It’s common sense that folk will only stay in any sport if they enjoy it, and having decent facilities is a key part of that.

Over the past few years many sailing clubs across the country have taken advantage of Sport England Inspired Facilities funding to bring their site and buildings up-to-date and make them more accommodating for the audience they want to attract.

But sometimes things aren’t quite so simple, and it was this ability to not only think outside the box, but to throw the box away altogether, that saw Whitefriars Sailing Club claim the RYA Club Facility Development category at the RYA Suzuki Dinghy Show in March.

So what did they do? They developed a Training Barn using six shipping containers. Yep, you did read that right…

“The club has demonstrated for many years its commitment to engaging people of all ages and abilities in outside sports activity,” explains Commodore Simon Clark.

“But two key factors had led to us outstripping our ability to adequately serve our members and develop the club for the future; the lack of dry storage and provision of a covered training area.

“Neither of these things could be accommodated in the existing clubhouse, which was not designed to cater for the expanding range of club activities and could not be effectively modified to do so, so we needed an alternative solution.”

That alternative was the Training Barn.

How do you build a Training Barn?

Building new things from scratch is expensive, and as all good home improvement shows tell us, all the best-laid plans never quite work out as you expect.

Whitefriars  Sailing Club wanted to build a single-storey 278m2 agricultural-style barn that gave them the scope and flexibility to expand. But with cost the major consideration, and with the bulk of construction to be done by members, clever thinking was required. Using shipping containers as the basic supporting structure provided the answer.

Two rows of six modified containers were set 5.5m apart on concrete pad footings. Straight away this provided dry storage for both building materials and the sailing equipment from the club’s existing storage container.

A steel pitched roof and steel cladding, to mimic the clubhouse in finish and design, were added, with GRP panels for natural light. A concrete floor was laid between the containers, roller shutter doors were installed, electricity and water were connected and accessible toilets and racking were added to allow the Barn to be fully utilised.

The new development also enabled an area in front of the clubhouse to be cleared, and to ensure the site remains in keeping with the pretty natural surroundings of its Cotswolds location, this is being hard landscaped and will form additional seating and BBQ area to further enhance the club’s social appeal.

So it looks good, but what about the numbers?

“In the past we have had feedback from our own members about the club's facilities, together with requests from others for a larger indoor amenity,” Simon admits.

“This has especially affected our junior and disabled sailors, when bad weather has precluded them from getting on the water. The much-improved amenities are already showing the potential for the club to increase its capability in all sectors and encourage more people of all ages and abilities from the local area into the sport.”

With work ongoing on the Training Barn throughout last season, and completed over the winter, it is too soon to measure its direct impact on sailing participation or club membership. But the benefit the new facilities do provide certainly gives Whitefriars SC every chance of expanding their activities and building active membership.

Having better facilities for drying and storage of sailing equipment is a no-brainer, while the workshop space for boat repair and maintenance means less time with boats that can’t be used, whether club dinghies or RIBs for support/safety.

The new indoor area for training means not only is there somewhere suitable to decamp when poor weather stops sailing, but enables an increasing number of junior, adult and disabled sailors, new and existing, to take part in comprehensive training programmes, with equally robust theory and practical training elements.

Already a well-established RYA Sailability site, Whitefriars SC also now plans to further engage with local schools and youth groups.

Good management and its local popularity has ensured Whitefriars SC has been viable and financially sound over many years, and the anticipated income generated from having the new Training Barn will enable continued growth and stability.

It’s fair to say the future’s looking bright.

As Simon concludes: “We’re looking forward to taking full advantage of the opportunities the Training Barn will provide for the club's future development. To build on the club’s success, which goes back almost 60 years, we need to present a proactive image of sailing with up-to-date facilities to reflect the success of watersports. The Training Barn undoubtedly helps us achieve this.

“Enhancing the complete sporting, training and social package of the club will encourage a feeling of fellowship amongst users, and with the appropriate help and support, we can drive Whitefriars SC forwards as a leading watersports venue.”

Find more information about the RYA Club of the Year 2017 finalists here