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Ullswater Yacht Club crowned RYA Club of the Year 

Recognised for increasing participation

In front of a packed crowd at the RYA Suzuki Dinghy Show, Ullswater Yacht Club have been named RYA Club of the Year. Beating off stiff competition, the Lake District club were selected as the overall winner by the RYA Awards Panel and were specifically recognized for their efforts in increasing participation.

RYA Club of the Year Finalists 2017:

  • Communication: Rudyard Lake Sailing Club
  • Facility Development: Whitefriars Sailing Club
  • Inclusivity: Tees and Hartlepool Yacht Club
  • Increasing Participation: Ullswater Yacht Club
  • Innovation: Heart of England Offshore Cruising Association

Ullswater Yacht Club

Storm Desmond in December 2015 was devastating, physically, to UYC - the only way to inspect the damage was from a RIB, using paddles, as the premises were deep under water. Here’s how the club managed to overcome the damage, rebuild their club and invite even more people than ever before to get out on the water.

Devastated by storms

Back in 2009, the club was inflicted to a similar flood damage which was so drastic that membership was declining, volunteers were over-stretched and a large committee was unable to respond adequately.

By 2013 the situation was grave and a major review began which led to the scrapping of the ‘big committee’ and replacement by a much smaller Management Board. Six specialist committees now report to it: Sailing, Membership, Finance, Site, Training and Hospitality.

That meant the Site and Finance teams could quickly respond to Storm Desmond, harnessing member skills and time (estimated at a value of £40,000) alongside other support. In March, the club was operating again with the Easter Regatta and fully open by July for the famous Lord Birkett Trophy Race which attracted 230 boats and also won the Event of the Year Award from Cumbria Tourism.

The restructuring brought other significant changes – professionals were brought in to provide catering, where feeding ninety to a hundred diners at weekends had previously been a job for volunteers. Their RYA Sailing School employed a Senior Instructor.

Volunteering effort was freed up to support sailing and training. Considerable numbers of club members took their qualifications to become Dinghy Instructors and Assistant Instructors.

‘One key objective became clear – the need to increase participation by recruitment and activities’.

Clear role descriptions were written and surveys conducted, informing decision-makers that more members wanted to go out and sail, than said racing was their main focus. One result has been the appointment of a Leisure Sailing Representative on the Sailing Committee and the adoption of “Friendly Friday” sessions.

While there are many local members at UYC, others come from further afield and tend to spend long weekends or holiday time at the club. For those who can make a long weekend for 20 weeks there is a Friday afternoon POETS Series for cruisers.

Sailing Secretary Julie Archer set up a Ladies Who Launch group at Ullswater, following a conversation in the changing room about confidence on the water. By the end of the first season, there were men wanting to join so a new initiative, Blokes with Boats was launched with the focus more on fixing craft and improving their skills and confidence. Both activities now take place on Saturday mornings in the season.

Start Racing sessions are held in the afternoon with a simple format of three practice starts followed by a real start and a one lap race with experienced racers giving tips from rescue boats.

Promotional drive

Following storm Desmond, membership numbers dipped so the club embarked on a promotional drive which was backed by a grant from Cumbria County Council. Among the measures was a stand at the Penrith Show, putting two boats there along with members signing people up for taster sessions. “A lot of local people didn’t know we existed or that we have dinghies as well as yachts,” says Marketing Officer Sue Giles.

Sue also signed up for the ‘#IamTeamGB’ promotion (between the National Lottery, ITV, Team GB and UK Sport).She was approached for images they could use and as plans and conversations developed, the club was invited to host one of the flagship regional events where cameras from ITV were on site and a variety of sporting tasters offered.

The club consolidated its own taster plans with that event and welcomed 1,000 people, taking 500 out on the water – the big team of instructors, plus some visiting help, coping well.

The sailing school was ready for the follow-up: a highly successful Go Sailing programme to which 70 people signed up, and the first six sessions of 2017 are nearly full. By the end of the year, 72 new memberships had been achieved – an increase of 27 overall- and after ‘#IamTeamGB’ the Penrith Canoe Club now use club facilities weekly.

“We are absolutely thrilled to be recognised by the RYA with this top award,” says Commodore Peter Lewis. “We have plans to enhance after-school clubs, ties with youth organisations and Big Splash, Little Splash for the school holidays.

“It has taken a lot of hard work by the volunteers but we are making it easy for people to get into sailing by being friendly and inviting. We will continue to enhance our offer,” he says.

Looking to the future

The most important project now is to build a new, insurable, clubhouse on higher ground. The club will be applying for planning permission soon, then tackling how to pay for it. Peter Lewis is confident they will once again rise to the challenge.

Find out more information about all RYA Club of the Year 2017 finalists. Applications for RYA Club of the Year 2018 will be invited later in the year. 

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