The theme for this year’s National Inclusion Week is ‘Take Action, Make Impact’, so we’re taking a closer look at social impact projects supported by the 2023 ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships, and the impact on the local community around the Lee Valley White Water Centre.
The 2023 ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships took place in Lee Valley between the 19th and 24th September and had a vast programme of initiatives and projects taking place alongside the event. They aimed to benefit the local community, get more people involved in paddling, bring paddling to a more diverse audience, and help improve the environment.
Ahead of the event, the University of Hertfordshire became the Official Social Impact Partner to the World Championships, which enabled over £30,000 worth of investment in social impact projects in and around the event itself - you can find out more here. Let’s take a closer look at some of the projects delivered as part of the Championships.
Providing accessible opportunities to try out paddling is key for widespread community engagement. Broxbourne Council partnered with British Canoeing, Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, Better Leisure and Lee Valley Paddlesports Club to deliver a festival aimed at increasing the number of women and girls engaged in long-term paddling activity. The festival aimed to reach up to 1,000 women and girls local to Lee Valley White Water Centre, and with the Championships taking place at the very same venue, the ambition was to also increase the number of women and girls spectating at the event.
This project wasn’t just about those engaging with paddling - it’s also about those involved in delivering paddling opportunities. Funding from British Canoeing supported the training of six women from the local area to become Paddlesport Instructors, improving the representation of women in the coaching body.
Former #ShePaddles Ambassador and Paddlesport Instructor, Lisa Dickinson, has been working with the newly qualified instructors around the Championships and said:
“I spend a lot of time as part of the #ShePaddles programme supporting women and building their confidence on the water and especially white water."
Lisa felt the festival had been an “amazing opportunity” to promote paddlesports to women and girls in the Lee Valley area.
The newly upskilled Instructors have been involved in running more paddling activities at Lee Valley White Water Centre and Lee Valley Paddlesports club post-event, helping the Centre and Club engage with more women from the local community.
As British Canoeing’s long-standing initiative to improve the representation of women and girls in paddling, #ShePaddles has supported an increase in the representation of women and girls in the paddling community. The Championships played host to a new #ShePaddles Conference, where #ShePaddles Ambassadors, Club Champions, staff and athletes came together to share best practices, insights and inspire women and girls to grow their confidence, shift their perspectives, overcome barriers or challenges and showcase the power of being out on the water.
Rebecca Edwards, 2022/23 #ShePaddles Ambassador ran a session about doing something for the first time. Everyone stood up and they could only sit down when they got the question right. The last one was told they were going to sing a song. But to everyone’s relief, it didn’t happen. The activity was designed to show how anxious, or embarrassed, a person might feel doing something for the first time.
Reflecting on the session, Rebecca said: “All those mixed emotions are exactly how you feel, especially as a woman, when you walk into a place for the first time. I run a boating lake and the women who come are so scared of getting on the water. It’s really important for me to learn those feelings and cut them out. That’s how you get women and young girls into sport.
The conference facilitated the sharing of learnings and reflections on how everyone can make paddling a more welcoming and inclusive space for all women and girls, and aimed to provide attendees with role models and journeys that more accurately reflect their lived experience.
Volunteers are crucial to the success of sport, and sporting events are no exception. For the Championships, British Canoeing wanted to recruit a volunteer workforce which was representative of the local community and area, but also ensure that the event provided opportunities for volunteers from all backgrounds to get involved.
Significant efforts were made to ensure that volunteer roles were shared through networks reaching groups of volunteers from a diverse range of backgrounds. This included partnerships with organisations such as the University of Hertfordshire and Herts Sport and Physical Activity Partnership, which helped us to bring volunteering opportunities to university students.
The Championships appointedvolunteers in roles ranging from managing school visits to spectator experiences. Data indicates that the volunteers recruited into roles at the event were certainly representative of the local area. For example, 75% of volunteers identified their ethnic group as white, which is lower than the 81.1% found in the 2021 census data for Broxbourne. Volunteers from Asian or Asian British (7.7%), Mixed (5.1%) and Chinese (1.5%) backgrounds were also involved in the event, among others. 5.1% of volunteers considered themselves to have a disability, and 43% of the volunteer workforce were women.
British Canoeing is committed to continuing to develop accessible and inclusive volunteering opportunities for the major events and competitions delivered by British Canoeing each year, and hopes to see continued success in engaging with volunteers from all backgrounds and identities.
British Canoeing’s campaign work around access and the environment is a cornerstone of our organisational commitments, and the Championships has provided a key opportunity to continue to embed this work. British Canoeing has been working to create more accessible blue spaces in the waterways around the Lee Valley White Water Centre, via the development of the new Lee Valley Navigation Trail, and engaging with a new cohort of volunteers to support river cleanups and tackling Invasive Non-Native Species (INNS).
British Canoeing’s project aimed to engage with a minimum of four clubs active along the River Lee, equipping them with river cleanup equipment, and running events focussing on tackling INNS such as Floating Pennywort. These events aimed to engage with new volunteers who are members of the local community surrounding the River Lea, and create a sustainable commitment to maintaining local blue spaces into the future.
All of these efforts will ensure that the Lee Valley Navigation Trail remains free of litter and INNS, so that more people from the community can access and benefit from the blue space that is local to them.