White water when you want it - how very refreshing

29th August 2003 at 01:00
THIS extraordinary summer has underlined the advantages enjoyed by Wales's Canolfan Tryweryn, or National Whitewater Centre.

"NWC is a purpose-built whitewater training centre on the banks of the River Tryweryn," explains managing director Paul O'Sullivan. "The river is fed by the Llyn Celyn dam and reservoir - that means that the Tryweryn keeps flowing when other British rivers are dry."

Throughout the heat wave, the Tryweryn has kept on rolling along, so the centre has stayed busy with rafting and canoeing classes, as well as instructing UK Fire Brigade staff and other emergency workers in river rescue techniques.

But Mr O'Sullivan, a canoeing specialist, says it is not enough for the centre's canoeing, kayaking, rafting and other training activities to float along on the tide of Llyn Celyn's bounty. The centre is owned by the Welsh Canoeing Association, which is planning to splash out on an accelerated training and skills programme for the 14 staff and 75 or so freelance coaches and guides at the centre, based in Frongoch, near Bala in Gwynedd, North Wales.

The Welsh Canoeing Association manages canoe sport in Wales, and ploughs all profits from the centre, its biggest earner, into the sport. It has just become one of the first organisations in Wales to open a company learning account with ELWa, the lifelong learning organisation in Wales.

Company learning accounts were piloted by ELWa to encourage small firms with growth potential in Welsh priority industries such as leisure. An ELWa management development adviser meets with an eligible firm and helps to identify its skills and training needs, and then to bid for an ELWa contribution towards costs.

NWC provides whitewater rafting, coaching and rescue training, and is a world-class recreational and competitive canoeing centre. Its training and skills partner, ELWa, is responsible for post-16 education and training in Wales - for individuals, businesses, communities, and learning and research providers.

The Tryweryn centre has been used for kayaking and canoeing since the mid-Seventies. It has played host to the World Junior and Senior Wildwater Racing and Slalom Championships, as well as many other international competitions.

In 1986, the centre developed the UK's first whitewater rafting operation and is now the UK's largest and most respected rafting organisation.

Training is vital in developing and retaining staff," says Mr O'Sullivan.

"We mean to give people the skills to develop their careers as well as do their jobs properly.

"Opening the company learning account with ELWa helps us to plan our training programme. Ours is a specialist operation, and we sometimes need to bring in experts from abroad. For example, we run commercial water rescue training schemes for emergency workers - a growing field - and we are the UK agents for a US organisation, Rescue 3 International.

"To develop that franchise in the UK, we had to begin by bringing in American instructor-trainers, but with ELWa's help, we are now "growing our own" - so it's much easier to plan your training budget."

As the leisure sector is given priority in Wales, agreed training and skills projects can qualify for up to 50 per cent of their costs, Mr O'Sullivan explains.

The Tryweryn river is classed as grade three to four on a scale of one to six - the white water occurs on narrow, rocky stretches between a series of pools rather than all along the watercourse.

Providing there is a release from the dam, the lower section (from the camp-site to where the river empties into Lake Bala) is open from December 1 to February 28 and on some summer weekends as well.

The centre section, which contains the most demanding rapids, is open all year round, and a third, the dedicated safety and rescue training site, is closed to public access whenever courses are running.

Many water releases from the dam are decided only a few days in advance.

There are scheduled releases on some weekends of the year when the centre holds special events such as the Five Ten Coaching Festival on September 6-7.

The centre undertakes safety and rescue training for two agencies, the Welsh Canoeing Association and the British Canoe Union, meeting the needs of coaches and canoeists throughout the UK. Rescue 3 courses are an internationally recognised benchmark for professional river guides and emergency service workers.

Clients for the centre's closed training and coaching courses include the UK Fire Brigades, the Environment Agency, the Royal Marines, Joint Services Expeditions, and a number of outdoor education centres.

The five waterside coaching buildings have classrooms which can be hired out to the likes of Olympic training squads and other interested groups.

For details of events held at the National Whitewater Centre, see www.welsh-canoeing.org.uk, or call the Water information line on 01678 520826

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