To date, 34 clubs and centres have joined to OnBoard this year. Two of those are Hertford County Yacht Club in the Lea Valley, and Water Park Lakeland Adventure Centre in the Lake District.
On the face of it the two couldn’t be more different - Hertford County is a small volunteer-run dinghy sailing club, Water Park a thriving commercial residential multi-activities centre. Yet at the end of their first seasons OnBoard, both are delighted.
“This has been our busiest summer ever,” reveals Carly Emms, OnBoard lead at Hertford County. “We never saw it escalating activity across the club like it has.”
So how can OnBoard work in so many different ways, whatever your circumstances?
Why get OnBoard?
Until this year, Hertford County had never had a junior section let alone heard of OnBoard. But Carly, who learned to sail at the club with her dad aged four, is now a mum and she wanted her daughter and the other youngsters at the club to have an opportunity she never had - to be part of an organised junior sailing group.
What started as a throwaway comment over the winter, quickly gained support as members signed their kids up. The club joined OnBoard after Carly discovered the programme at the RYA Dinghy Show, and at the first session in May, there were 15 youngsters on the water. Carly picks up the story.
“The summer was brilliant. We ran two junior sessions a month on Saturday or Sunday afternoons and a three-hour session for four of the six Wednesdays in the summer holidays. We’ve had kids aged 5-14 years involved and have split groups depending on ages or ability depending on which kids we know are turning up.
“Because of this, we’ve been getting more families down more often and there’s much more interaction between everyone.
“There’s been B-fleet racing on Saturday afternoons, as people who’ve only sailed a handful of times want to get more involved, and we have an extra adult Level 1 course for the first time ever this autumn, which is over-subscribed too.”
Although Water Park’s reason for getting OnBoard was different, opportunity was still at the heart. Despite its success at attracting groups from across the country for residential weeks, the centre wasn’t really integrated with its local community.
So when Dinghy Instructor, Abi Metcalfe, joined Water Park, having worked with OnBoard in her previous job, she felt it could help community engagement.
An RYA Coach Assessor, Water Park outdoor education tutor, Garry Dixon, was also aware of OnBoard through RYA conferences, so they decided to run a trial with the centre’s most local school. Such is the local buzz it has created Garry believes they could now fill sessions every night.
He said: “We’ve run OnBoard as a two-hour session for Year 4-6 pupils from 5.30pm-7.30pm every Monday in three blocks – pre-summer, summer holidays and post-summer. It was priced depending on the length of the block and people’s availability. We started with a cap of 10 per session, but that’s now up to 19 as siblings and friends of the pupils started to get involved too.
“Everyone knows everyone in the community, and with photos on Facebook and word of mouth, we’ve gone from the local community not really knowing what we do to being able to fill sessions every night if we wanted and were able to.”
The OnBoard impact
So where has being part of OnBoard made a real difference? Both venues have put youngsters through Stage 1, with some also progressing further through the RYA Youth Sailing Scheme. But it’s the ‘fun’ stuff that’s really counted.
As Carly continues: “I’ve never done anything like this nor worked with kids before so the OnBoard instructor cards have been really good guidance for me. Not only have they given structure to what we’re doing, but also some days we’ve run sessions only using the games in the cards to keep the kids engaged and learning. The club’s never had that side before.”
Abi agrees: “The cards are really useful and there’s so many games. I flick through the big set to get ideas most weeks and I always take the little set on the water with me to refer back to as well.”
The value of the OnBoard character attributes have been coming through too.
“Communication, teamwork and the creative / problem-solving side have been the big ones for us,” Carly says. “Having the cards has given me the confidence to let even the younger ones try to figure something out and solve a problem for themselves before an instructor steps in.”
Abi adds: “We’ve heard parents talking about the confidence the sessions give the kids, and it wasn’t one of the main things we were looking for from OnBoard but it’s an extremely positive thing.”
After their initial success, both venues are pragmatic about where they go next.
Due to the size of their facilities and the number of available instructors, Hertford County can only cater for 6-11 youngsters per session. The plan is for those who achieved Stage 3 this summer to get more involved in racing, next year with the Regatta Fleet at the British Youth Sailing Regional Junior Championships their target.
Carly would also love to take OnBoard into the local community but is realistic. She hopes, in the long-term, they will have OnBoarders become Assistant Instructors and eventually Dinghy Instructors to help support, sustain and grow the programme.
Water Park faces a similar conundrum. Although a commercial centre, the hope is OnBoard parents and friends start to volunteer, similar to a more traditional club model, but staffing will always need managing. Garry thinks adding an OnBoard club for one more local school is likely next year and they will re-assess after that.
Two very different venues. Two different motivations. Two different outcomes. But proof that OnBoard really can work for everyone.