Rebuilding a club that has lost expertise and has few members but lot of broken boats is far from easy. Jessica Edgar-Harris explains how this small university club took on a new lease of life and is now a much-valued part of its community.
About York St John Boat Club
York St John Boat Club, founded in 1852, is York St John University’s oldest surviving club. It currently boasts around 30 members, 15 of whom which are actively rowing and racing. Although the club promotes inclusivity in every way, there are more women than men in the club just now. These students are studying a range of subjects from occupational therapy and teacher training to business and law.
Based on the River Ouse, which is prone to flooding once, twice, or even three times a year, the club has gone through peaks and troughs. Recently YSJ has revived its racing status, proving it deserves a place on the towpath and the podium and in the lives of its members. The boathouse is based in York city centre and the club shares the river with York City RC, St Peter’s School BC and University of York BC, as well as the City Cruises. With lots of tourists visiting York throughout the year, the river can easily become a busy place to row!
Coaching at YSJBC
I have volunteered with YSJ since September 2021, when I moved to York to work at St Peter’s School; I wandered along the river to find a bunch of students pottering around on the riverbank and asked what they were about. Two years on I am very glad I did! Benji Hamilton-Rhys, Club Vice-President and Assistant Coach, has been instrumental in the rebuild post-covid, and I believe the club would not exist today if it wasn’t for his effort, determination and belief that the students deserve a club to call family. Before me, there were a couple of people who exchanged coaching for boat racking, and of course Dan Clarke, YSJ alumnus, who regularly races for us in his single, joins in on socials and fills in to crews.
In the beginning I volunteered up to 20 hours a week. As well as teaching the latest freshers, this involved pulling the ‘missing’ trailer out from the bushes, to writing crews and refurbing boats. We had a lot of broken boats, some just missing parts or needing a bit of filler and a lick of paint, but others had even been cut into sections ready for dispoal.
The first year was incredibly busy. During this time, we created the foundation we sit on now, where the members can maintain boats and prepare for races independently. As a student-led club, I believe it follows the model similar to Oxbridge and Durham collegiate clubs, and smaller university clubs such as Sheffield Hallam. Third year students pass on expertise, however after stressful periods such as covid and flooding this vital knowledge can be lost very, very quickly, leaving student clubs in a vulnerable position.
My priority on joining was safety, ensuring we were able to function and operate a smooth-ish ship, whilst teaching the importance of the small stuff, such as washers and backstays (and superglue… oh I know we’ve all been there from time to time!).
“The club I am leaving is a completely different one to the club I came to. This is thanks to CJ bringing so much knowledge and transporting us to races that would’ve been otherwise unachievable. The atmosphere at this club is like no other I’ve ever seen.”Steph, 2022/23 President
As my second year with YSJBC began, I reduced the time I was spending at the club, not only for the good of my own work-life balance, but more importantly to give the students the freedom to explore their new committee roles and learn BROE2, British Rowing ClubHub and the intricacies and challenges that clubs and coaches face. The committee stepped up and together we made it to Rutherford Head, fielded two crews at YSJ’s first BUCS Regatta in 10 years, entered their first EVER Henley Women’s Regatta and reached finals at Durham Regatta, while also picking up some local pots along the way.
We really couldn’t function without the support of our local clubs who help with trailering, lending boats and making repairs. Shout outs to Ryan Bewick, Mark French, Ian Doyle, Steve Gunn, John Ward, Sean Potter, Andy Robertson, Elliot Kay, Anna Golightly, Mick Williams and Tom Hillier.
Aside from the local wins and travelling to prestigious events, we have had a lot of success closer to home, winning Club of the Year for YSJ Sport’s Union, Committee Member of the Year, Non-committee Club Member of the Year, and the university’s inaugural Outstanding Achievement Award.
We have had a lot of great feedback from local clubs and alumni who are excited to see YSJ racing competitively again, and many supported our 2022 marathon fundraiser to purchase a new set of sculling blades, supported by The Rowing Foundation.
“I’ve learned how to help run a sports club, but also how to compete as a team. As a swimmer, it was only myself I had to look after myself, whereas now I get to look after my team, and they look after me.”Lilly, 2022/23 Vice-Captain
The club is still forming great internal relationships as well as building external links with the region and gaining national recognition. Our priority is to get more people rowing and enjoying the sport, whilst encouraging those who want to perform at a higher level and compete at the likes of BUCS and HWR again. We’re developing our training programme so that it caters for all goals and ambitions.
“Since joining, I’ve learned a lot because I have never once rowed before I joined YSJBC. In the future I would like to compete in races and I’d also like to join a club back home after I graduate.”Levi, 2022/23 Fresher
Banner photo: Lisa Bateson