LOSBC hits the rocks

Bad news, to put it mildly, reached me yesterday from London. It seems that the London Oratory School has announced that it is shutting down its rowing programme. This will apparently involve winding up the LOSBC, laying off its staff, selling its assets, and using the proceeds to offset the school’s budget deficit.

The school has, I understand, said that the rowing programme is costing £150K p.a. to run and that this is unsustainable.

This is the programme which I ran for 9 years when I was a teacher at the school, so it is something which is close to my heart. And if what I hear is all true (and it is hard to believe, so I hope it is not) then I think the school would be making a huge mistake, and should urgently reconsider.

LOSBC_Henley_IMG_0753 (Custom)

LOSBC beating The King’s School, Canturbury in the first round of the Henley Royal Regatta in 2016. Rumour had it that the King’s crew included five members who had previously rowed for England as juniors. LOSBC won by three lengths, in their brand-new £35K Empacher eight which had been  funded largely by the Parents’ Fundraising Committee.

 

Here are some off-the-cuff thoughts about why I believe shutting down the rowing programme would be the wrong thing to do:

 

  • The total cost is unlikely to be anything like the £150K quoted. It is a while since I was involved, but whichever way I look at it I can’t get my estimated total for wages, boathouse rental and other expenses up to much more than £100K. So I’d like to see their figures.
  • The net cost to the school is in any case considerably less than the total, as a substantial part is covered by donations and club member subscriptions. £50K is my bottom line estimate for the school’s net expenditure – about one third of what has been quoted.

    LOSBC_Docklands (Custom)

    Five in a row. Gerald Elphicke took this picture of some of the LOSBC boats while organising a seat racing session at London Docklands  in 2016.

  • The assets, which include a £50K boat-purchase fund and a valuable collection of boats built up over the past 10 years, were accumulated largely through parental donations. So although the school technically controls these assets, they are in a sense being held in trust for their intended purpose and should not, most people would think, be used for other purposes without the knowledge or consent of the donors and their successors. To simply absorb them into the school’s general funds would resemble asset-stripping of the most egregious kind.
  • The benefits. The link between rowing and academic achievement is real and well-documented. The fitness and self-discipline built up by training feeds through into better exam results and university offers. The many successes achieved by LOS boys who are currently competing in top university crews shows how irresponsible it would be for any school to shut down a successful rowing programme unless this was unavoidable.
  • The real value of the LOS programme, not just to the school but also to British rowing generally and thus the country at large, is actually far greater than its comparatively modest assets might suggest. This is a story with all kinds of social and political angles: here is a comprehensive school which started with no assets and no track record, and within 10 years was winning events in its own boats against the big-name bastions of privilege – such as Westminster, St. Paul’s and Eton – which have dominated Thames rowing for the past 100 years.  LOSBC is currently producing a stream of talented rowers who are going on to join top university and national squads, and demonstrating how “social mobility” can apply to sporting as well as professional life. Far from being shut down, it should be given increased support, and used as a model for other state schools with sporting aspirations.
  • The Stakeholders. If the school nevertheless feels that it needs to consider closing the club, it should surely make no move in that direction without first consulting those involved, explaining the rationale, and discussing the options. If cost really is the issue, then it is entirely possible that further fundraising or sponsorship could be organised to fill the gap. The club’s supporters have been outstandingly successful in fundraising in the past, and should be given the opportunity to step into the breach now.
  • The pushback. If, on the other hand, it turns out that the rationale is simply one of  short-term financial expediency, then we are looking at the start of a real scandal. The club members and their supporters will not take this lying down: they will be looking for ways to salvage the situation. And there will be a lot of people, including me, cheering them on from the towpath.

16 thoughts on “LOSBC hits the rocks

  1. Really good article and thorough analysis. Really hope that we are able to save the club as it means so much to both the boys and parents.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is so disappointing to hear if it is indeed true. I started rowing at school at the same time Ali took over the helm, and it was inspirational to see how the club developed with the help of the dedicated oarsmen and passionate parents.
    I still remember those cold wet winter mornings rowing out of MAABC and then Putney Town, we were a homeless and kit less club. So the day we could finally afford our own oars was a momentous one. We decided on the colour scheme and pattern and from then on we had our own identity, one that friends, family and opposition would recognise (and fear!)
    After leaving The London Oratory I went to Liverpool University, which also had a small boat club, but we had big aspirations, so when I became club captain I used the skills that LOSBC had taught me in developing and growing the club. I knew how much work Ali had put into the club at that time and I went about doing the same, having meetings etc to get the funding needed to grow the club, and the University started to become a big hitter in racing circles.
    Instead of burning out, which happens to a lot of school rowers, I continued after University and spent a good few memorable years at Molsey, one of the leading clubs in the country. And again I believe that if it wasn’t for LOSBC head hunting me from the rugby team, I wouldn’t have become the rower or person that I am today.
    I truly hope that the school reconsiders this decision, especially if it is down to finance, it will affect a lot of children that will never have the opportunity to try rowing, and who knows, there could be the next Steve Redgrave or Andrew Triggs Hodge in their midst!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hopefully everything will be sorted out between the governors and the parents, and all our efforts to make the boatclub cost-neutral pay off. It would be such a shame to shut us down during the peak of our history. Thank you for all the support that you have given us all this time!

