Although the three national lockdowns have changed everyday life, Queen Elizabeth High School Rowing Club has continued to be one of the most popular sports clubs in the region despite the restrictions that have been put in place.

The Hexham-based club has had to change almost everything when it comes to training, appealing to new members and keeping everyone involved, but husband and wife Geoff and Pauline Higgins have led the club through a truly unique time with enormous success.

“We had been doing well before the first lockdown hit us, and we’d seen an increase in numbers before it all happened.” said Geoff.

“Our members were doing really well too and we’d been one of the leading clubs in the country when it came to competition wins.

“But one of the first things we had to deal with back in March was the fact that the children who were in their first year with us couldn’t now compete for us, which was hard to take for everyone.”

The next few months were tough for everyone involved with running the club and Geoff went on to explain some of the changes they had to make.

“Everything we did had to be modified or moved online somehow,” added Geoff.

“This meant moving training sessions to live video calls on Teams and creating a WhatsApp group where everyone could post what they were doing.

“Although me and Pauline are volunteers, the coaches of the club are paid and because of the restrictions that were put in place, we had to make a couple of changes in that department too because of the lockdown.”

Despite losing two members of staff as a result of the lockdown, Geoff thought of a new way in which to replace them.

“Usually when members of the club leave, they go to university or work, but with the way the world is right now we decided to ask a couple if they’d like to stay with us as coaches,” added Geoff.

“Luckily they accepted and have been a huge help. They’ve been a big hit with the other members of the club too, so it’s been really good to have them on board.”

With the staff numbers now ready for action when the club was allowed to resume, another factor to consider for the couple was how they would physically be able to teach the club when it came to actually rowing a boat.

“Again, the new staff helped a lot when it came to actually being out on the water. Because they were experienced, it meant we could set two pairs of two out on the water so the new starters could learn from them.”

With the students still keen to keep being a part of the club, it meant that yet more changes were made to keep everyone going over the course of the last few months.

“With the restrictions in place, it meant we couldn’t just get straight out onto the water,” Geoff went on to explain.

“The rules state that any boats we used had to be cleaned each time someone got out of them from the water, so I had to again think of a substitute somehow.”

“I think a lot of what appeals about rowing is physically getting onto a boat and being on the water, so the restrictions didn’t help at all in that sense.”

“But in the end and because of where we’re based, I was able to use a park bench down on Tyne Green in Hexham and make a mock-up of a boat to show everyone what I wanted them to do.

“It wasn’t ideal by any means, but it was a good way of getting across what I wanted to show the class and it was a help for sure.”

This idea of adapting how classes were taught has continued throughout the pandemic, with the club also having looked at how they kept appealing to a new school year.

“When September came, another thing we had to think about was how we were going to appeal to new people,” said Geoff.

“Times were, and still are, hard for everyone, so we decided to lower the membership costs to get people interested in the sport.”

“It was something we just wanted to do and luckily its been good from a numbers point of view. We have more members than ever before, and all but two decided to stay with us longer than that introductory period, which is great.”

Although the restrictions we all currently face appear to be coming to an end, Geoff also admitted that the sport is still in lingo when it comes to the future.

“Usually we’d be taking a team to competitions around now, but I don’t think anyone knows when - or if- they’ll be happening this year.”