If a random person on the street asked you to name three sports where you needed to be rich and part of an certain social set and demographic to do it, chances are in the past ‘sailing’ would have been one of the responses you would have got.

But thanks to the unbelievable amount of graft going on at grassroots levels through clubs, centres and our sailing development teams, that perception is definitely shifting. You’ve only got to look at Tees and Hartlepool YC – winners of the RYA Club Inclusivity Award at the RYA Suzuki Dinghy Show in March – as a great example why.

New adult training, growth in female and junior participation, increase in racing activity and disabled sailing opportunities – all at as low a cost as possible – shows how THYC’s approach to inclusivity is impacting both on the club and within a local community, which in late 2015 was listed amongst the most deprived areas in UK.

So how have they done it?

Knowing their audience

In 2014, sailing was chosen as one of the sports for Hartlepool Borough Council’s Community Sport Activation programme, Feel Good in Hartlepool, with THYC invited to be the delivery partner for this project. This included the appointment of a funded part-time Sailing Activator for a two-year fixed term through 2015 and 2016.

By working effectively with the local authority, the club, driven by the Sailing Activator, introduced initiatives to raise awareness of sailing and provide accessible opportunities for all locally.

These included running at least three free open days each year, some tailored and targeted at specific under-represented groups - women, people with disabilities and young people – so anyone could walk in off the street and try sailing. In addition the club also ran cheap holiday activities for youngsters, Level 1 sailing courses for as cheap as £5 and Sailability sessions for individuals and specific user groups.

The potential of all this was maximised as THYC’s own Publicity Officer working with the council press team to maintain a consistent presence in the local media, whilst getting the word out through regular social media updates and a club newsletter.

The demand created by all of this activity has certainly been notable, resulting in…

  • An increase in total attendances on the water between April-September 2016.
  • A 4.5% increase in people undertaking training from 2015 and 2016.
  • The number of Cadets more than doubling, from 20-30 in 2014 to over 60, including 25+ who regularly attend weekly sessions, in 2016.
  • A new Thursday night adult sailing session becoming part of the calendar.
  • The successful launch of a weekly ‘Ladies That Launch’ session in 2016.
  • Investment in new boats for disabled sailing plus increased integration of Sailability sailors into full club members taking part in training and racing. But with the funded two-year Sailing Activator post now ended, how is the club planning to sustain this success into 2017 and beyond?

Forging ahead

THYC adopted a business plan that started at the end of the Feel Good in Hartlepool funding and included employing a Club Development Officer in year three. Training Principal, Micky Early, is that Officer now charged with building on the success of the past two years.He explains: “We now have to ensure there is sufficient provision to allow current participants to progress in the sport and continue to provide opportunities for those new to sailing the chance get on the water through varied regular activity pathways.

“The weekly provision has proved such a success over the last year it will most definitely continue in the 2017 season.

“Our volunteers have worked tirelessly to get to this point whereby the club can consider itself in a position to sustainably employ an officer to maintain the level of provision that is currently being achieved and develop the whole club further.

“It is my job to make sure we keep growing THYC as somewhere that anyone from any walk of life is able to experience the joys of sailing, whether young, old, able-bodied, disabled, rich or poor.”

In addition Micky will be looking at supporting the development of the THYC facilities to bring in potential income to help fund the post while continuing to enable sessions that are accessible to all parts of the community at an affordable rate.

THYC will also be working with individuals who would like to volunteer and help out with some of these sessions by supporting them towards qualifications (Powerboat Level 2, Assistant Instructor, Dinghy Instructor etc).

Micky concluded: “We have to keep providing accessible opportunities. It has not all been plain sailing; there have been some major challenges along the way. But by meeting these head on we’ve ensured the club continues to be the best it can be.

“To have the dedication, hard work and resilience of our volunteers and members past, present and those no longer with us, recognised with this RYA Club Inclusivity Award was a major boost and motivator as we look ahead to the new season.”