Getting youngsters hooked

It might not have the glamour of football or the adrenalin rush of boxing, so why are some schools in Yorkshire offering fishing trips in return for good behaviour? Phil Booth takes a trip to the lakeside

Mick Bradbury at his Fairview Fishing lakes, Cottingley, Bradford. Pictures by Bruce Rollinson

FARVIEW could not be better named. It stands between Bradford and Bingley, and from its banks you can see rolling hills, sweeping meadows and nature in all its glory for mile after mile.

But the vision being talked about at this idyllically picturesque fishery has nothing to do with the outstanding surroundings. Instead it is of that being shown by its owner on the banksides.

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Mick Bradbury is a former minibus driver. Now 52, he bought the plot of land at Cottingley seven years ago, originally intending to use it for stables.

Mick Bradbury at his Fairview Fishing lakes, Cottingley, Bradford. Pictures by Bruce Rollinson

Planning problems meant his horse project had to be reigned in, so instead he decided to copy ventures he had seen out towards Skegness, and created two fishing lakes.

Mick had never fished, and had to learn on the hoof. Helped by friends and the anglers using his twin lakes, he quickly mastered the art. But the big change in his life came when he saw the calming, steadying influence the sport of fishing was having on youngsters.

The kids would sit for hours, still, concentrating, while subconsciously drinking in the nature surrounding them. That has led Mick on an extraordinary journey for a minibus driver. First he spoke to the young anglers, then he approached local schools and has now personally taught more than 250 children how to fish.

The youngsters from eight primary schools now come from miles around, groups of 10 accompanied on their school buses by two teachers who supervise them while they catch to their hearts’ content.

The sport has hooked them to such an extent that fishing trips are now offered as rewards by some of the schools. An excellent writing or reading project could earn a young student a special treat of a few hours at Farview, using a fishing pole provided by the venue.

Mick hopes to take this even further. He now has planning permission to have a classroom on the site, and for two new, small lakes exclusively for the use of children, and is exploring funding options to get them up and running. Any doubts he initially harboured over the project were dispelled by a youngster with autism.

“He came with his school and I sat with him and showed him the maggots we were going to use as bait. As soon as he saw them he was shrieking and screaming and he ran back to the school bus. We managed to get him back, and showed him how to fish.

“A few minutes later he was putting the maggots on the hook himself, without really realising what he was doing. I pointed it out to him and he said ‘Yeah, I did that’ and grinned. He ended up catching the biggest fish of the day.”

Mick still has the thank-you letter the young lad sent him after getting back to school. In it, the youngster explains how he ‘had never felt so happy’ and was so excited he ‘played the air guitar all the way home’.

It was music to Mick’s ears.

“The smiles that fishing seems to put on the kids’ faces have to be seen to be believed. One of the schools has a huge wall full of pictures of the fishing.

“A lot of these kids would never have the chance to go fishing, and it’s great to see the difference it makes. Some of the schools now do Hook a Book, where if the children read so many books they get the chance of an afternoon’s fishing. I knew how well it was going when some of the kids persuaded their parents to bring them back during the school holidays.”

Eastwood Primary School at Keighley sends a group of children to the lakes once a week as part of an outdoor education programme which also includes archery, and allotments.

Chris Parker is one of the teachers who overseas the fishing experience.

“The children come three times and the aim is to give the whole school the chance to go fishing at some point. We feel it’s very important that they do things outdoors. We try to teach as much as we can, not just about the fishing, but the nature, the ducks, the flowers, the whole thing. It’s great for the children. They seem to have so many questions we can’t answer them all.”

Mick Bradbury’s desire to give the children a chance to learn about outdoor pursuits is mirrored by the Angling 
Trust, the governing body for angling, which seeks Government funding to develop the sport from grassroots participation through to international competitions.

It develops programmes with clubs to increase participation, particularly among youngsters who have yet to discover the joys of going fishing.

Frankie Gianoncelli, a 23-year-old from Brighouse, is the Trust’s Yorkshire and Humber regional officer.

He has fished matches at the highest levels and represented the England under 23 team, and helps provide support for clubs, fisheries and coaches to get more people involved in the sport.

“Angling is one of the oldest and most participated sports in the country, but it is vitally important that we engage with as many young people as possible in order to bring new blood into the sport,” he said.

“Angling can open up a wide range of new possibilities and opportunities to young people, it can be a bridge between a young person’s mental and social development, as well as providing further pathways in life.

“One of the best things about angling in my opinion is its openness, it’s one of the most inclusive activities open to young people, and people in general for that matter.

“You don’t have to be an expert or have been fishing for 20 years in order to enjoy it, all you have to do is go and fish and I’m confident that the majority of beginners will be hooked for life.”

The Trust has recently joined a national movement to reverse the generational decline in children’s connection to nature. The Wild Network involves more than 1,000 organisations, including the RSPB and the National Trust, and is calling for at least 30 minutes more ‘wild time’ for every child, every day.

Its mission is to ‘support children, parents and guardians of children to roam free, play wild and connect with nature. We believe all children should have the right to access the outdoors for play, learning, expression and development of healthy mind and body’.

Andy Simpson, chair of the Wild Network, said: “The tragic truth is that kids have lost touch with nature and the outdoors in just one generation. Time spent outdoors is down, activity levels are declining and the ability to identify common species has been lost.

“New research...illustrates the scale of the challenge with only one in five children aged eight to 12 years old having a connection with nature. An extra 30 minutes of wild time every day for all under-12-year-olds in the UK would be the equivalent of just three months of their childhood spent outdoors.”

A similar project has been run by the Countryside Alliance. Fishing for Schools, backed by the actor Robson Green, has been credited with boosting children’s self esteem and confidence, something Mick Bradbury has seen at first hand.

“Some of these children have never fished in their lives but they learn so quickly. It seems to give them so much calm.

“And it’s not just the fishing. There are woods, there are fields, so much for them to see.

“They come all through the year and the longer term plan is to have a classroom and two small lakes just for the children. If we get the classroom set up it would mean if the weather was bad we could teach them things, how to make floats, how to tie hooks, things that would encourage them to keep fishing.”

For Mick, it is a venture he could never have imagined 10 years ago when he was driving buses.

But for him, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and he has created a small field of dreams. Build it, and they will come.

“When the children come back in the school holidays, often with parents who themselves have never fished before, it’s incredible. It says it all.”