Kew House School rowing programme, started in 2018 – building sporting prowess from the ground up – and it’s aiming for gold

Kew House School Boat Club is a rookie in rowing terms, but it’s growing from the ground up and training girls and boys to give of their best, have fun and maybe take the sport a whole lot further. It was established in 2018, and with a firm pledge to offer rowing to all pupils as a school sport. Every afternoon, Monday to Friday, rowing is one of the sports options, so all senior year groups can take to the water and learn about the teamwork and skill involved.

Kew House is, of course, in prime territory on the Thames, as this West London stretch is home to a plethora of competitive rowing teams and clubs – and with a long history of achievement. “We’re literally in the middle of the rowing bubble, where everyone’s rowing – there’s a lot of action on the river,” says Paddy (Patrick) Graham, Head of Rowing.  

At Year 7 and 8 access to rowing is kept at once a week. This is, says Paddy Graham, to ensure longevity and avoid burn out. “Children at that age are very focused on wanting success,” he says. “But we have a progressive pathway.” Those boys and girls that take to rowing (and many do) have the option from Year 9 to get involved in the life of the Kew House School Boat Club (KHSBC). This means rowing sessions at weekends and after school. This moves things up several gears over time, and by Year 11 boys and girls can participate in the full club training programme. This means seven training sessions a week, including an early-morning row and weekend river meets.

There’s no doubt that training with KHSBC involves commitment, but for many pupils at Kew House it becomes a passion – Paddy Graham says it can be an addictive sport. “They fall in love with the social, physical and mental aspects of rowing,” he says. “There’s no greater feeling than doing one rowing stroke and travelling x metres in one body movement, one where you are using all your muscles, plus improving cardiovascular endurance.”

“Rowing really showcases how resilient and robust children can be, and how willing they are to push themselves for the team”

He is at pains to explain to pupils who enjoy rowing that this is a sport with longevity – offering opportunities at elite, club and more casual level through university and long afterwards. “It can become part of daily routine. I know because I, and everyone I rowed with at a young age, still have to have some form of physical structure around our adult lives. So it’s something that stays with you for a long time,” he says.

Why Kew House School is rowing for gold
Kew House School offers co-ed rowing, and it’s proving to be a popular options with girls and boys

Building a rowing culture from scratch is, he adds, about much more than action on the water. “Something personally that I’ve loved in creating this boat club is that it’s such a community sport.” Kew House parents are firmly on side and have been huge supporters of both the fundraising required for kit, and the social aspects that come with getting involved and cheering on their child and the home team from the riverbank.

Many parents attending for the first time are amazed at how much their child has developed their rowing skillset – and all the teamwork required for rowing success. Bear in mind that boats have to be got down to the water and readied for the race and the team doing the rowing all pull together before the racing proper can even start. Parents have expressed delight that their teenager has finally found a sport they really love. This includes the less obviously sporty children who suddenly find their place as part of the crew or discover a gift for strategy and leadership as rowing cox.

For the school, rowing has been a tremendous addition to sporting choice – co-ed, part of local Thames-side heritage and something the whole school can get behind. “Rowing really showcases how resilient and robust children can be, and how willing they are to push themselves to their absolute limits for the team. That’s been a great success story for Kew House,” says Paddy Graham. “We wouldn’t have been the success story without a supportive parent body,” he adds.

Why Kew House School is rowing for gold
Rowing is a sport that has a life long beyond school, making it a great choice for an active lifestyle, whether at club or individual level

The KHSBC Summer House Regatta, taking place in June, is hugely important and a day when everyone can celebrate achievement, teamwork and club spirit. “It’s the one event where the whole boat house gets together, from year 7-13. Boys and girls and all the parents are there.” There’s even a parents’ rowing event. There have been other wonderful social events and fundraisers, including a dinner in January, and these have enabled the recent addition of senior eight boys’ and girls’ boats.

The school is working hard to spread the oars wider to grow participation across its local community, including working with Chiswick Senior to get its boys and girls onto the water. Building a boat club from scratch and making rowing part of PE choices has opened pupils’ eyes to broader sporting possibilities. “We’ve always said we don’t see this as the ceiling of their achievement. We want them to be successful after Kew House and be representatives of the sport and Kew House School Boat Club,” says Paddy Graham.

Recently, the school had its first try out of a junior girl as a potential for Team GB – KHSBC is aiming high for club and school. “Kew House School boys and girls would love nothing more than to qualify for Henley Royal Regatta. That’s their aim, they are gunning for it and one day they will do it.”

Kew House School

Further reading: Gordon’s School on developing soft skills through sport