Jo Atkinson, British Rowing Adaptive Community Support

7 Jul

British Rowing support for adaptive/pararowing has hit an inflection point recently and the key to this responsiveness and initiative are the people who make it happen. A linchpin to this progress is Community Support Manager Jo Atkinson. Jo is another familiar face around the adaptive events especially working on various media productions to showcase and promote the various activity in UK’s adaptive rowing world. I caught up with her for an in-depth discussion of her role and aspirations for it:

  • What is your potted history of your experience with rowing? – I started rowing after a particularly hot summer when I was a squash player and with so many games and lessons in the heat that I needed a change of fitness regime as I was struggling to get my weight above 7 stone! (very hard to imagine now!)   – my husband was a coach at a local club, and there was a ‘Pub n Club’ type event coming up so he took my whole squash team down to teach us – unfortunately we started learning the week before, so he thought it was a bit too close!  So we decided to enter the club regatta instead a few weeks later – where we won our novices, I think fitness had a lot to do with it! I’ve carried on ever since. I started coaching with my daughter and her friend, grew a junior section at my Club over 15 + years and now currently coach all levels of Masters women which I really enjoy.  I’ve held virtually every role as a volunteer both in my Club and for the Region (pre-BR days) – from coach educator to junior regional representative and these positions are what led me to a job at British Rowing.   I have been with British Rowing for over 20years and was involved right at the beginning with both the Project Oarsome (state school rowing programme) and Explore Rowing (stable boat) programmes introductions. These proved to be very successful and hopefully being involved with Adaptive rowing will be the same. All these experiences give me great understanding of club rowing and development.
  • What was your first introduction to adaptive/para sport? – my first introduction was during coaching juniors where I coached several juniors with special needs and one with a mobility issue, Over the years I’ve also coached blind rowers and scullers and people with various long term serious health impairments
  • Describe your current role in British Rowing?  As I’ve said above, I’ve been in post for over 20 years and have held several development roles and am currently a Community Support Manager, and my role is to support and offer guidance to Clubs and regions with any aspect of their activities, this can be everything from ClubHub usage to attracting new people to the club as well as helping clubs source and access funding. I represent British Rowing on the Masters Rowing Committee, Adaptive Group and Women in Sport Group. Much of my time at the moment is taken up writing the series of Club Guides to cover Club Governance, Management, Adaptive Rowing, Development and People Development.
  • What are some of the misconceptions about British Rowing’s work to support adaptive and pararowing? – I’ve only been the community club adaptive link for a little while, and so haven’t had anyone tell me any, but I do now know that there are more adaptive rowers in Clubs than everyone thinks. I think external misconceptions that we need to change are the ‘rowing is not for me’ ones.
  • If you had a million pounds to spend one thing (not operational expense), what would you buy for British adaptive rowing? Oh wow – that would do great things! It sounds such a lot of money, but as we all know once you start thinking about what to buy and where to use it, there is an endless list and it would soon disappear quickly! –  If each region of the country (there are 10 regions ((with Thames split into a further 8)) had a package of equipment that could be lent to clubs just starting out with adaptive rowing or lent to events to use, which included  a trailer, boats and even a floating landing stage and ramps, it would help both starting out (with no cost) and make entering events much easier if there was no need to take equipment, and when not in use at events, the y package could be loaned/hired to the local clubs
  • What has been some of the adverse impacts of the pandemic on adaptive rowing? – even though disabled people were ‘allowed’ to continue to exercise – for Clubs this has been a very difficult time as they have to make sure everyone was safe, so with the need in some circumstances for extra help, this has led to extra caution and some adaptive programmes put on hold.
  • What are your aspirations for adaptive rowing in the coming year? – that more clubs are aware that adaptive rowing is already happening near them, and that more Clubs can offer adaptive rowing with only a few adjustments
  • What sort of issues are you best positioned to assist with if people contact you? – I can help with any queries, everything from where to row, who to speak to, how to start an adaptive group, where to find money, etc whilst I may not be an expert on adaptive rowing, I do (as they say) know someone who is – and I’m definitely not afraid to ask questions and contact anyone that knows more than me – as many of your group already know.
  • How can we contact you? – the best way is to email is or or send me your telephone no. and I’ll call – I love a good chat!

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