Volunteers at Cowes Sailability Club, on the Isle of Wight, conducted over an impressive 100 telephone conversations to people with disabilities during the COVID-19 lockdown, helping to relieve feelings of isolation and loneliness.

At the beginning of Lockdown, Cowes Sailability Club, a registered charity which provides sailing to children and adults with physical and learning difficulties, realised that many of its own volunteers and members - a large proportion of whom have disabilities or underlying medical conditions - and hence amongst the most vulnerable during the pandemic, may start to feel vulnerable during this difficult time.

Many of the club’s members and volunteers were identified as high risk criteria for contracting coronavirus and had to stay home and self-isolate. To help provide emotional support throughout what could be a long period of uncertainty and social isolation, the Club launched its ‘Ahoy There’ initiative.

This successful initiative sought to give support to those who may have been vulnerable and self-isolating or living alone through a simple system of talking. Representatives from the charity telephoned any member or volunteer who requested a call, to lift their spirits and help relieve feelings of isolation and loneliness.

The Ahoy There initiative was conceived and run by Cowes Sailability Club volunteer Kathryn White. Kathryn commented: “Because Cowes Sailability Club provides activities specifically for people who have disabilities or debilitating medical conditions, the club’s members were among the most vulnerable people on the Isle of Wight at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak.”

“Setting up the Ahoy There initiative felt like the right thing to do, and I am absolutely delighted that the scheme has enabled the club to provide companionship and support for so many people at a very challenging time.”

Stuart Manton is one of the people who appreciated Cowes Sailability Club’s support during the lockdown. A club member since 2009, he lives alone in the west of the Isle of Wight and has a visual impairment. Stuart said: “You don’t realise the value of contact with other people until it is taken away. I’m normally a cup half full person, but there were definitely times when I felt quite low, so I really valued the support I received from Cowes Sailability Club. Every week, Chris, one of the club’s volunteers, gave me a ring for a chat and it was nice to be able to talk about all sorts of things, not just sailing. I found the conversations very supportive, especially at the beginning of the lockdown when everything felt very uncertain.”

Wendy Todd, an enthusiastic young club member with cerebral palsy, has benefited from regular conversations with Judy, another volunteer at the club. Wendy added: “COVID stopped me from socialising as I would normally do. It also stopped me from going dancing, seeing my friends, volunteering with Friends of St Mary’s Hospital and, most of all, sailing with Cowes Sailability Club, which was a highlight in my week. This made me feel very sad at times, no matter how hard I tried to keep myself busy with other hobbies at home. Then I had a very surprising phone call from Judy. She inspired me to keep my hobbies going and called me weekly, which meant the world to me, as I was able to talk about how much I missed sailing and she understood. We had really good and funny conversations. Thank you Judy and everyone who set up Ahoy There.”

Trish Rooke, Fundraising Officer for Cowes Sailability Club added: “I would like to say thank you to Kathryn for setting up the Ahoy There initiative and another thank you to the team of volunteers who stepped forward to have conversations with members. Everyone involved made a big difference to the lives of people with disabilities during lockdown.”

Leon Ward, RYA South Disability Development Officer, stated: “As I’m sure everyone can relate to, keeping in touch with friends and family has been so important during this time when we can’t physically meet up like we normally would. Cowes Sailability Club and its Ahoy There initiative has really helped with that connection. By staying in touch with its members and volunteers, the club has given vital support to some of those that have been greatly affected.”

Although sailing is still yet to return to Cowes Sailability Club it has recently received £2,563 of National Lottery funding from Sport England’s Community Emergency Fund, which will be used to help the club cover the storage and other essential running costs for its boats during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Cowes Sailability Club is currently appealing for funding to purchase a new wheelchair-accessible motorboat so that it can offer more boating trips for people with disabilities on the Isle of Wight. Taking a motorboat trip can be incredibly beneficial for those who have to overcome the challenges of physical disabilities, illness, and mental health issues on a daily basis. Adults and children alike can build their confidence by learning new skills, improve their health by undertaking an outdoor activity, and relieve their isolation and loneliness by meeting new people.

This will be even more beneficial now as many of it’s members have been shielding from the Covid 19 virus. For more details please visit: www.cowessailability.co.uk/ourcampaign

To find out more information about Cowes Sailability Club please visit: https://cowessailability.co.uk/

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