Leicestershire sailing charity celebrates new clubhouse

Modern facilities replace sheds and mud at country park hub
12 Oct 22
Group photo (L-R) Mayor of Charnwood Cllr Tillotson, LRYSA's Keith Lynch, Lord-Lieutenant Michael Kapur cutting a red ribbon to officially open LRYSA's new clubhouse, and LYRSA's Colin Magee

Dedicated volunteers at Leicestershire & Rutland Youth Sailing Association are celebrating after turning their dream of a new clubhouse into a reality.

The £350,000 project has spanned five years and was made possible thanks to countless volunteer hours, fundraising and grants, and the generosity of supporters.

LRYSA previously operated from a muddy compound with a collection of sheds and a portable toilet, with no electricity or running water. It is now able to run its activities from a gravelled boatyard with a modern clubhouse, which includes a large classroom, changing rooms and showers, disabled access and a smaller training room with a kitchen area for catering.

The official opening of the new clubhouse for LRYSA at John Merricks Lake, Watermead Country Park near Leicester, took place on Saturday (8 October 2022).

Lord-Lieutenant Michael Kapur OBE, the official representative of His Majesty The King for the county and city of Leicester, cut a red ribbon to mark the occasion alongside Mayor of Charnwood, Cllr Jennifer Tillotson, and LRYSA President Keith Lynch.

Mr Kapur made reference to King Charles III and his role as a “great advocate of young people and making sure we have opportunities for them to ensure their life chances can be improved” and said it gave him great pleasure to be at the opening of “this wonderful new facility”.

LRYSA President Keith Lynch praised the tremendous effort of the volunteers who had made the project possible. He said: “This has been a long journey for us to achieve the opening of this building and boat yard and I’d like to thank all of the people who’ve been involved.”

Group photo of LRYSA volunteers and members by the lake celebrating the opening of their new clubhouse with Mayor and Lord-Lieutenant their special guests for the day.

Portable building

Leicestershire County Council helped to kickstart the clubhouse project by making available a portable classroom which was no longer needed at a local school. LRYSA then organised moving the building, with volunteers helping to prepare the foundations and transform it into a modern clubhouse to support the association’s activities.

LRYSA was also grateful to receive Sport England funding plus support from a variety of other sources, including LCF GrantScape, RYA Foundation, Comic Relief, a Shire Community Grant, John Merrick’s Sailing Trust, Mick George, Postcode Community Trust, Samworth Brothers, Charnwood Community Facilities Grants, Community Foundation and Edith Murphy.

The project was led by LRYSA Principal Colin Magee, supported by General Secretary Jill Magee, who said: “We want to say a big thank you to all those who have helped fund the project – without them we couldn’t have done it – and to our volunteers. We did a lot of the work ourselves – digging foundations, laying pipes and paving slabs, painting and decorating, and the most hard working volunteers were our senior citizens group with their lifetime of skills who rolled up their sleeves to help.

"The Covid pandemic held up progress but we reached our target thanks to the combined effort of all our volunteers. We now have inside toilets, changing and shower facilities for the first time! It’s a phenomenal achievement given that we’re all volunteers.”

A view of LRYSA's old facilities before work began on the new clubhouse can be seen below.

Two pictures of sheds and compound used by LRYSA before the opening of the new clubhouse.

Making it happen

LRYSA was originally founded in 1967 at John Merricks Lake by Colin Magee (pictured below, front and centre) and the late John Buckingham to make sailing accessible and affordable for all and to promote sailing for schools and cadet groups. Over the years it has operated from a variety of venues but returned to make John Merricks Lake its base in 2017, leading to the project to build a new clubhouse.

The main costs of the project related to moving and re-siting the building, connecting the water and electricity supply, planning and legal costs. LRYSA achieved its aims by:

  • Strong links with its local authority which led to Leicestershire County Council identifying a portable classroom which would no longer be needed at the school where it was located.
  • Support from RYA Midlands and particularly Sailing Development Officer Howard Nelson, who was able to assist with finding and accessing grant funding.
  • Tapping into the expertise of its volunteers: LRYSA chair Keith Lynch is an architect who was able to help with applying for planning permission; Becky Sharpe who has a surveying/engineering background, and treasurer Fiona Caton.
  • Teamwork: a dedicated team of volunteers pulled out all the stops to keep costs down, helping to dig out the foundations, level the compound, lay slabs, carry out carpentry and help with painting and decorating.

LRYSA instructors celebrate clubhouse at John Merricks Lake near Leicester

Inclusive for all

Around 300 regular participants aged 8 to 80 benefit from the work of the charity, which aims to make sailing accessible and inclusive for all and particularly for young people who might not otherwise have an opportunity to experience sailing.

LRYSA is an RYA Recognised Training Centre and Sailability venue offering a range of courses and sessions throughout the year. Activities include learn-to-sail courses, a Saturday morning club for children, Tuesday morning senior citizens group, Sailability for disabled people and schools sessions for children with special needs.

Assistant Instructor Gareth James, who learned to sail with LRYSA four years ago, said: “When I first started here the changing facilities were old chicken sheds, the compound was a quagmire and we had no electricity, no heating and no water! But it was inexpensive and relaxed and it’s a friendly group of people. The new clubhouse has made a tremendous difference and it’s been made possible not only by all the volunteers but also through the generosity of who have donated funding, buildings and boats.”

View of the new level and gravelled boat park created by volunteers at LRYSA.


Among those celebrating the opening of the new clubhouse was Saturday morning regular Edwin Jones, aged 15, from Leicester, who first joined around five years ago and now enjoys racing and supporting activities as a helper.

He said: “I watched Swallows and Amazons and thought that looked fun, came to an open day here and signed up for a course. There was a very community type atmosphere and it felt like a family. Everyone knows each other and it’s affordable, and there is a wide variety of boats ranging from doublehanders and boats for disabled people to really good racing boats.”

The facilities also include new storage units and a workshop and as senior instructor Brett Haywood sums up: “I remember instructing here in a shed with a whiteboard on my knee and now we have a beautiful classroom with proper IT and a projector. For those of us who are here week in and week out, we find the transformation quite amazing!”

LRYSA youth sailor Edwin Jones by boats on shore.

Further information

LRYSA is an RYA (Royal Yachting Association) Recognised Training Centre and Sailability venue offering a range of sailing and powerboat courses and sessions for all ages. Find out more at www.lrysa.org.uk

If your club has a project planned or underway, explore the RYA Funding Finder to search for grants and find out about all the latest funding opportunities.

For further support with any aspect of club development planning, remember the RYA Midlands team is here to help and can be contacted via Regional Development Officer Ben Hodgson.

Your club may also want to sign up for the RYA Midlands Affiliated Clubs Conference, our one-stop shop for club development know-how! Register for your free ticket to join us on Saturday 19 November at the National Memorial Arboretum.

New clubhouse for LRYSA, Leicester.