Elton SC’s OnBoarders were coming on nicely when, in 2015, the dam on the Bury reservoir where they sail underwent a second lot of essential repairs in six years, resulting in a total loss of water. The 2016 season was put on an enforced hold.
But with the water restored this year, Elton had to find a way to get their previous juniors back OnBoard while encouraging new groups to get involved. Six months on and the club are firmly back on track with up to 16 youngsters sailing every week, plus almost 40 adults – mainly the juniors’ parents - joining as members too.
So how did they do it? We caught up with Mike Seger, Junior Training Co-ordinator, to find out.
Rewind 12 months and what were you looking at?
We had around a dozen juniors recruited through our OnBoard activities with local primary schools that had a solid three or four years under their belts. Everything was set up for them to sail again last year but the dam works weren’t completed until late summer so everything went on hold. We’re a pretty social club and were fortunate that, even though they had a year out, most of them stayed with us.
What was the action plan to resurrect your juniors in 2017?
We had a programme in place for 2016 that never got used, so we picked that up for our existing sailors and it kicked off again in March. We also invited a Cub group for a Monday evening taster; 26 Cubs, including a couple of our OnBoarders, leaders and parents went out on the water. But we wanted to engage with more schools and community groups so took a slightly different approach to what we’ve done before.
We focused on recruiting through Open Days. We approached schools and different community groups and invited them to an Open Day specifically for OnBoard the week before our Push The Boat Out Open Day. There was a good response and from that we got four sailors. But the biggest success came from our Push The Boat Out day itself; this had a fantastic response as we had so many families for a change.
How did you convert that interest into regular attendance then?
We offered four weeks of extended tasters for adults and kids for £20. This wasn’t formal syllabus instruction, but enough to keep them interested. Because the adults and children came from families we got the course sign up - 39 adults did Level 1 in June and July and 16 kids signed up for the OnBoard sessions. These ran every Saturday from 10.30am-4pm, except for a three-week break in August, from May to October 14. We’ve also seen quite an increase in parents becoming active participants either as expert shore crew or taking one of our Sport England grant-funded Hartley 12s out at the same time as their kids are sailing.
What challenges did you face?
The sheer number of people we recruited was a challenge. It was fantastic to have so much interest, but at the first session we had 16 kids spread out over four Oppies! We’ve got 18 club boats and they were all used every week. Also some instructors prefer teaching adults, which meant calling on the same people all the time to support the kids. In one way this was good as the juniors and instructors built up a good rapport. But you’re always asking the same people to volunteer to help.
What are your plans for introducing a pathway to keep the new ones sailing?
The emphasis of the OnBoard sessions was on fun. I called it Junior Taming rather than Junior Training! Developing sailing skills almost sneaked up on them just by being on the water and learning how to handle a boat. But we’re pushing for a pathway now. It’s likely we will have to introduce another ‘progression’ session during the week and will need to expand our instructor base to deliver this to lighten the load on our volunteers. We’re meeting with our RYA Regional Development Officer, Adam McGovern, for ideas.
Where does racing fit in?
For our progressing OnBoarders, we held a junior fun race series on Friday evenings throughout the summer. We also successfully encouraged Sailing Committee to introduce a separate junior race series on a Sunday, which has been very well supported. This started as one separate junior start on Sundays in June, then the juniors took it on themselves to lobby for starts for all three races. As their confidence built, they wanted to start with the adults and it went from there.
How will you keep all the juniors engaged over the winter?
Our RYA Coach, Adam Savage, will be running a winter race-training programme for a number of selected sailors. But we want to keep the new ones involved too so are looking at doing a couple of days a month on the water or shore-based depending on the weather and what kit they have. One downside of making club boats available for the first year of membership is people don’t buy their own so they don’t make the commitment to investing in year-round kit. But that’s not insurmountable.
Sum up this year at Elton SC.
The whole junior scene has really taken hold. At the end of the season we had a parents and juniors race, which saw 19 boats on the water with only three helmed by adults. There were grandparents too! It really went down a treat and for most of the families it was their first chance to sail together. Encouraging these sailors to now look out for their own boats is important as we will need to free up the club boats to use for new people coming in. And we really do want to repeat this year’s success. We’ve laid down a strong foundation to build from again.