“It’s things you don’t even think about,” Tim reveals. “Your hands have gone soft. You can only row in a single and last time you were rowing in February you were in bigger boats doing sweep. In that single, if you fall in, can you then go and get changed with somebody else?”

Although, the new way of operating proved the “juice was worth the squeeze” for Tim. Going forwards into 2021 at Emanuel, he’s finding reason to be optimistic with an even greater appreciation for what the sport is all about. 

“One of the things I’ve certainly learnt and embraced is that rowing with your mates is something you just can’t replace virtually. Side-by-side with your friends in the same boat. That’s what the sport comes down to.”

Don’t miss more experiences from key workers in the rowing community as part of our series on British Rowing Plus

Photos: Chris Freeman (Blue Coat images)