Chelmarsh Sailing Club in Shropshire has been shortlisted for a prestigious national award following a hugely successful year on the water despite the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic.

The volunteer-run club near Bridgnorth is one of 10 finalists from across the UK in the RYA and Yachts & Yachting Club of the Year Awards 2021, supported by Gallagher, with public voting to help decide the overall winner now open.

A dedicated drive to support its members and reach out to new ones has seen the club driving down costs and diversifying its activities, with a new radio controlled sailing section and a booming Stand-Up Paddleboarding programme.

Commodore David Partridge said: “One of the positives of the pandemic has been people discovering activities on their doorstep that they didn’t think they could do close to home, and the physical and mental health benefits of being on the water.

“People have been enjoying the fun and excitement of sailing at the club without having to travel and those who’ve dreamt of paddleboarding or seen it, have been able to do it with us at low cost and in a very safe environment.

“As a club we’ve worked hard to become much more accessible so that the local community can really enjoy this fantastic facility and this beautiful piece of water and it’s a real privilege to be able to share it. If you’re an enthusiast for sport in the Midlands, please vote for us!”

Paddleboarding at Chelmarsh SC, credit Craig Jackson

Diversifying

Reduced membership fees have helped to open up membership to more local people and the club has run in excess of 500 paddleboarding courses, gaining over 100 paddleboarding members along the way, including women, families and juniors.

Introductory paddleboarding courses cost £30 and among those who go on to join the club, many then also decide to try sailing or take powerboat courses, making the club’s core activities and volunteering base more sustainable as a result.

Radio controlled sailing has likewise been enjoyed by all ages, including grandparents introducing their grandchildren to the sport. The club is considering developing Sailability activities and also hopes to gain approval for open water swimming.

“The big thing we’ve done is try to make the club much more accessible for local people, and one of the ways we’ve succeeded in doing that is through paddleboarding,” says David. “Another factor has been understanding how important watersports can be for our overall wellbeing.

“There’s something special about getting out on the water that provides a mindfulness and a kind of peace that’s been very difficult to achieve this year, and the club has thrived through this period of adversity by recognising how much people value being on the water.”

Innovating

Prior to Coronavirus, the club committee used the RYA’s ‘jigsaw’ tool to identify successes and points for future development, with members having also benefited from attending RYA conferences and webinars to help consolidate and improve activities.

The pandemic saw committee meetings continue via Skype and a Restart Group appointed to complete risk assessments, update policies and get the club back on the water as soon as restrictions were lifted, with new formats for social sailing, training and racing, and environmentally-friendly but Covid-19 effective sanitisers.

Another key factor in the successful year experienced by Chelmarsh SC was an overhaul of its PR and communications, with press releases and public facing social media such as its Facebook page raising the club’s profile and reaching out to new people who hadn’t previously realised the club existed.

Internal communications meanwhile ensure that the committee is highly visible and accessible, with members kept up to date via social media, the club website and e-newsletters. Video commentary alongside print and social media highlighted Covid-19 procedures.

For sailors at the club, the pandemic has been an opportunity to introduce new formats for racing and training, and to further develop the club’s informal social sailing groups. Training has enabled safety crews to now operate singlehanded rather than with two people in a RIB.

Sailing at Chelmarsh SC
David explains: “We’ve looked hard at how we can support racing, how we can provide safety on the water, and how we can have people run the racing on their own so we don’t need a large team of people. Our racing community want to race but we’ve also understood that taking part in a series isn’t the be all and end all: people just want to come on a Sunday and be able to race against each other on the day, and we’ve also found that short races give people a better racing experience.”

The combined result of improved internal and external communications, diversifying activities and innovative new ways of providing sailing and racing, has seen the club enjoying a particularly vibrant year despite the difficult months and ongoing uncertainties of the Coronavirus pandemic.

As David sums up: “We are aware that due to unprecedented circumstances this year, taking the journey together at pace has forced new ideas but transformed our membership. Now more than ever before we are aware that all sailors know that every cloud is lined with silver!”

Spotlight on clubs

The annual RYA and Yachts & Yachting Club of the Year Awards recognise the achievements of sailing clubs across the UK and the hard work and dedication that goes into running a successful club.

Michelle Gent, RYA Programmes Manager said: “A huge congratulations to all 10 Club of the Year finalists. This has been an especially challenging year for clubs and the people involved in the running of these organisations have worked tirelessly so that others can safely get afloat.”

Rob Peake, group editor of Sailing Today with Yachts & Yachting, added: “A good club will show you how to get better at sailing and encourage you to continue sailing. A great club will help you simply enjoy sailing – and it will welcome people from all parts its local community. The Club of the Year Award is unique in that it recognises the hard work that goes on behind the scenes by volunteers to make sailing clubs great, and to encourage more people into our sport.”

 Voting will close on 25th January 2021 and the overall winner will be announced at the RYA Virtual Dinghy Show in Spring. To case your vote for Chelmarsh SC visit: RYA and Yachts & Yachting Club of the Year.