They say you’re shaped by your own experiences. If that’s the case the youngsters at Danson Park Adventures in Bexleyheath on the London/Kent border will be very grateful Centre Manager, Charlie Stannard, learned to sail through OnBoard.

Charlie grew up local to Docklands Watersports Centre on the
Isle of Dogs and was nine when he was bitten by the OnBoard bug. At 16 he was a Dinghy Instructor before qualifying in windsurfing and powerboating too. So when he took the reins at Danson Park 18 months ago he knew what he wanted to do.

“OnBoard had given me some amazing opportunities,” he explains. “Having people there to help you in the right way was invaluable at that age, I met Ben Ainslie, raced on the Feva
circuit, did a bit of 29er stuff, competed at the London Youth Games. These were the things I got out of OnBoard so I knew what it could achieve.”

Danson Park officially signed up as an OnBoard club in late
spring 2018 and in June took ownership of six new Picos to support the programme. A new afternoon Saturday Youth Club was added to supplement its main Wednesday Youth Night sessions and the immediate impact was impressive.

Participation, and most importantly regular participation, has increased, with no fewer than 180 kids involved in the Youth clubs over the year, while the participation in the centre’s school’s programme was over double its 2017 numbers. 

Charlie admits despite OnBoard’s initial success, 2018 was a bonus - the time to see if it could work - with the focus on being really ready for this year. The signs it will continue to grow are already promising.

He continues: “Having a programme from the National Governing Body gives our sailing activity more credibility in parents’ eyes, it means we have to achieve certain standards and helps us back up what we’re saying about our sessions.

“This is definitely the most we’ve worked. We’ve been delivering five to seven schools’ sessions a week and whereas previously schools might have booked one-off sessions or come for a week, now we’re seeing them coming back from more regular weekly sessions with the kids working towards their RYA Youth Stages.”

It’s the Youth Clubs that are making the biggest difference to participation, however. The centre has never really advertised outside of local schools magazines, but has found giving gift vouchers away as raffle prizes effective at engaging with families. Meanwhile, 108 youngsters that took part in the Plastic Bottle Boat Challenge at Danson Park were all given a voucher for a free Youth Club session - 40 came back.

To really embed OnBoard at Danson Park, and to give the youngsters a pathway to develop their skills, the centre has invested in four RS Quests with spinnakers thanks to a £15,000 grant from the London Marathon Trust, while sailors get the chance to showcase their racing talents at the London Youth Games. Meanwhile, a few young volunteers are now working towards becoming instructors as the centre starts developing more Dinghy Instructors to support future OnBoard expansion.

Charlie concludes: “In the past year, we’ve got a new programme, new equipment and a new pathway, the push towards the sport has certainly paid dividends so far as sailing has grown. I always felt OnBoard could have this impact and I’m so happy the early signs have been so positive. I know what it did for me.”