Otley Sailing Club is celebrating the award of an RYA Foundation grant which will enable its SailFree programme for young disabled sailors to continue for another year.

Following the retirement of SailFree founder, RYA Senior Instructor and dedicated volunteer Norman Stephens, aged 80, the Sailability sessions had been facing an uncertain future.

SailFree runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the club was struggling to find another RYA Senior Instructor able to volunteer their time twice a week to lead the sessions.

The club has been working with the Royal Yachting Association and RYA Sailability to come up with a solution and has now secured a number of grants which will pay for two RYA Senior Instructors to share the role for the coming season.

The RYA Foundation supports projects which make boating accessible to all regardless of circumstance, and has awarded a grant of £4,300 to keep the club’s SailFree programme afloat while long-term plans to secure its future are put in place.

In addition to funding the RYA Senior Instructors necessary to run the SailFree programme as an RYA Recognised Training Centre and Sailability provider, the club is being supported to train six of its volunteers as RYA Dinghy Instructors.

Its SailFree programme has also received funding from a variety of other organisations: £1,000 from the Yorkshire-based Hillards Charitable Trust, £500 from Kidz Klub Leeds, who attend sailing sessions at the club, and £500 from Lloyds Bank.

Magnus McDonald, Commodore of Otley SC, said: “We have just finalised all the arrangements for the coming Sailability season at Otley and we are looking to implement sustainable financial arrangements for 2021 onwards. These grants will make a big difference to the lives of so many of our young disabled sailors and bridge the gap as we transition to our new operating model.

“In the meantime we are celebrating! We’re really looking forward to our pre-season training and to getting the boats rigged and back on the water and can’t wait to see all our volunteers back at the club for another year of SailFree.”

The club paid tribute to Mr Stephens, whose inspirational work with SailFree since its launch 25 years ago has seen thousands of young people accessing the sport, and to SailFree volunteer Sally Moore, who has been instrumental applying for grants and developing new operating procedures with the support of the RYA’s Sailability and legal teams.

Otley SailFree has a strong base of around 35 volunteers and is always looking for more people who want to get involved. As the Commodore explains:  “It’s not just the kids that come away from their day thinking ‘that was brilliant, I got so much out of it’, the volunteers feel the same way too! The reason they come to help is because they’re doing something really positive for the local community and putting something back. They get as much out of it as the children do.”

The award-winning club was a finalist in the RYA / Yachts & Yachting Club of the Year 2019 awards and commended for its inclusive sailing provision. Its SailFree sessions are for young people and adults with disabilities and complex learning difficulties from schools and organisations across West Yorkshire, including the Mirfield-based Hollybank Trust.

Otley SC is now appealing for sponsorship from local companies and organisations to provide ongoing financial support for its SailFree programme for the future. Anyone able to help is invited to get in touch. For further information about the club visit its website here

For clubs in the region who would like to know more about introducing or developing their own Sailability programmes, the RYA has lots of expertise and resources to help. Contact James Wheeldon, Disability Development Officer (North), or find out more with RYA Sailability.