Barford doing its bit to keep young people on the banks

Barford's 2017 coaching team. Picture: Sarah Thomson

Barford's 2017 coaching team. Picture: Sarah Thomson - Credit: Archant

Over the last few years Barford's group of volunteers have grown, initially with the help of the Angling Trust's Volunteer Champions scheme, and there are now two level II and two level I coaches along with other trusted helpers.

Catch 'em young! Picture: Sarah Thomson

Catch 'em young! Picture: Sarah Thomson - Credit: Archant

This year alone, Barford has held more than 20 free three-hour coaching sessions with more than 280 people getting a taste of angling. The free family coaching sessions have been partly funded by the Angling Trust Family Fish scheme and some have gone under the Angling Trades Association's National Fishing Month banner.

'Young people have so many distractions nowadays we're finding you have to get youngsters involved before they get a phone in their hand,' said Barford's Sarah Thomson. 'We're teaching juniors who are younger so are finding getting the families on board is necessary. The next step is converting these families into regular anglers. Spare cash is sparse with families nowadays so we've tried to remove the cost barriers by offering the coaching and equipment free.'

Barford also hosts the Sainsbury's Norfolk School Games angling final – more than 18,000 young people compete in various sports and the fishery hold qualifiers for School Sports Partnerships, with the final for 16 teams of three, which come from the eight school partnerships around the county. The event is run by Active Norfolk, who provide coaching bursaries, and there has been very positive feedback from teachers who have found that angling attracts young people into competition that they don't normally engage with in other mainstream sports. In some competitors it also encourages a new-found focus and attention span teachers had not seen, which in turn spills over into their academic studies and behaviour.

Barford successfully bid for funding via the Angling Trust – funds allocated from the Environment Agency's rod licence fees – which enabled them to run a Facebook campaign, print posters, buy more equipment, get coaches qualified and get display boards for promoting angling at local shows.

Making it fun for the young. Picture: Sarah Thomson

Making it fun for the young. Picture: Sarah Thomson - Credit: Archant

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'We were also lucky to be funded for improvements to access and our starter lake which is in progress,' added Thomson. 'Our dedicated starter Lake is popular in the summer and we charge a nominal fee to fish and we also hire out whole kits for those starting out along with offering onsite coaching.

'We've found that some of families who've been on the free coaching sessions this year have returned this summer and fished independently. Over the winter we'll canvass all the attendees to see what they need us to do in order to convert them into fully-fledged anglers.'

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Many anglers have donated tackle to pass on to new anglers and Barford is launching a 'Tackle Bank' scheme, inviting those who've attended free sessions to return and learn more skills. At the end of a group of further sessions they will be supplied with some donated second-hand tackle.

'Over the years we've seen that if you teach youngsters to fish some will continue fishing for their life and some just won't because 'life' happens, but a lot of those that enjoyed fishing as a child will bring their children back to share that enjoyment,' added Thomson. 'Our sport has some technical and fish care elements that doesn't make it the easiest entry level sport. If we can make opportunities to learn easier and cost effective along with providing equipment and opportunities for support I think we will be getting somewhere on retaining.'

There are many trade-run initiatives – Family fish, Get Fishing, National Fishing Month, Take a Friend Fishing, Get Hooked on Fishing, Fishing4Schools – and some small pots of funding available to help with getting coaches qualified and towards costs of running events.

Thomson added: 'As a sport we have recruitment covered with these initiatives and schemes but we definitely need more research on successfully retaining and making customers. At Barford Lakes we feel we should progress to an Angling Club type structure as it's a great way to encourage regular attendance and skills development. In short as a sport angling needs to be more accessible by making it easier, more inclusive and remove cost barriers as much as possible.'

If anyone has any spare tackle gathering cobwebs in the shed they can donate to the 'Tackle Bank' – contact or call 01603 759624.

The final free coaching session is planned for Friday October 27 – booking is essential and the sessions are 9am-12pm and 12.30pm-3.30pm.

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