Banbury Sailing Club is looking forward to the new season as a recognised RYA Sailability centre with a commitment to ensuring its activities are accessible as possible for all ages and abilities.
Following its first successful year of Sailability recognition in 2022, the club now has three accessible Hansa dinghies and is actively seeking ways to meet the needs of current and future members.
Located at Boddington reservoir in Northamptonshire, the club says: “While we are still working to improve our facilities and are not yet able to accommodate sailors with every type of disability, we are very keen to do what we can to help any new or existing members who may need support.”
The club has an open invite to its local community encouraging anyone thinking of trying sailing, and any previous sailors with concerns about getting on the water, to get in touch.
Its commitment to becoming a Sailability centre has included:
Accessibility information on the club’s website includes photos and details such as: the entrance gate being on casters but with members available to help if needed; gravel surfaces which may cause difficulties for wheelchair users or those with walking difficulties; the location of staircases, the level route into the clubhouse and the disabled toilet; obstacles and trip hazards for visually impaired visitors such as internal columns and tie downs in the boat park.
The online documents are also reassuring visual guides for visitors and children who may be anxious or neurodivergent and struggle with visiting new and unfamiliar places.
Work is now ongoing, including plans to make the whole club veranda accessible with ramps.
There is no hoist but training is provided to participants and volunteers to ensure safe transfer to and from boats, and where the club is unable to accommodate a person’s needs, it redirects to larger Sailability clubs.
Preparation towards becoming Sailability accredited began in 2019 and included a site visit to Northamptonshire club Cransley SC and an RYA Disability Awareness Training Day at the club.
By the end of 2020 the club had drafted a Disability Statement and in 2021 attended the virtual RYA Sailability Conference during the pandemic. Members have also attended RYA Midlands Affiliated Clubs Conferences and Regional Training Days to continue tapping into learning opportunities.
As a small club, Banbury aims to integrate Sailability with its activities rather than have it operating as a separate section. It’s advice to other clubs is that Sailability does not have to be daunting.
Sailability Sub Committee member Andy Darby, who started the process towards Sailability recognition during his time as Commodore, explains: “You don’t need to dive in at the deep end with Sailability, you can just start with what you have already got and introduce it gradually. We thought we’d need wheelchair access and that it’s all about helping those who are physically disabled but you start to realise there’s a broad spectrum of people who you can support.
‘You don’t need special equipment, for example, to support a visually impaired, deaf or neurodivergent person, you just need to be open minded to work out what they need and what you can do at your club to make it possible for them to get on the water, or look at what you need to do to make it possible in the future.”
Positive outcomes so far have included: sessions for a charity working with children who have mental health challenges; a former Solo sailor who was struggling to get out now racing a Hansa instead; and supporting a member with dementia who is unable to drive but still able to helm.
Sailability coordinator Emily Castle adds: “People forget that limited mobility is not the only form of disability. If you take wheelchair out of the equation, most people with disabilities can walk. It’s a case of reframing what you understand to be a disability and you’ll find it includes a lot of your existing members – and that there is a lot more you can do.
“It’s about a shift in culture and attitude and understanding. You just need a little bit of empathy and to see disability not as people who can’t do things but instead recognise what people can do. Different and difficult are not the same word.
“It doesn’t take much to adapt for say a visually impaired or deaf or neurodivergent person. It might just mean a little more time allowed on a course or someone going out with them in a boat. It’s about being welcoming and willing to have a conversation to see what people need.”
RYA Disability Awareness training is available for clubs and centres wanting to develop the knowledge and confidence to help disabled people take part in boating and feel welcome.
Around 1 in 5 people have a disability, with 70% aged over 50, so living with impairments, long term health conditions and getting older is part of the experience for a significant number of people, including boaters and club members.
Many people may not think of themselves as disabled but still face barriers that limit their activities on the water. The one-day RYA Disability Awareness course includes frameworks, identifying and removing barriers, and adopting a person-centred approach to deliver opportunities.
Clubs find the benefits of working towards greater disability awareness and Sailability accreditation include: attracting new members and volunteers; keeping people sailing for longer; helping people back into the sport, young and old; a chance to be at the heart of their community.
RYA Midlands Disability Development Officer Brett Cokayne said: “It's not as hard as you think, you just need a commitment to making your club or centre welcoming and improving access wherever possible. You don’t necessarily need specialist equipment such as a hoist, start by assessing what you have already got, reach out to those who would like to participate, and develop your offer along the way. And remember that the RYA is here to help, so if you would like to find out more, we’d love to hear from you!”