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Club of the Year success at South Staffordshire Sailing Club

This is the fourth instalment in a series of case studies, examining the achievements and examples of best practice from this year’s Club of the Year finalists.

The 2019 RYA and Yachts & Yachting Club of the Year Awards supported by Gallagher were the biggest ever, and the RYA Awards Panel were blown away by the fantastic work, innovation and outstanding achievement of all of this year’s 11 finalists. Read on to find out more about this month’s featured finalist.

Established for over 60 years, South Staffordshire Sailing (SSSC) is located south of Stafford, and is known for being an extremely friendly club that welcomes new members.

Having previously won the competition in 2011 and been recognised for their efforts 'embracing modern communications' this year, here Rear Commodore Tim Coleshaw, tells us more about what makes SSSC such a successful sailing club.

Standing out from the crowd

“We believe there are three main reasons why our club stands out from the crowd” says Tim.

“Firstly, we have stuck rigidly to only permitting a small number of dinghy classes (currently GP14, Lark, Firefly, OK and Solo for adult sailing) so that competitive class racing forms the basis of our sailing programme. We believe this gives a better racing experience and increases the level of skill within the fleet - the current GP14 World Champion and Lark National Champion are both members of SSSC.

Secondly, the club is run entirely by volunteers, thus fostering a strong community spirit within the club. In addition to running the galley, bar and undertaking all maintenance work at the club, our recently finished changing rooms and training room were also largely built by club volunteers, making good use of the wide variety of professional and trade skills that we have in our membership.”

Finally the club has a very large and active junior section (20% of the club’s membership) and regularly have over 40 junior sailors on the water on a Sunday morning. The club has worked hard to ensure the young sailors and their parents are integrated with the club via social events, races and sharing actives and achievements via social media platforms. In addition to forming a significant part of the membership, younger sailors provide a huge amount of energy and enthusiasm which benefits the club as a whole.

 

Introducing new initiatives

The club regularly reviews its sailing programme to make sure that it meets the need of its membership and provides something for everyone. A recent initiative has been the formation of a ladies sailing group which has been a huge success. The club has also been working hard on membership retention and over the last couple of years has focussed on helping new members bridge the gap between learning to sail and starting to race, where they were losing some new recruits. These informal sailing sessions enable new skills to be practised in a non-race environment with coaches on hand to provide help and guidance where needed.

Tim added “We have also been promoting the art of crewing as we realised that not everyone want to become a helmsman!

“We make extensive use of social media to keep members informed and involved and to recruit volunteers for the many tasks involved in running a club.

“Our club also has a big social scene with a regular programme of events through the year – we even have our own rock band who perform at many of our social events.”

Encouraging participation

In recent years the club has introduced a range of measures to encourage participation. These have included a Pro-Am race and A Pro-Junior race where experienced sailors are paired with new recruits/Junior sailors to give them a taste of the racing scene. To encourage new trainees to have a go at racing, once a month on Tuesday evening race series, a personal handicap prize is awarded and the evening is rounded off with a barbeque, giving new members an opportunity to meet more experienced racers. Tim said: “Later this year we will also be introducing a New Members evening, the aim of which will be to explain how we run the club and outline the range of ways in which members can get involved.”

“Our new ladies sailing group has also been very successful in encouraging lady members out onto the water in an environment where they feel more comfortable.” Explains Tim. “We regularly review the format of our trophy races and have variety of events – Mr & Mrs / Personal Handicap / team racing for example.”

Social media also plays a big part in promoting events and a weekly newsletter always contains a write up on any events that happened the previous week so those who didn't attend realise what they've missed out on. A simple, but often overlooked aspect is also the inclusive nature of the sailing sessions - be it formal club racing or social sailing. “We have a wide range of skill levels from World Champions to novices however everybody is willing to help everybody else out - be it with rigging / launching or with tuning and race tactics. Our race coaches run various training sessions which range from sailing fitness and sail control, to holding you lane on the first beat - all of which are open to all.” Added Tim.

Recognition

Having previously won the competition in 2011, the club felt that it had brought sufficient new initiatives to merit another submission. These included improving the clubhouse facilities with a new ladies changing room and a refurbished men’s facility, restructuring the training programme to reduce the load on individual club members and making great strides with improving communications (which resulted in South Staffordshire winning the COTY Communications award).

“We had also had a great couple of years on the race track with SSSC members winning one world and 2 National Championships and the club as a whole winning the West Lancs 24 Hour race for several years in a row. Our Youth & Junior section is also going from strength to strength and so overall we felt that the aspiration of winning club of the year would have been a worthy recognition of our achievements.” Added Tim.

The Club of the Year application process

The application process created a great vibe across the club and whilst only a few members were involved in the actual application process, being able to share the application with members served as a great platform to highlight recent achievements and to make members even prouder to be associated with SSSC. “Being selected as a finalist was very exciting and all members were engaged with the voting process and helped create an even greater pride of being associated with the club. We were recognised embracing modern communications which really showcased our use of TeamApp and has helped our profile.” Tim added.

Tim explains that it was a challenge deciding what to and what not to include: “Our biggest challenge with our COTY application was the word count! We has so many things that we wanted to include in our application that we had to be very selective to keep within the limit for each section. Otherwise we found the application to be very straightforward and liked the varied categories which tested all aspects of club management.”

“We felt a little daunted by the public vote element as we knew that other finalists had a much larger membership and therefore potential voters. However, this really galvanised our members into a very determined campaign to secure as many votes as possible for our club, really getting our members behind the bid.” Tim added.

Applications for 2020 Club of the Year open on 01 August

South Staffordshire Sailing Club Commodore, Dave Morgan explains that despite not winning, applying for the COTY was very satisfying:

“The COTY application process was a great experience for the club. We were obviously disappointed not to win, but it was a great platform to take stock and celebrate our recent achievements with our membership. The excitement and anticipation around the voting process was a great unifying experience for the club.”

“We've really worked hard with our social media presence. It can seem a lot of work at times, but to be recognised with the RYA award made it all worthwhile. Not only do we promote future events but it's also a great way to share 'live' photos and commentary on events as they are happening. Our weekly newsletter is a superb platform to celebrate our successes and achievements and also prompt future events.”

Tim adds: “Our advice would be to think about your club through the eyes of a prospective new member. Is your external signage welcoming, what will visitors first impressions of your clubhouse be?

“Remember that different members will want different things from the club - does your range of sailing activities cater for all of these? What opportunities does your club provide to 'get people out on the water'

“Are members willing to simply take prospective sailors our for a trial sail - without the need to commit to signing up to a course. What are your membership options - do you offer monthly membership / direct debit for example?

“Are new members encouraged to take part in your social activities? We have found that some new members have been happy to come down to the club to sail but have been reluctant to get involved in our social programme. Running events aimed mainly at new members and a little proactive promotion can work wonders!”

To apply and find out more about the awards visit www.rya.org.uk/cluboftheyear.

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