Over the summer of 2021, Wynchwood School took part in The Big Row, making a lot of noise on the rowing machines (and on social media!). Rowing had not been on the curriculum at Wychwood School for over a century. It was only in September of this year that Wychwood reintroduced rowing as a whole school curriculum sport in strategic partnership with Hinksey Sculling School, a community rowing club in Oxford with a focus on junior rowing.
Wychwood’s Director of Sport, Francesca Centamore, tells us why Wynchwood took part in The Big Row.
Why did you take part in The Big Row?
Wychwood decided to take part in The Big Row alongside Hinksey Sculling School as a celebration of their new partnership and to raise the profile of the sport within the school. We wanted to raise money for Love Rowing and support a charity whose ethos aligns with that of our school. It was great to raise money for a charity that focuses on increasing access and participation in a sport that many pupils still do not get the chance to experience, whilst at the same time creating a buzz with our pupils about rowing, getting them excited for the upcoming curriculum opportunities.
We had over 100 pupils take part along with nearly 20 members of staff.
What activities did you run?
As we had all looked forward to supporting the GB Rowing Team in the then upcoming Tokyo Olympics, we set ourselves a combined target of rowing 2021 km (Wychwood on rowing machines and Hinksey on the water) over the course of a week to raise £2021! Hinksey kindly lent us four rowing machines which we set up at school and had in operation from 8am – 6pm each day over the week. All pupils were out on the rowing machines during their PE lessons, as well as having additional slots where they were let off timetable. Staff jumped on before and after school and we just kept the machines rowing continually to try and get as far as possible.
Being new to rowing, this was a BIG challenge for us but one that all of our pupils and staff were excited to attempt! The whole school really came together and the buzz amongst the pupils in what was our penultimate week of term was amazing.
We had various exciting things on each day, including a masterclass on the rowing machines for our 6th form students run by the team of coaches at Hinksey. Love Rowing Trustee Sally Pettipher also paid us a visit to talk to our pupils about the benefits of rowing and her journey as a national champion, as well as showing them the ropes on the machines with some synchronised rowing to music which the girls loved! We also had house rowing competitions, a team ‘row off’ headed up by our two Directors and a humanities ‘row off’ where Team Geography pitched up against Team History! At the end of the week our catering team put on a wonderful afternoon tea for the girls and staff to celebrate their efforts.
In total Wychwood rowed 1,217 km in 5 days on ergs and Hinksey rowed 3,718 km on the water, making our combined final total 4,935km - far exceeding our initial target (and in fact exceeding the distance of the official Atlantic rowing race!) We were also particularly proud of exceeding our fundraising target and raising a total of £2,061!
What did the girls enjoy most about it?
The girls loved trying a new sport and stepping outside of their comfort zone. It was a chance for pupils to try something on a level playing field with no expectations and see what they could achieve. There was a real sense of comradery and togetherness by all who took part as we strived to achieve our target.
What are the school’s rowing plans for the future? What’s important to Wychwood in this plan?
This year we are relaunching our curriculum rowing programme. The most important part of this for Wychwood is that rowing becomes a core curriculum sport introduced from year 7 upwards, not just an option pupils get to select further up the school. The idea behind this is that all pupils will get access to rowing and be out on the water. It is important to us that we give pupils the opportunity to pursue the sport at a level that is right for them. To achieve this, we will be offering a competitive pathway for those who wish to push themselves and try to excel in the sport, offering generous rowing scholarships to help facilitate this. Alongside the competition pathway, we will be offering a participation pathway for those pupils who wish to enjoy rowing at a more relaxed pace, making the sport accessible for everyone, regardless of ability.
What would you say to other schools who are thinking about joining The Big Row?
We are a small school that has limited rowing experience and what we achieved is a prime example of great teamwork and shows what can be achieved when you come together towards a specific goal. It was a fabulous event that we cannot wait to take part in again next year. As we showed it does not only have to be done on the water and it can really create a friendly, slightly (!) competitive buzz amongst your pupils whilst raising money for a great charity and making a difference!