The Big Weekend hosted by Plas Menai National Outdoor Centre has inspired the RYA Cymru Wales boating community with new ideas and know-how for navigating the future of our sport.
Instructors and representatives from clubs and centres across Wales came together for the event over the weekend of 14-15 October 2023 for the theme Explore, Experiment and Equip.
The event was for anyone involved in running a club or centre or supporting its activities, whether as a paid member of staff or as a volunteer, and feedback from delegates has highlighted not only the knowledge gained but also the value of coming together to develop skills and network.
Alongside essential updates for all, RYA Cymru Wales shared its five-year draft strategy 2024-2029 for consultation and launched its new Impact Awards, inviting nominations to celebrate the achievements of those who make a difference by supporting activities afloat.
The hands-on conference also saw attendees getting outside and on the water, including the chance to try winging and SUPing, sessions for aspiring trainers, safety boat and Swim Safe skills, and learning about guiding as a way to enhance activities.
CEO James Stuart said: “The light wind conditions were perfect for many of the sessions and for encouraging people to think about the activities they offer and the importance of how they might be developed and diversified. A massive thank you to Plas Menai for hosting and to everyone who came along and supported to make it a really positive weekend!”
Rydal Penrhos RYA Sailing and Water-sports Training Centre commented on Facebook: “Thank you to all who delivered the RYA Cymru Wales Big Weekend at Plas Menai for great CPD learning, networking, new ideas and collaboration, sailing… and so much more!”
Chris Jones, Training Principal of 2023 RYA Club of the Year finalist Gresford SC, who delivered a presentation about his club’s experiences, added: “A great weekend of coming together and networking. Inspiring volunteers, instructors, coaches and others adding new dimensions.”
Also at The Big Weekend was Anglesey-based charity SEAS Sailability, who ran a session exploring ways to make activities accessible for all. Richard Horovitz, Chair of Trustees, said: “It was an extremely useful event and I was delighted at the number of people who wanted to learn from our experience in all sorts of areas of running SEAS. We made some excellent connections that we are following up, all to the benefit of our participants. I’m more than happy to help and assist any clubs that would like to know more about how we make activities accessible.”
As Sarah Bagley of Windswept Watersports summed up: “It was a great weekend, lovely to see so many people out on the water trying something new. Highlight for us was the inclusion of all access watersports and to see how interested everyone was in trying to incorporate a more inclusive rage of activities in their centres and clubs, this was so positive to see.”
With around 50 attendees each day, the mix and wide variety of land and water options proved popular, and other feedback so far has included:
With RYA expertise from head office in Hamble on hand, delegates also seized the opportunity to ask questions across a range of nuts and bolts topics such as legal issues.
While many sessions focussed on the practical hard skills of getting more people on the water more often, The Big Weekend also unlocked opportunities to think about the softer skills which can then help clubs and centres to add value for their members and customers.
One session was titled Keys to the Blue Realm, exploring with adventure training expert Myles Farnbank the benefits of including guiding skills in the toolkit.
Myles explains: “We explored a range of techniques and knowledge areas that can potentially add value to our sailing experiences. Everything from coastal ecology and cultural history to folklore, Welsh language, poetry and more. This prompted a rich discussion of the affordances of place and we wrapped up with a discussion of how training in this area could be valuable at all levels of sailing from school groups through to CPD for sailing instructors and trainers.”
For those who would like to see Myles again or who missed his session this time around, he has also been invited to present at the RYA Training Conference in Oxford in January 2024.
Keep up to date with all the latest opportunities for clubs, centres and instructors by following @RYACymruWales on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter) and Instagram and by bookmarking our Home Country RYA Cymru Wales news hub.