Living and breathing the Thames
People of the Thames
Matt Rostron, the Rochdale-born CEO of London Youth Rowing (LYR) lives and breathes the river, for work and pleasure, and was drawn to it from an early age.
“Even as Northerner, I still get excited whenever I see the Thames, especially when I travel along it.
“I am still a little bit in awe with it, to be honest.
“As a kid, the river was always a ‘must see’ on school trips to London, when we had just four hours to ‘do’ all the sites, and when I got older, catching the train from Manchester to the capital for a weekend break.
“Recently I have got to know the estuary better, moving with my wife Cat, to live where the river meets the sea, after having resided in east London since 2006.
“During a spell working the in the states, it dawned on me just how much the river means to me."
Boat Race memories
“The Oxbridge University Boat Race was one of the key things that first drew me to the river.
“I remember clearly getting lost one year, travelling west from Putney Bridge; I was bitterly disappointed not to be able to see the start line from the train.
“Eventually emerging from the foot tunnel into Bishop’s Park, the scale of the river hit me. I hadn’t expected it to be that wide, that fast flowing and that exciting.
“I managed to walk alongside the river up to Barnes and watched the race, as it caught up with me there."
Work life balanced
“Nowadays, seeing the river is the signal that I’m home – it spreads out before us as we turn the last bend back to where we live.
“Particularly during lockdown, the river has become the focus of my morning walk before work.
“It has provided a place to not only think, but to drift off and not think about anything for a while too.
“The river has played its part of most of the decisions we have had to make over the last year.
“For no reason, I am strangely compelled to regularly check on the position of the tide."
“Lots of people say this, but I truly have one of the best jobs in the world, working often on the river with some of the best people I have ever met.
“I sometimes have to check myself that I am actually getting paid, I enjoy it so much.
“Each year work LYR works with over 5,000 young people in schools and clubs across the capital, inspiring a good portion to take to the water for the first time."
A challenging year ahead
“COVID-19 has obviously made life hard for charities.
“At the start of the first lockdown, we made a conscious decision to prepare for life post the pandemic.
“With the generous support of Sport England and Tideway, we have restructured our finances for the long term.
“A key output has been the development of Race the Thames into a virtual online fundraiser – for both London Youth Rowing and other charities.
“It started life as a feature of the National Junior Indoor Rowing Championships, an annual event we run, which has obviously fallen victim to the pandemic, so we have had to adapt.
“If you don’t have access to a rowing machine, you can use any exercise to clock up, either 72 km or the full 346 km option. You can even just walk, if you want.
“The most important thing is to keep active, have fun, connect with other people and raise money.
“With three times Olympic gold medallist Andy Triggs Hodge volunteering to run the event, we are super excited."
Future hopes…..and fears?
“I am hugely looking forward to Tideway completing the ‘super sewer’.
“But I worry that too many people will miss out on the great things the river has to offer.
“When I arrived at LYR, I was shocked by how many young people I met in inner city communities had no connection whatsoever with the river under their noses.
“We have to provide more opportunities for people of all backgrounds to enjoy the river safely, so they feel it is their river too.
Top river spots?
“I still find it impossible to name a single favourite bit of the river.
“I have loved rowing late in the afternoon in the slow waters of the river at Richmond, just paddling along.
“But the river where we live now is incredibly special too.
“Watching the ships as they head in and out of London, sounding their fog horns in the early morning, is a real treat.
“If pushed, I’d have to choose crossing London Bridge as the sun sets. You see what feels like the whole of London in either direction.
“It takes me right back to the first time I saw the river all those years ago.”