Helping people feel part of the watersports community

Cheddar Watersports uses a very personal approach to building and retaining membership
11 Feb 22
A crowd of dinghies on the lake at Cheddar Watersports

Cheddar Watersports (also known as Bristol Corinthian Yacht Club) in Axbridge, Somerset has welcomed a total of 283 new members (a 60% increase) in the past year, and family membership has more than doubled! This huge boost to the numbers has been helped by the ‘staycation’ trend in the wake of Covid-19, but is mainly down to the club’s very personal approach to its members.

Adrian Heasman, a member of the club’s General Committee explains: “We do as much as we possibly can to help members feel part of our community. As well as offering face-to-face tours, taster sessions, training, active social media and a comprehensive website, we invite members to join WhatsApp groups that match their watersports interests, a buddy system that allows sailors to get on the water safely any day of the week and lots of social activities. We have an extensive range of kit for hire, so beginners or those who want to try something new can try different types of boat, windsurfer, SUP or kayak at low cost and see what they enjoy most. We offer sailing, windsurfing, and paddle sports for all ages and abilities on the 265-acre reservoir owned by our landlords, Bristol Water.”

Most recently, club volunteers have been producing ‘how do I?’ videos and professional photographs for the website, adding them to the standard written procedures, to help people who learn visually. These help to explain things like finding your way around the club. Now, they’re going to add drone imagery of people on the water too. 

The club has an ethos of ‘doing things for others’ and every member between the ages of 18 and 75 is asked to carry out two duty sessions every year. To help new members understand the duties, they are offered an induction course, during which they spend a day going through all the activities of the club, including powerboat safety and RIB launching, after which they’re asked to sign up to the duty that ‘fits’ them best. “It’s all about encouraging people to come down, socialise, help each other and enjoy the club more,” says Adrian.

Staying safe
Through its arrangement with Bristol Water, the club provides safety cover on the water every Saturday and Sunday, and on a Wednesday evening for racing between April and October. However, from April to October the very successful buddy system means that if someone wants to go out at another time, they can form a buddy group so they can watch and support each other. This system was particularly successful during the pandemic, when club facilities were closed but people were allowed to exercise outdoors. It’s an electronic process, using the WhatsApp group to buddy up, and the website to book it all. 

An RYA Training Centre, the club runs a wide range of dinghy and windsurfing courses, as well as paddlesports and kayak training for all age groups. It also offers taster sessions and has bought two very large SUPertanker paddleboards that take up to 12 people so that groups such as Guides and Scouts can come down and have a fun time on very safe water. 

Fifty percent of club members are into windsurfing, often alongside their dinghy interests. Now Bristol Water has given permission for foiling and wing foiling activities which have grown in popularity, because inland water is ideal for learning safely. Members use the relevant WhatsApp group to arrange buddy groups and access to the water, learn from each other and buy and sell equipment. 

Some other local clubs, particularly on the coast, don’t sail during the winter months, so Cheddar Watersports offers a favourable rate for winter membership for members of those clubs, which increases the safe sailing opportunities for very keen all-year sailors. 

Encouraging youth and family sailing

The club’s Axbridge Animals T15 section has been very successful in youth windsurfing for many years. This coming season the club aims to split the team into two to encourage new youngsters and still retain the older ones up to age 18. A lot of former T15 members have become coaches, part-funded by the club, and they pay that back by giving their time teaching on the water.

As an RYA OnBoard club, the club has groups, mainly from schools, coming through each year. In addition, the Sea Cadets have set up a hub here, storing their craft and equipment and in exchange doing weekend safety cover and race officer team duties, learning the skills of dealing with older sailors in the process! 

Offering accredited instructor training to members in their late teens, the club then pays them to be part of the instructor team, keeping a youthful aspect to activities.

A very social club
Cheddar Watersports spent a lot of time and money prior to the pandemic enhancing the club building to invest in the future. “We try very hard to think about what to do onshore as well as on water,” says Adrian. “We run talks during the winter, often by some very successful youngsters. We encourage them to come and talk and enthuse other youngsters and keep that area of the club very active. Our annual prizegiving is not just for top sailors but runs right through the club and everyone feels part of it.”

Traditionally, the club operated like a lot of others, with members doing the catering. But recently that all changed. They have agreed a professional arrangement with a local company, Antonia’s Deli, and they are excited to see the possibilities and results of this over the coming year.

Doing as much as possible
Adrian summarises the club’s attitude: “We use the personal touch, the written word, photography and videos to communicate with our members, and there are probably 20-30 people who are actively helping with this. Our Bosun has a group who come in and keep the training boats in good order and we have a facilities team who organise tasks. We have an extensive range of kit for hire, so if you’re a beginner you can hire the club equipment, and it’s not expensive. You can try different types of boat or kit, and see what you prefer before buying new, or from other club members.

“We try and do as much as we can and we’re a very involved club from every perspective.” 

Photo credit: AaronGeisPhotography_07583411876