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A message from Professor John Coyne CBE, Chair of British Canoeing

It has been a remarkable year. It has been a year that the community of paddlers and all associated with British Canoeing can be proud of. 

That may seem to be a bold statement for a year in which the ravages of the pandemic have struck, the air of uncertainty has continued virtually unabated, indeed increased with the new variant Omicron, and during which many plans had to be set aside. But it is the way that our community has responded, at all levels, in all roles and in all contexts that gives reasons to be proud.

Olympic and Paralympic success

One natural highlight on the competitive front was that the Olympic and Paralympic Games went ahead – and delivered the targeted success for our athletes. We contested every final in Slalom and Mallory Franklin won a silver medal, we contested two finals in Sprint and Liam Heath won a bronze medal and became the most successful medallist in GB history with four to his name. He also set the Olympic record in his route to the final.

We topped the Paralympic medal table with seven medals including gold for Emma Wiggs, Charlotte Henshaw and Laura Sugar. All three were shortlisted for the Sunday Times disabled sportswoman of the Year. Both teams then went on to their respective World Championships in this congested year and not only replicated that success but built upon it.

We had the delight of seeing the inaugural World Champion in Extreme Slalom, new to the Olympic programme in Paris, when Joe Clarke stormed to victory. Bethan Forrow and Nikita Setchell both claimed under 23 world titles in women’s C1 and extreme slalom at the Junior and Under 23 Slalom World Championships.

National and international competition achievements 

Domestic events returned, and the on the international stage our athletes once again took to the water.  It was equally satisfying to see our other disciplines return to competition but the challenges of pandemic and Brexit placed huge logistical challenges in front of our volunteer organisers.

It is hugely to their credit that our athletes managed to compete and do themselves justice after such disruption to their schedules. I cannot speak highly enough of our volunteers and the work of our discipline committees through these challenging times – their efforts will carry momentum into 2022 and what we hope, though cannot guarantee, will be a fuller year of competition. Across all discipline some 62 medals were won in the year.

Next year we shall host the Freestyle World Championships at Holme Pierrepont, Nottingham and I am sure that it will be a festival of paddling. It has been a long time in planning as we were scheduled to host a World Cup in 2020 and then the World Championships in 2021 so I know that everyone is committed to making it worth the wait. Gold medals in the 2021 European Freestyle Championships for Toby Marlow and Otillie Robinson-Shaw further demonstrates our prowess in the discipline.

A legend of Canoe Slalom announced her retirement this year – Fiona Pennie. She was on her first world podium in 2000 and was regularly there for the next twenty years, winning a team gold medal in the K1 with Mallory Franklin and Kimberley Woods in her final international event this year. She retires with our sincere thanks for all she has achieved, the inspiration she has been and with our best wishes for the next phase of her career.

Increased membership and services 

As a membership organisation we have seen our numbers rise steadily over the past two years. We now have over 90,000 members and I know that they are receiving first class support from us to ensure they enjoy their paddling and benefit from being part of our community. Many of the new joiners are also paddling Stand Up Paddleboard so it is gratifying to see the breadth of interest that we represent widen. The year has also seen the development and early implementation of tools to help clubs manage their affairs and develop further.

As a national governing body we have to be as efficient and effective as we can be and utilise every ounce of resource to the maximum for the benefit of our community. I am pleased that 2021, despite the massive dislocation to working patterns caused by the pandemic, delivered great progress to ensure that we were financially strong to enable us to plan the next phase of our development.

Whenever organisations change there are new people joining and people leaving. This has been the case this year and it is greatly to the credit of those that joined us in the pandemic that they have quickly become part of the team despite often having to work remotely and appear as faces on screens. 

Some were significant departures during the year too including stalwarts, legends and icons of our sport and our organisation. To all of them we say a sincere thank you and we wish them well. Their contribution will not be forgotten. They have served the community of paddlers with great distinction in their various roles.

Increased engagement with new paddlers

Our community of paddlers has been growing too. The launch of our Go Paddling website was the catalyst for an easier engagement with paddlers and a source of great advice, guidance and interest. The website saw over 600,000 unique users in 2021, creating an important opportunity for us and also a great responsibility. We must serve and focus upon their needs and in so doing encourage more of them to become full members.

Canoe Foundation relaunched

The relaunch of the charitable Canoe Foundation has given a great opportunity to deliver more and better places to paddle and to enable channelled investment into our community. I urge all of you to check it out – see how it can help you and also see how you might be able to help through it. There are opportunities to contribute to the foundation and play your part in building a bright future.

We have also done a lot of work this year to look at all those sites owned or leased by British Canoeing to see how we can leverage our interest in them. If you regularly paddle from one of them let us know what you feel we could do to maximise the opportunity that they represent for our paddlers.

Increased engagement with Qualification and Awards

British Canoeing is a regulated awarding body for a whole suite of qualifications. Our coaching routes have been particularly energised following their reshaping a couple of years ago. We saw a big uplift in numbers taking our qualifications and updating their skills to ensure that our coaching community in particular is well place to meet the growing needs from our membership. 

The move to put key components on line has enabled us to find new and accessible means by which our qualifications can be accessed, with over 230,000 engagements from coaches this year. Seek them out if you have aspiration to improve your own skills.

Improved support for Delivery Partners & Clubs

British Canoeing also launched the new Delivery Partner Scheme, available for outdoor centres, hire providers, tour guides, charities and organisations that provide paddlesport activity – which already has 373 partners. We enhanced our connection with clubs, running a series of very successful club webinars and launched pilots for Quality Clubs and Champion Clubs.

Clear Access, Clear Waters Campaigning

In a year in which the UK hosted COP26 and there was much attention upon climate change it was also a year during which there was a real focus on the protection of our environment. Campaigns from within our community encompassed a whole range of activities from Climate Change itself and the big policy picture and commitment required through to regular weekly river clean ups, national campaigns with Surfers Against Sewage, and local action to improve the quality of waterways. 

Sitting alongside this work was our continuation of a campaign to give greater rights of access to water. We are a community that can be responsible custodians of the natural environment and we believe that great access allied to greater responsibility will be a huge net benefit to society.

Equality, Diversity & Inclusion 

British Canoeing announced the appointment of eight individuals from the paddlesports community to the new Inclusion Advisory Group, which will drive the inclusion strategy for England British Canoeing launched the new equality, diversity and inclusion initiative #WePaddleTogether.

So it has been a very full and active year. The staff and volunteers of British Canoeing have worked hard and imaginatively to ensure that their service to members has not diminished despite the ongoing challenges from the pandemic. I hope that you have seen the benefits and appreciated their work just as we appreciate the commitment that our members show to us as an organisation.

Let me conclude by extending to all of you my sincere best wishes for the New Year. Good paddling.