Skerries for Schools is a charitable initiative launched at a meeting in Richmond on 20 January 2014. Present at that meeting were representatives of the following significant organizations connected with rowing and the Thames.
A resolution was unanimously passed supporting the scheme and a committee was subsequently formed to bring it about.
The Skerries for Schools (or S4S) project began with a draft proposal late in 2013 by Bamber Gascoigne, best known for his 25 years as the question master of University Challenge. He is also a keen rower on the Thames and a veteran of about ten Great River Races, covering twenty-one miles from the vicinity of Greenwich to beyond Richmond. From 2010 to 2012 he raced in a skerry. He found it, just as Mark Edwards intended, extremely competitive in a race but also a safe and delightful boat for the young, with children able to join in and discover the pleasure and discipline of rowing.
In 2013 the boat was lent to the German School in Petersham, and their experience lies behind the concept of S4S. Their pupils did a lot of training and the eventual crew (four boys, four girls) rowed so well in the Great River Race that they were the fastest of the six skerries competing. The school has now commissioned its own skerry for future use. But how to give more schools the experience that the German School made so much of?
Bamber’s idea was for a charity to provide two skerries to be moored somewhere on a river within easy reach of several schools, in this case at the pontoon beside Richmond Bridge. The borough’s secondary schools can book one or both boats as often as they wish, and a competitive regatta at the end of the summer term will end with a winning school. In 2014 their prize was free entry in the renowned Great River Race.
Bamber’s document proposing the concept of Skerries for Schools prompted an immediate and enthusiastic response from Steve Kemsley, a retired senior policeman and the moving spirit in the founding, in 2012, of the thriving new Richmond Bridge Boat Club. This is based in a brick-arched boat house beside Mark’s premises and includes in its aims the introduction of both adults and children to rowing. Steve became the Director of our project and has since brought into the team colleagues from the boat club, Matthew Ford, Toby Hartwell & Richard Matthews who among many other roles are our main links with the schools.
The other most rapid response, very soon after Steve’s, was from Vic Griffiths. He is a familiar figure on Richmond’s riverside and is now a very valuable member of our team because of his experience, every summer, in taking out on the river literally hundreds of youngsters, from far and wide, to introduce them to rowing. Vic is leader of the Richmond Sea Scouts, and he has brilliantly expanded the number of those he inspires from a few local scouts in the old days to more than 2000 children introduced to the river in 2013. Vic is our Chief Coach, again among many other tasks.
We were very pleased when British Rowing suggested that they should have a place on our committee, and we have been delighted to welcome Paul Lorenzato in this role. Our two remaining members provide us with essential financial expertise, both in charities and the commercial world. Ricky Raworth is treasurer of the nation-wide National Gardens Scheme, and Peter Dolan is a geologist who has been involved with establishing and investing in large oil and gas exploration companies.