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  4. Ali’s wonderful motivation and enthusiasm was the reason my son first got involved in rowing at LOSBC. Over the years, a team of committed parents, coaches and boys have turned the club into the success it is today and it would be terribly sad for it to end. Year after year, the LOSBC Support Group has consistently demonstrated a financial commitment to the club and has successfully raised funds to purchase boats, marquees and promotional merchandise as well as given funds for training camps and part-time staff. I’m convinced that with a little sponsorship, the club can make this work. Good luck to all and if there are any sponsors reading this, please get in touch with LOSBC!

    Ali, you are an inspiration as always!

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  5. Very alarming !! The school has consistently backed music first, rugby second and rowing a distant third and when after many years of investment and what seems like awful financial planning they decide to cut the sport does have a positive, measurable outcome, just doesn’t make sense. Back in 84 a few ‘lads’ effectively bunked off school to race in the schools head and finished 3rd. A couple of Henley medal winners and one GB athlete emerged from that 4 and two of us are still involved in the sport. I can’t believe the school has burnt its reserves and now has to ‘burn’ the club.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Bit of a buzzkill to open this morning. Working with the rowing programme at Oratory (2012-2015) has been pivotal to me as a qualified Strength & Conditioning coach to develop my coaching skills and career so far. It wasn’t just a life changing opportunity for me, it was even bigger for the kids. Here’s a typical routine these top kids (correct me if I’m wrong lads) endured:
    Mon
    7:30-8:30AM- ERGO rowing
    10:30AM- Breaktime Mobility
    3:40-5PM- S&C with me
    Tues
    Break time- Mobility
    PM-Easy ERGO & mobility
    Wed
    Break time- Mobility
    After school- River rowing or ERGO
    Thursday
    AM-ERGO
    Breaktime- Mobility
    PM- S&C with me
    Saturday
    7:30AM- S&C with me (imagine December time in a non-heated boathouse gym, or just watch rocky 4 when stallone is training in a shed and you’re there).
    9:30AM- River rowing (Or vice versa).
    There was no luck. Or genetics. Or PEDs. Or this illusive “150K” funding. We all worked for peanuts actually. And I carried on doing it, because these kids showed all of us they wanted it. It wasn’t brain washed, they all had a choice to stay or leave. Even high level working adult athletes aren’t this keen. And that’s why some of these kids are doing well at University, moving to the US to top Universities like MIT, kids going to Oxford (!). I hope you guys find a way, I’m sure you will. A big footprint will only be followed by others.

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  7. Very good article and thanks for the time spent in writing it. Fingers crossed they can come up with a solution to save it, because everything in this article suggests it would be a terrible loss to lose it.

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  8. Ali – as others have said, you have been such an inspiration in getting the LOSBC up and running and then actually qualifying for Henley!

    We as parents have been so proud to have been a small part of this organisation, and I can safely say that had our son not been a part of it, his academic work would not have been raised to the heights he achieved in the end. As a dyslexic child, he struggled with so much, and the confidence he gained through rowing was pivotal – he learned about effort, focus, teamwork and personal bests. He got up so many dark winter mornings at 5am to row on the river, that takes grit and commitment and LOSBC has been the BEST thing about London Oratory School – they would be mad not to continue as there is direct correlation between rowing and academic results and the Parents have given so much to this part of the school. Its a real gem and I for one would be furious if was “asset stripped” to subsidise another area of the school.

    Long may LOSBC continue and good luck to all who row the boats

    Chantal Coady OBE

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This is an excellent account of a very unfortunate situation. Simply I’m dismayed that future generations of boys at LOS – and possibly girls too – won’t have the same wonderful opportunity that my son had. He coxed for the boat club until he left the school last year and gained countless benefits from the chance to be part of a remarkable squad, club and sport that he wouldn’t otherwise have had at the Oratory.

    Shutting down the rowing programme at LOS would be a disgraceful waste of the priceless legacy built up over decades by so many people – dedicated and brilliant coaches including Ali, Gerald Elphicke, Keith Brown, Jonno Davidson, Steve Salter and Stuart Heap; supportive and generous parents; and of course the boys themselves – to a point where the club had succeeded in engaging Nick Wilde, one of the top rowing coaches in the country.

    This is not a niche after-school club but a curriculum sports programme involving around one hundred boys from 3rd Year to Upper Sixth, and the only serious alternative to rugby offered at LOS. If the school closes the rowing club it would still have the cost of making provision for those students to have curriculum games and other sport. It seems like a very short-sighted move, especially at a time when similar schools like Cardinal Vaughan have just restarted their rowing programme, and initiatives by British Rowing and other bodies are succeeding in making rowing more accessible to young people regardless of their social or economic background.

