By Yasemin Cusack
Surprised? Yes, Hackney isn’t the first place that comes to mind you think about outdoor water sports. But just behind the Castle on Green Lanes, Stoke Newington, is a place that offers precisely that. Sailing, canoeing, kayaking and open-air swimming are all available here at the West Reservoir Centre.
The reservoirs of Stoke Newington were built in the 19th century to supply a growing capital city’s water needs. They opened in 1833 to take clean water from the New River and store it as a clean water reserve.
When the Thames Water Authority announced it no longer required the facility in 1985, it was marked up for sale. A local residents’ campaign – Save Stoke Newington Reservoirs and Filter Beds – swung into action.
RESCUEING THE RESERVOIRS
The campaigners found themselves combatting plans to create a hypermarket on the site and, with the absence of social media, had to run petitions, fundraising raffles, stalls and closely-argued letters in an effort to get their message heard.
The campaign was partially successful: the West and East Reservoirs were saved from development but not the filter beds, which were allocated to housing. There were tears and joy at the same time.
A decade later in 1996, Hackney Council bought the western reservoir from the now-privatised Thames Water and began work to convert it into a water sports centre. With the help of National Lottery funds, it opened in 2003 as a leisure.
Today it is located on 30 acres of water, offering courses and activities in sailing, kayaking, canoeing and other water sports for all for schools and community groups, as well as adults and young people. The centre is recognised by both the British Canoe and the Royal Yachting Association.
GIVE IT A GO YOURSELF
Freddie Lovejoy, senior water sports coach, said those adults who learn to paddle at the centre will also have the opportunity to take part in activities outside the city. There will also be multi-activity weeks during the summer to introduce children to water sports.
“These are usually most children’s introduction to the water sports and is all based around having fun and trying something new,” he says. “These become popular in the summer in particular.”
PADDLING IN THE SUNSET
One of the most active groups at the West Reservoir Centre is the Castle Canoe Club, which was set up in 2000.
“It is a place saved by the community for the community,” says Peter Emery, the club’s chair. “I feel that Castle Canoe Club fills in where London can lack. We have a hugely diverse membership of people that would not otherwise not meet. There’s a running joke in the club that we’re a floating social club.
“We arrange trips to beautiful places around the country and beyond, often to places where members have never been before. You get a hundred new friends as part of your membership fee. Some members love high octane white water while others just like to cruise down serene rivers and our polo players are playing in national competitions.
“The finest way to unwind in zone 2 has to be paddling in the sunset on a Tuesday night after work around the reservoir.”
Kayaking and canoeing for adults takes place all year round every Sunday between 10am and 1pm, and additionally on a Tuesday night between 6pm and 8pm from April to October. Club welfare officer Kate Dornan says anyone interested in becoming a member should do an induction session: “These are fortnightly and cover the basics of health and safety as well as paddling technique.
“The cost is £10 for the session plus a couple of weeks’ paddling while inductees decide whether to join us for the year. Membership currently costs £105 per year, with concessions available as well as reduced joining fees later in the year.”
Dates and further information are available on the club’s website, castlecanoeclub.co.uk. Castle Canoe Club members get a discounted rate on the centre’s lessons.
SET SAIL ON THE WATERS
The club also organises field trips around London – or even out of the country. Sea kayaking on the Thames, paddling, river trips, and kayak surfing are combined with annual trips to Ireland and the Alps. There’s also a polo team that competes in regional and national leagues, and hosts a tournament on the West Reservoir twice annually.
There is a sailing group here – the North London Sailing Association, headed by Caroline Brown – although it does not offer NLSA sailing courses, and members must have a level 2 qualification from the West Reservoir Centre (or an equivalent) before joining.
“Members don’t need to have their own boats as they can use the boats owned by the West Reservoir Centre,” Brown says.
“There are a mix of double and single hander boats. We also have a coastal base at Brightlingsea Essex, where we own a small property and 6 wayfarer boats. During the summer months, we run cruising weekends, some more advanced training (seamanship skills and level 3) and also have a camping weekend.”
Membership is for £140 for adults and £70 for children per annum. For further information, check their website: northlondonsailing.org
The Youth Club, provides young people between 8-17 years old the opportunity to participate in dinghy sailing, kayaking and canoeing. Membership is for £102 per annum.