HOW WE STARTED
Our story starts in the United States. The Mayfly Project was founded in Arkansas in 2015 by Jess and Laura Westbrook. Soon after the birth of their first child, Jess experienced intense anxiety attacks and found that all of his worries and anxious thoughts seemed to disappear as soon as he stepped into the water with his fishing rod. After an introduction to an organisation that was mentoring children in foster care, Jess envisioned a way to give back to his local community through fly fishing, a sport that he had used as a therapeutic tool to help him to heal. Jess and Laura decided to set up The Mayfly Project with an aim to support children in foster care through fly fishing, providing them opportunities to get out on an adventure, which is something these kids don’t often get to experience.
Then Kaitlin Barnhart, a fly fisher and mental health practitioner from North Idaho came across The Mayfly Project’s colourful mayfly logo created by the famous fly fishing artist, Andrea Larko. The logo caught her eye and through conversations with the artist, Kaitlin discovered that the organisation’s work closely aligned with hers. Kaitlin had been taking children in foster care fly fishing since 2006, using fly fishing as a way to decompress from a stressful career working with children's social services and young offenders, many of whom were in foster care. Once Kaitlin realised how beneficial fly fishing was for foster children specifically, it became her mission to lead this population to the rivers. “I realised that not only did fly fishing provide mental rest, it was empowering the children I worked with — they were proud of themselves and felt good about what they were accomplishing, which is so important for this population specifically,” Kaitlin said.
In 2016, Jess and Laura partnered with Kaitlin to create the national programme, bringing the benefits of the fly fishing mentorship to children in foster care in other states. The Mayfly Project became a national 501(c)(3) non-profit organisation with a mission to change the lives of children in foster care across the USA through fly fishing. Since then, the organisation has grown throughout America where they have mentored nearly 1,400 foster children in the sport.
Hello UNITED KINGDOM!
In 2018, The Mayfly Project founder Jess Westbrook won the Orvis Breaking Barriers Award which honours individuals or organisations who bring new communities into fly fishing. This caught the attention of fellow fly fisher Susan Skrupa, who was looking for a way to give back. Susan was born and raised in New York where her father taught her to fish and instilled an appreciation for the outdoors. The lessons of those formative years stayed with her and resurfaced when she relocated to the United Kingdom in 2008.
Like Jess and Kaitlin, Susan recognised the power of time spent in nature and fly fishing to transform the spirit. Having lost her father (and mother) as a young adult, she was forced to grow up quickly and redefine the notion of family. Through the sport, she found a new fly fishing family and a renewed sense of belonging. Susan reached out to The Mayfly Project with the intention of giving back what her father had given to her—an appreciation for nature and fly fishing. Several Instagram messages, followed by a few emails led to a conversation with Jess and Kaitlin—and the roots of the first international outpost were forming.
With the support of the US team, The Mayfly Project UK was launched in the United Kingdom in late Summer 2021 as an independent, charitable incorporated organisation (CIO) in England and Wales. Whilst the two organisations may be an ocean apart, our mission remains the same—to use fly fishing as a catalyst to mentor children and young people in foster care, providing opportunities for them to have fun, build self-esteem, learn new skills and develop a meaningful connection with the natural world.
Our journey so far
They say it takes a village … at The Mayfly Project UK, we say it takes a #FlyFishingFamily. In our first season, we received the warmest welcome to British shores! We established our foundation and built a strong community of supporters. We registered and trained a team of dedicated volunteer mentors, gained the support of governing bodies and leading brands in the fly fishing and outdoor industries, and welcomed our first group of mentees.
In our inaugural season, we started small with just two projects. This allowed us the space to test the programme in the United Kingdom and to gain the trust of the local fostering communities. Over 10 project sessions, we mentored young people aged 8-14 from varied care experienced backgrounds and with our structured approach and high-level engagement—the mentees thrived! Many positive memories were created though the bond of fly fishing. We’ve even heard reports that our first mentee has been back at the venue and is continuing his fly fishing journey…
UK Founder, Exec Director
Our awesome mentors
At the heart of our organisation is our team of volunteer mentors. We are honoured to work with a passionate, dedicated team who understand the value in the gift of time and fly fishing for foster children specifically. The one-to-one support our mentors provide—spending time with children in our projects introducing them to fly fishing—can be life changing. There is no pressure for them to be a certain way or meet an expectation; they are there to learn how to fish and to take a break from their everyday lives. Our mentors are not therapists, caseworkers or anyone trying to decide where they are going next, but they are there to teach them new skills, be good role models and provide a safe environment for them to flourish. In our first season, we registered 22 mentors (our goal was 8!) to help us deliver our projects and the team is growing every day.
donors and supporters
The Mayfly Project UK is funded by donations from our supporters and this funding is crucial as we develop our programme nationally. Our projects are free of charge for participants and their foster families, social workers, case workers or residential home staff. Please consider a one-time gift, a monthly donation, or a donation to a specific project to help us ensure our projects reach more children in need. We also benefit from the support of corporate donors, grant funding and governing bodies. For a full list, please see below or view our Annual Report.
We hope to expand The Mayfly Project UK to connect with more children and young people in care as we develop our programme nationally. Our projects are community based and we always need help, including volunteers, mentors, ambassadors, donors, fundraisers and support sharing our success with the world. If you would like to get involved, please contact us using the Connect With Us form on this website. We truly believe in the term #FlyFishingFamily and are thankful to have support in many forms!
“A win for us is a simple smile, a moment of joy in an otherwise stressful life.”
– Susan Skrupa, TMPUK Founder