    Anyone who is still in any doubt about the wisdom of the proposed closure should watch this video of the LOSBC 1st 8 competing at Henley Regatta last year – and listen carefully to the commentary!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Seems unbelievable that after all the effort put in to develop the club that the school would back away from it now. It clearly has great parental support, a great team on board and has got to the stage where its equipment supports a great programme with large numbers of boys enjoying and benefiting from the sport. Maintaining what they have, even in these times of difficult funding, must surely pay dividends for the school.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Great article. This is really shocking given LOSBC’s impressive results in recent years – qualified for the PE in 2015 and won 1st VIIIs at last year’s Nat Schools. As you make clear in your article, the costs quoted by the school look like a huge exaggeration. My understanding was that LOSBC were producing these results with an intelligent coaching programme despite a massive funding gap compared to the ‘big’ schools.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. As the grandfather of one of the boys in the club I have taken LOSBC into my life in recent years with great pleasure and pride. I have enjoyed attending regattas where possible or vicariously following results online or broadcast. The culmination for me was the superb performance of the 1st Eight at Henley last year. The obvious respect and admiration expressed notably by the race commentators acknowledged LOSBC as a serious presence in British Schools’ rowing.

    Mr Boileau’s article is most cogent. I hope his sentiments and arguments will have due attention and support. Surely each present and future pupil of London Oratory School – boys and girls — will be able to
    choose the great British sport of rowing as her or his way of personal fulfilment/enrichment/recreation.
    Go n-éirigh leat agus libh.
    (Success to you and them.)

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Disappointing to hear this news if it’s true.

    The club in 1999 had no boats, oars or identity. It was a games option and its profile was on a par with fencing.

    The only “assets” were the all in ones the boys’s parents had to purchase. I remember watching on enviously at other schools’ programs which were rowing at Henley and Nat Champs.

    Forward on to today and the LOSBC is well organized, has a significant membership and the required fleet. It even won Nat Champs! A far cry to the days of losing Quintin regatta in a loaner coxless four provided by the accommodating hosts of MAABC.

    It has taken nearly two decades to get to that point so why throw it all away? The teachers, parents and the boys themselves have invested far too much to now lose the benefits of a school rowing program.

    The benefits to my mind are as follows:

    1. Rowing is a year round sport with the competitive races held in the summer. This teaches the rowers discipline and the experience to train on bleak, cold and relentlessly tiring Saturday mornings translates well to school work. The A stars awarded for GCSE and A Level subjects aren’t earned during Trinity term, but rather through commitment to lessons, coursework and homework in Michaelmas and Lent terms.

    2. The standard of U.K. rowing in schools is so high that outstanding fitness is a given. Studies have shown that a healthy body significantly helps with mental stress and relaxation. Rowing therefore furthers the school’s pastoral care principles.

    3. Rowing at this level builds character and forms lasting friendships. Having left the U.K. some years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself waiting for a train at Barnes station alongside LOSBC rowers. They set a fine example and were fantastic ambassadors of the school. Amongst themselves they talked about fatigue but also the need to get homework done. Their enthusiasm and commitment to help each other was very encouraging.

    Ali – more than happy to come into the school if you would like to set up a meeting. I’ll be in London September 15 through 20.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Rowing at The London Oratory School contains the most amount support than any other activity in the school. For a pupil, it is the most enjoyed part of the week, and by shutting it down, the amount of sadness it will cause would be immense. The club is expanding in numbers, and to close the whole club despite winning a Gold medal at national schools regatta in the 1st VIII’s category last year, would be truly bitter. The club has so much more to offer, not to mention the great coaching which will certainly reap rewards in the future. Going on the water after school is a truly enjoyable feeling, or doing a gym session after school is stress relieving and improves students work – study ethic. Chiswick Boat House is like a second home for the rowers, and taking it away would be melancholy.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Hi Ali,
    This is really very worrying news. We have been so impressed by the way London Oratory rowing has developed over the years, largely with your uber enthusiasm and drive. This cannot be allowed to happen.

    There must be solutions. The Boat club is not simply about rowing or sport in school, it is about development of leadership, reliability, personal time-management, organisation, team building, crew and ultimately well rounded great character.

    London Oratory cannot afford to lose this!
    CD WSBC

    Liked by 3 people

  16. If this is true then it is a terrible shame.
    It is well documented that physical exercise improves concentration and academic performance.
    The skills that can be improved by rowing such as: organisation, commitment, time management and learning how to prioritise are skills that will be invaluable at university and later on in one’s career.
    In the UK there are problems of adult and child obesity and surely a school should be encouraging lifelong habits of exercise.

    My son’s rowing days with the LOSBC have undoubtedly enriched his life and it would be a tragedy if future generations of pupils do not have the benefit of this experience.

    Liked by 1 person

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