Tapping into the Corinthian spirit of taking part and the expertise of its members led to one sailing club in the capital turning around its fortunes and winning the Increasing Participation category of 2018's RYA and Yachts & Yachting Club of the Year Awards.
A variety of dinghy and yacht sailing initiatives at London Corinthian SC have engaged both existing and new members across all ages, backgrounds and skill levels.
Three years ago the club was making a loss with a membership of just 460; thanks to a growing programme on the water and an overhaul of its website and social media, the club's most recent figures reveal a profit of £6,000 and a membership which has grown to just over 500.
Sailing in the city
As membership secretary Matt Wright explains, a key factor in the club's success has been the willingness of its members to take ownership of the various projects which have boosted the club's appeal for people living and working in the capital.
Parents have been supported and have worked together to create a vibrant family section, which has included organising a crèche, safety training and DBS checks, and the purchase of safety netting for yachts to encourage families to sail with their youngsters. While some members own their own yachts, the norm is to charter yachts for cruising and racing, which makes for great camaraderie and also enables non-local members to join or stay in touch.
A ‘Toe in the Water’ programme meanwhile was introduced for newcomers and novices - benefitting from two additional club Enterprises thanks to part-funding from Sport England. There's also ‘Riverbanking’ for those wanting a sociable sail and ‘Wacky Racing’ providing fun short courses and an informal introduction to racing, bridging the gap into club racing.
The pathway was initiated by London Corinthian Trust chairman Adam Newell, who himself went from novice to confident sailor thanks to the programme, says Matt: "He was the evangelist saying 'we have a lot of new members, we need to ensure that they are confident in their sailing ability and we want to engage them as much as possible, as early as possible'. Although we're a gregarious club and were doing that organically by saying 'come along this Saturday we'll find a helm to sail with you and teach you to race', he branded it with a name and created a programme for it."
WhatsApp and email groups support the programme, enabling those new to the sport to sail with experienced helms and with safety boat drivers on the water, while a crew-matching process ensures the double-handed fleet is well subscribed too, along with match racing.
The club has also reached out to attract students and young people in their 20s - reducing the impact of an ageing membership - and has been successful in attracting non-UK nationals, resulting in an eclectic membership mix representative of London.
Meeting the demands of all this increased activity afloat has seen the club expanding its dinghy launching capacity, with investment to double the length of its pontoon, create a new drying room and gear storage, and make kit and equipment available to new sailors.
Spreading the word
Integral the club's marketing strategy has been members raising awareness about the club word of mouth, while those with professional expertise in the communications industry have volunteered their time to upgrade the website and promote the club on Facebook.
This has included looking at search engine optimisation to drive more traffic to the website, ensuring it is visually appealing and mobile friendly, with key words and phrases to bring it to the top any Google listings for sailing, RYA training and west London.
The club has put good photos on Google maps and reviews, and has an annual budget of around £1,000 for advertising using Google AdWords and its Facebook page; in synergy with the latter, the club also has a Dinghy Sailors in the City group, and with good content its Facebook presence has rocketed from the hundreds to the thousands.
"I don't think what we've done online is rocket science," says Matt. "We've just tried to leverage the talent of our members and we were lucky enough to have people who knew about websites and social media."
He adds that the starting point is to think carefully about your audience: "We have to market to people in west London and think about that and the nature of people who are going to be here and the type of sailing they want. We're just west of Hammersmith Bridge on a reasonably broad stretch of the Thames with good wind for sailing.
"We also have herons and even had a seal last year who sat on our pontoon for a week, so we talk about sailing here being a great escape from the pressures of the city. It gives people a chance even within the confines of London to totally get away from it all."
Find more information about all RYA and Yachts & Yachting Club of the Year finalists and the award here
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