London-based rowing club the London Otters exists ‘to increase the profile of both competitive and recreational LGBTQ rowers within the sporting community’. Here, founder and Social Squad Captain, Warwick Lobban, explains the club’s rapid expansion and how you can join in the fun.
In 2014 I went through a really difficult time. In my despair I came to see the need we all share to belong to something greater than ourselves and I noticed there are many in our community who were as lost and alone as I was – especially in London, where so many people are living here far from their homes and support networks. The go-to band aids of dating apps, trashy nights and one night stands seldom deliver true supportive friendships.
This observation coincided with my romantic desire to row. I wanted to belong to a solid team and form a band of brothers who could learn the sport and ultimately compete at regattas together. And so it was that the London Otters was born rather humbly at the Royal Albert Docks in East London.
The club grew quickly to over 100 men from our first intake of 16 guys in August 2014. We all learned how to row together and grew as a supportive team. I’ve met so many incredible people through the Otters, including Grant Ralphie, who helped me run the club in our first year when we went on to become an officially recognised British Rowing affiliated club with our focus being gay-friendly and inclusive.
By summer 2015 we realised our goal of racing our crews at our first regatta at St Neots in Cambridgeshire. We were otterly ecstatic when Richard Gallagher and Kevin Kempe raced a double and won our first club trophy at that regatta, which also helped us be seen as serious rowers with genuine athletic talent and promise.
We now have a fully functioning Senior, Novice and Social squads. We are also excited to be starting our first Women’s Squad this month, and all of our squads are looking forward to an exciting 2017 racing season. We will also be launching a new initiative called Friends of the Otters soon, which anyone who’d like to be connected to our club can join.
Currently our challenge is that we want to welcome more beginners to our club via our Learn to Row Otterpups programme, which is in high demand – but as a fledgling club we have limited resources. To solve this, we have applied for funding with AVIVA which, if awarded, will allow us to buy more boats and get more people on the water.
So we’re calling on YOU to cast some much needed votes on the link below as we seek to raise awareness of our project. If we smash our goal of 5,000 votes this will – paws crossed – open up the funding channel so that we can include more Otterpups. This project will offer LGBT+ individuals and allies a new skill, and a support network through rowing, and brings more people into this truly beautiful sport by teaching them a healthier way of life. Thank you in advance for supporting London’s Gay-Friendly Rowing Club here: community-fund.aviva.co.uk/voting/project/view/16-1989.
For more information, check out londonotters.org.