“Our students have become more self-confident and independent as a result of this experience. Not only have they been introduced to a new sport but, through the excellent instruction they have received, they have learned and developed skills which reach far beyond sailing.” 

This time last year Shropshire SC was just starting out on it's OnBoard adventure - 12 months on and this is the type of feedback it is getting from teachers, this particular comment coming from PE teacher at Sir John Talbot’s School in Whitchurch. 

So what difference has OB made to to the club in its first year, what challenges have they had to adapt to and what lessons have they learned that could also be of help to other OB clubs? Training Principal, John Ridgers, gives us the lowdown...

What OB activity have you run in your first year?

We've run two OB courses based on the RYA Youth Stage 1 in dinghy sailing. Both have been very successful in terms of attendance and the positive feedback from the young sailors and their teachers. Initially it ran with just with The Marches School in September 2015, then broadening the partnership to include Sir John Talbot’s School in June 2016. Through the two OB projects we have introduced 22 youngsters aged 12-14 to dinghy sailing. We have also hosted sailing taster sessions for two further schools, The Lakelands Academy, Ellesmere, in partnership with the Shropshire Wildlife Trust, and Clive C of E Primary School.

What difference has OB made to your club?

The club has become much more visible to the local community through reports in the local newspapers, school websites and their social media sites. In parallel with other internal sailing initiatives like our Youth squad and Youth Race Squad, that travels to nearby clubs entering the NW Junior Travellers Trophy, there is now a real groundswell of youngsters and their families around the club. We have also been able access financial assistance through our County Sports Partnership (CSP), Energize Shrewsbury, Telford & Wrekin.

Have you had to tweak anything to make it work better for you?

Water activities of any kind are still seen with concern by many schools and youth associations. One of the benefits of becoming an OB club was the fee to get our Adventure Activities Licensing Authority (AALA) licence was waived. Having this licence is another ‘badge’, in addition to RYA Training Centre status, so that schools and youth organisations can feel fully confident we, as an activity provider, follow good, accredited safety management practices. During the set-up we also invited school representatives along to the club, provided our risk assessments and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for them and parents. Transporting a couple of club dinghies for rigging by students and innovative land drill instruction in the school sports hall took away the mystique of the sailing activities and allowed teachers and governors to see for themselves.

What has retention been like?

As part of our introduction package we offer each OB sailor a free club membership to encourage them to continue sailing with us, and where dates coincide with the club squad days, invite them along. From our September sessions we saw eight of the 10 individuals come along and be part of these activities. Unfortunately due to the storms that swept through last autumn that initial enthusiasm was lost due to them not being able to continue building on their progress. We've offered the same package to the 12 youngsters who attended in June and are much more hopeful with the summer ahead several will continue visiting us. 

What support have you received from the RYA to build your OB?

At national level Cat Ferguson has created an excellent website with lots of tips and information for adults and groups. I was able to refer the FAQ pages and adding to them to include local questions that could be asked. In the early days Cat was always available (and still is) to answer questions providing all the start-up merchandise that is available to clubs. 

Locally the support we have received from our Regional Development Officer, Gareth Brookes, has been brilliant. He has helped provide RYA coaches for our CPD day and for the training of club members to become RYA Dinghy Instructors. Further he has supported our successful applications with our CSP. Being familiar of our plans in his meetings with the CSP provided the confidence that the club’s regional and National Governing Bodies were involved and supporting the bids.

Our RYA Midlands Regional Communicator, Karenza Morton, has also been instrumental in us being able to celebrate the progress and success of our first year. She has provided a conduit into the RYA news websites and local newspapers with reports promoting our club achievements whilst working alongside the schools with their own reports to parents and social media sites.  

What's the next step for OB at Shropshire SC?

We are small sailing club and depend on volunteers from the club training team so plan to continue working with The Marches and Sir John’s Talbot’s schools. Both have indicated they would like to introduce their Sixth Form students (16–18) to dinghy sailing. Early plans are currently taking place to achieve this. We are also looking at the concept of a 'bring a friend' session, whereby a young sailor who has been part of the club’s OnBoard activities for a little while invites a friend along and takes them sailing, and are exploring additional ways of including other club activities under the OB umbrella. 

What are your Top 5 Tips to an OB club launching now?

  1. Have a clear and simple path for the OnBoard young sailors to become members.
  2. Welcome, encourage and include as many of the parents in shore-based activities wherever possible.
  3. Use the RYA’s OnBoard website pages.
  4. Use your RYA Regional and Sailing Development Officers and Regional Communicator to the full.
  5. Wherever possible include the young sailors in your club’s day-day sailing activities.