Laburnum Boat Club’s founder Jim Armstrong awarded British Empire Medal in the Queen’s birthday honours list

Jim Armstrong at Laburnum Boat Club. Picture; Laburnum Boat Club.

Jim Armstrong at Laburnum Boat Club. Picture; Laburnum Boat Club. - Credit: Laburnum Boat Club.

Laburnum Boat Club’s founder Jim Armstrong has described being awarded a a British Empire Medal by the Queen a “great honour”.

Jim Armstrong set up the charity in October 1983 at a former gas works site earmarked for housing in Laburnum Street, Haggerston.

The charitable boating project on the banks of the Regents Canal, which provides water-based activities, is still going strong 37 years later, with as many as 400 young club members annually.

Publication of the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, which was finalised earlier this year, had originally been set for June - but it was postponed in order to include the people involved in the battle against coronavirus.

Jim was marked out for special recognition for his long-standing service to children and young people from around Hackney.

The 69-year-old told the Gazette that keeping his BEM a secret from his wife for four months has been difficult, but that he is thrilled his work has been recognised.

“Then of course it’s for work I’ve just enjoyed over the years,” he said.

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“I set the place up way back, and for my sins I’m still here, working with children and young people, doing kayaking, canoeing, trips away and going on narrow boats.”

The charity also works with disabled children’s groups and schools, and many of its members have gone through the ranks to become canoe instructors, skippers and rock climbing coaches.

Jim had been looking for a new project in the 80s after running a similar outfit in Islington, and a planner from Hackney Council suggested the Laburnum Street site would make a good spot for a boat club.

It was only supposed to be housed there for 18 months.

“There were three of us and we cleared the site,” remembers Jim. “We got the basin dredged, designed and built a club hut, and Sport England gave us kayaks and buoyancy aids.

“We just opened the gates and all these kids would flock in.

“There was suddenly all this colour and activity on the canal, which was otherwise quite dull and brown.

“It was a good activity for kids from the estates to get them off the streets. Kayaking is about expending energy and when they are in the boats they aren’t quite so cocky, and then they go away tired and wet and happy.”

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