Five minutes with Esther Mathews: Canoe Club has been my saviour
As a youngster, Esther Mathews struggled to find a canoeing coach to take her forward in the sport she had loved and pursued, with her parents, from an early age.
So later, as an adult, she chose to share her own acquired skills and knowledge, and sheer love of canoeing, with other children and adults.
Now she heads one of the most active and prestigious canoe clubs nationally, from Doncaster, and is a proud recipient of the British Empire Medal for her services to the community.
As a science teacher in Scunthorpe, Esther has introduced many new recruits from that area too, to the joys of canoeing, and works extensively with youngsters who are disadvantaged or challenged in many varied ways, to build their skills and confidence.
Esther, 64, said: “I was introduced to canoeing when I was about six years old, by my parents, and I got my first boat when i was eight. As a teenager my progress was thwarted because of a lack of instructors...I would find a coach then after about six months they would move on and I’d be back to square one.
“There were clubs starting up in Sheffield and West Yorkshire back then, and there were some FE courses I joined in locally. There were sailing opportunities through scouting too, which my parents were heavily involved in, but nothing that was structured and consistent.
“I’ve got many happy memories of taking boats and kids to Scrooby, and a spot near the bridge on the River Idle. We spent many days out there, and at Ripon on the River Ure.
“Of course there were far fewer health and safety restrictions in those days to worry about but we were always careful and never suffered an accident of any kind.”
Esther had two sisters but she was the only sailing enthusiast of the three, she recalled: “One of my sisters was into horses, and the other into music and playing in an orchestra, and we are all still following the same interests,” she said.
It wasn’t until she was an adult aged 25 that she found herself a regular canoeing coach, she added.
“He was Bill Rimmington from Thurnscoe, and I knew him through scouting. He was a typical Yorkshireman, very basic, but an amazing person. I’m still in touch with the five men I knew from that time and we are all still teaching canoeing.”
It was when her mother had to retired from scouts 26 years ago, and Esther subsequently left, that they found themselves at a ‘loose end’ and decided to form the Green Star Canoeing Club, based at Hatfield Water Park and the St James’ Pool in Doncaster, explained Esther.
“We affiliated quickly with British Canoeing and soon became the top club.
“We’ve always worked with a high number of kids with issues of various forms, be it physically or mentally, and the sport can be so good for them. One or two have gone on to become champions.
“As a club we would travel around England and Scotland to slalom events, and we had people from London, Bath and Ireland coming to us, such was our reputation.”
The loss of the St James’ pool facility when it was closed by the council was a major blow to the club, and Hatfield is now in need of more resources to build it back as a facility matching the club’s enviable and hard-earned status.
“It needs and deserves some more money putting into it, as Hatfield could be used much more widely. Not everyone around Doncaster is even aware it’s there,” said Esther. “Apart from sailing, there’s outdoor swimming, a climbing wall, treasure hunts and kids’ parties etc...and also a campsite. It’s great for school group activity and could easily be a good cycling venue too.”
The Green Star Canoe Club is unusual for its range of activities, for people aged three to 70-plus, and as it has a high proportion of women members
Esther’s achievements with the club are all the more remarkable as she has had her fair share of personal and health issues to battle at various times.
“My late husband was an alcoholic which was never easy - we eventually separated, and I lost my job due to the effects of suffering from M.E.,” she explained. “I could so easily have shrunk back and become a recluse. Canoeing literally kept me going and in contact with people.
“The club has been my baby. I was stunned to be awarded the BEM. The main person who nominated me for that, I believe, was the mum of a child we were able to help, from up north in Tyneside.
“Just last week we had 10 kids in the water in one session who were a mix of being mentally challenged, visually impaired and with autism. It’s great to see them achieving and loving that. I hope we can continue to grow our work.”